Remember when BET used to show music like this:As I sat, and watched five minutes of the latest episode of "106 and Park" with my little brother, I marveled how a television program dedicated to the showcase of Black Culture could have fallen so far. In an effort to pin-point exactly when BET went from the pinnacle of black owned entertainment to this:
we should take a hard look at its history. 5ivebruhs presents the not-so-brief and expected life of BET.
BET was launched in January 25th, 1980 by a former lobbyists named Robert L. Johnson. With very little in the way of black entertainment, BET originally showcased music videos and reruns of black sitcoms.
It wasn't until 1988 when BET launched a news program called BET News that it began to find its voice in the black community. BET began to cover special events with a new perspective and broadcast programs designed to discuss issues relevant to black people. BET kept its finger on the pulse of young African Americans who were struggling to gather their voice after the death of their prominent leaders.
BET was also one of the few producing organizations that took seriously the art of Hip-hop. Rap city gave us hip-hop relatively uncensored, and allowed artists to showcase their talent.
But like all things subversive and popular by a minority group, a major corporation got a hold of it. In 2000, BET was sold to Viacom, and Johnson stepped down to employ Debra L. Lee.
Now part of a major media conglomerate, BET attempted to give its fan base what they wanted (or what any major media executive believed young black people wanted). Booty, and reality TV. BET ended its news programing in 2000, replacing it with such gems as Baldwin Hills, Hell Date, and the Game. Following the funeral of Coretta Scott King, BET showed its regularly scheduled music videos when even FOX news covered the funeral live.
The decline of quality BET programs mirrors the decline of the Hip-Hop industry (I say industry and not culture because the culture is still alive and evolving). Both have been watered down, and designed to perpetuate the stereotypes they were designed to destroy. Both regularly are the subject of jokes in American culture; both are starting to look like a train wreck.
I can argue that BET was dissolved by "the man", but I am tired of using that excuse. BET is no longer a black owned company, but its still black run, and employs black talent. Why do we continue to allow ourselves to be represent so poorly by our own people? When do we say enough is enough?
Ponder this quote from BET co-founder Sheila Johnson.
“I don’t watch it. I suggest to my kids that they don’t watch it. When we started BET, it was going to be the Ebony magazine on television. We had public affairs programming. We had news... I had a show called Teen Summit we had a large variety of programming, but the problem is that then the video revolution started up... And then something started happening, and I didn’t like it at all. And I remember during those days we would sit up and watch these videos and decide which ones were going on and which ones were not. We got a lot of backlash from recording artists...and we had to start showing them. I didn’t like the way women were being portrayed in these videos.
And now your moment of Zen.