Sunday, July 10, 2005

Will Smith's Wasted Potential

Travelling is a fun way to expand your horizons. Those of you fortunate enough to travel should take the opportunity to meet people and get a taste for how the rest of the world lives and thinks. What is more you will have many stereotypes of places and peoples broken as you encounter them and in turn you may break a few stereotypes that people have of us.

While waiting for the laundry to dry at an Italian Laundromat I watched an Italian version of MTV. It was either watch my laundry spin or watch music videos for an hour; I opted for the latter. For some reason, every song was in English and specifically out of America with the exception of Geri Halliwell having a fantasy of sleeping with her boss. I already knew that media had the power to influence, but it was not until now that I finally grasped the power of the same media to portray stereotypes and reinforce them to the world. I suppose it was naive to think that music videos made in America stayed in North America. What I have to say next is purely race related as opposed to racist, if you have a problem with that, stop reading.

I had the misfortune at the Laundromat of seeing Will Smith's new video. Here is a man who is talented, successful, and has the power to influence young black Americans (white ones too for that matter but we will not focus on that here). Will Smith is an Oscar nominated actor, he is the first actor to break the mould of a black American actor (he was given parts written for a Hero (MIB, Independence Day) as opposed to a black person). Swarms of young Americans look up to him as a role model and a hero. Here in Italy I saw the same man don a sideways baseball cap dancing to some tune that spoke of female bodies like you would an ornament. One of the most socially influential people in America reduced himself to smacking butts of hot dancers to sell a few albums. I expected this of P. Diddy, not Will Smith. Will Smith had risen above all of that and painted himself a portrait befitting of the upper echelons of society. Will Smith had a power to influence the social behaviour of black America. Rather than walking the high ground and forging new territories for Black Americans like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby, Will Smith actively embraced negative black stereotypes to sell albums around the world.

I feel sadness for not only the wasted potential of such a talented musician/actor who could have been a powerful catalyst of change but also for young black women in American who will continue to be victimized as a by-product of social behaviour.

Will Smith made music to appeal to a particular socio-economic group in America. His music encourages what they do and reinforces objectification of women. What Will might not have known is that in Italy, he paints a nasty picture of America. That Black American stereotype has been instilled by images of Will dancing with almost naked women. In Will Smith I see a man with the power to change society for the better, but the courage only to run back to where he came from.


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