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Social Studies

Alas, Poor Flav

Emily Flake

By Vincent Williams | Posted 4/30/2008

This Flavor Flav thing gets to me so much because of 1987. I was 16 years old, and my best friends had come over to pick me up for a night of teenaged antics and shenanigans. My boy Mark's parents had bought him a brand-new Volkswagen Golf when he turned 16, and he, along with Leon and Brent, scooped me up. Now, the fact that Mark had a Golf is especially important to this story, because it was a fairly small car, and, seeing as though all three of them had already cracked six feet in height and I, uh, hadn't, it was a no-brainer that I was always in the backseat, right in front of the huge speaker/woofer/bass deal that Mark had installed in the back. So when Mark said, "Hey, you got to hear this," and turned on Yo! Bum Rush the Show, it hit me like a sledgehammer in the back of the head. The sonic dissonance, the aggression, Chuck D's authorial, almost biblical voice--Public Enemy blew my mind from the very first moment I heard them, just because of what they represented in terms of the potential of what hip-hop could sound like.

And then there's the politics. Between Yo! Bum Rush the Show and its brilliant follow-up, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy was single-handedly responsible for my political maturity and led to my initial exposure to the major influential philosophical thought and writings that shaped my budding consciousness. Directly because of Public Enemy, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Message to the Black Man, The Mis-Education of the Negro, Wretched of the Earth, The Prince, Stolen Legacy, The Art of War, The Souls of Black Folk, and The Isis Papers, all books that, in one way or another, continue to help me articulate where I stand politically and socially as a black man. I simply cannot overemphasize how important Public Enemy has been to my life.

Frankly, that's why I've never publically addressed the post-Public Enemy phenomenon of Flavor Flav's fame. I've never really been a reality-TV guy, so it was easy to ignore his initial foray into foolishness when he was on a season of VH1's The Surreal Life. I actually didn't even know he was on a show until he and Brigitte Nielsen later starred in Strange Love, a spin-off based on their relationship, which began on Surreal Life. But, still, I turned a blind eye toward what was becoming a troubling depiction of blackness because, well, it was Flavor Flav, the hypeman whose "Yeeeeeah, boyeeeee" accented and punctuated Chuck D's prophetic verbal bombs. It was Flavor Flav who, on his own, taught me to not believe the hype (ooooo . . . ah ah ahah) and that 911 was a joke. It was Flavor Flav, the necessary Shakespearean gravedigger tone-lightener who contrasted the Hamlet-like Chuck D. How could I criticize Flavor Flav?

Then Flavor of Love debuted, and it was just a train wreck of buffoonery, Sambo hijinks, and general negativity. I don't know the last time there has been a worse depiction of womanhood in general and, specifically, black womanhood on television. And Flav himself? All I know is that, over three seasons, I have seen clips of him bug out his eyes while eating fried chicken, strut around like an oversexed peacock, mangle the English language, and, basically, as the old folks in my family would say, "coon it up for the white folks." And, for three years, I've basically given it a pass. (I don't think I'm the only one either. Certainly some commentators have critiqued Flavor Flav over the past five years, but there hasn't been nearly the outcry over him that there has been over, say, hip-hop lyrics or BET in general. Hell, some of us, and I definitely mean "us" in this example, have given Tyler Perry more shit over his depictions of black people than Flavor Flav.)

In some ways, I think many of us just hoped he would sort of go away, but apparently that's not going to work. Besides his abysmal tenure in reality TV, now Flav is starring in, sigh, a sitcom. And it's no surprise that, after two episodes, Under One Roof has subjected me to so many crude and low-class "jokes" based on anti-black, -gay, and -Asian bigotry that I felt like I had to wash my hands after each show. Between Flavor of Love, I Love New York, and Charm School, he continues to rule over a televised empire based on ignorance.

So, I officially denounce Flavor Flav. He is an embarrassment to himself and black people. I'm ready to protest and boycott VH1 and MyNetworkTV, their advertisers, and anything else necessary to demonstrate my displeasure at his continued existence as a media figure. And the whole time I'm doing it, my heart will be breaking because he helped me understand that taking these types of stands are important.

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