Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Steal This Blog Post: Ethics of Pop Star Moguls Seen Through the Lens of Atlantic Yards, Jay-Z and Beyoncé

The offer I am making in this blog post, echoing, the title of Abbie Hoffman’s 1970s book, may be particularly appropriate since I am working on a piece that, in one respect, examines the relationship of copyright and aspirations for publicity (i.e. that often one simply doesn’t care if people infringe your copyright without compensation so long as one gets sufficient publicity as a result).

I wrote a Noticing New York post (linked to below) that, in my opinion, has so far gotten far too little attention. To remedy that situation I offer my own coverage of that post which anyone is free to lift and print, in toto, without complaint by me about any copyright infringement.

Please feel free to print everything appearing below in your own blog/publication, whatever.

Noticing New York Looks at the Ethics of Pop Star Moguls Through the Lens of Atlantic Yards, Jay-Z and Beyoncé

Atlantic Yards takes its place front and center together with Jay-Z and his wife, Beyoncé as blogger Michael D. D. White examines the ethics of the music pop star business in this Noticing New York post from last week deserving of some extra attention.

It may get off to a slow start with cautions concerning the pitfalls of Jay-Z’s music industry-style “360 degree contract”. That’s probably because, as White confesses, this is actually part of a longer work White has in progress, but there is some dandy stuff here.

Atlantic Yards investor and pop-supporter figurehead Jay-Z is ripe for the comeuppance of this critical review given that his enigmatic "You can say what you say, but you are what you are" (whence comes the title to White’s post) whereby Jay-Z apparently is holding himself up to the rest of us as a moral philosopher.

Moral exemplar or simple sell-out? White comes up with some answers via some lamentable Libyan dictator related exploits on the part of Jay-Z’s wife, Beyoncé (and a choice Soundcheck episode that deserves coverage):
When it comes to living up to the standards of “You can say what you say, but you are what you are,” does it matter for whom you perform and who pays the piper?

Well, if you go by what (former) New York Times ethicist Randy Cohen says, it looks like we have an answer, and Mr. Cohen was willing to provide it for Jay-Z’s super-celebrity wife, Beyoncé Knowles on a recent broadcast of WNYC’s “Soundcheck.” (See: Soundcheck, Qaddafi's Entertainers, Thursday, March 03, 2011 and Qaddafi and Pop, Thursday, March 03, 2011.)

* * * *

Beyoncé performed for, and was paid by, members of the Gaddafi clan New Year’s Eve 2009 in St. Barts in the Caribbean. The exact amount Beyoncé received hasn’t been confirmed but, by extrapolation from what other performers received, it is believed that Beyoncé received an amount equal to, or exceeding, the $1 million that Mariah Carey received for similar services.
White enumerates 8 principles supplied by ethicist Cohen that apply similarly to Beyoncé performing for the Libyan dictator's clan or Jay-Z (assisted by Beyoncé) shilling for Bruce Rartner, among them:
1. The imprimatur given by our own governments' dealing with objectionable individuals does not cleanse the unethical act because governments, especially when you look, cannot be assumed to be behaving ethnically. “You have to make these decisions for yourself.”

2. “You as a million-dollar-commanding pop star have a great deal to say about who you give your services to. You have the luxury. You have the option. . . . not to give aid and comfort to a man who has done terrible things. . . You had every reason to know that this was a horrible, horrible regime. Is that what you want to use your talent for?”

* * * *

5. “There are two misdeeds here. One is being a court jester for Nero. The other thing is profiting from it. . . . .

6. . . . . . “There are certain people you just do not offer your talents to.”

7. “This ignorance defense is insulting to pop stars: `You are not evil; You’re stupid’ Some defense!”. . . “When someone is writing you a check for $1 million for one performance: Ask! That’s not demanding too much from any pop star. It’s not like Gaddafi [or Ratner] is obscure. He’s as big in the ruthless tyrant game as Mariah Carey is in the bland pop music game.” “It is possible to be fooled and there are certainly grey areas” but naiveté can just be a convenient and self-serving excuse to take the money and often things are pretty clear-cut evils. You might not have known but you realize when you get to the party.
As for that `realizing when you get to the party' admonition, White zeroes in:
. . . . Jay-Z and Beyoncé were both doing pop star duty by being on display at Forest City Ratner’s March 9, 2010 ground breaking for the Atlantic Yards basketball arena. I think, that’s the party at which they should have realized (if not before). The groundbreaking ceremonies were partially drowned out by the neighborhood demonstrators (I was among them) although the police were doing everything they could to keep those demonstrators back and to keep them as quiet as they legally could.

Jay-Z and Beyoncé can hardly still claim ignorance of the issues. They went to the party. They must have realized what was going on.
But White has also prepped us for these insights via another NPR report on Beyoncé’s Libyan performance that asserts how off-kilter the ethical structure of the music industry is:
Moral qualms and “pangs of conscience” are assertedly factored into the equation. The stars’ scruples are bought and paid for, signed, sealed and delivered as part of the deal and part of its price:
. . . "It's inherent in these situations that the act doesn't want to do it," industry analyst Bob Lefsetz says. "So the person who has the gig always overpays. The question is, how much do I have to pay you so you will overlook your inhibitions and say yes."
* * * *

According to the NPR story, a crucial 10 to 20% of stars’ revenue comes from gigs like these and that the agencies representing the stars usually have entire departments set up to handle them. To wit:
3) It's a storied part of the business.
The agencies who represent these stars usually have an entire department devoted to booking gigs like these. It's part of the business model. You don't do that business, your agency won't make money. This is the commodity that department is selling: access. They provide access to the stars that only the ridiculously wealthy can afford.
There’s more . . . To read click here: Wednesday, March 9, 2011, An Insert Preview - Music Superstar Ethics: How Completely You Can Sell “You can say what you say, but you are what you are.” Jay-Zzzzus!

More recent related coverage:

Friday, March 11, 2011, Lightning Keeps Striking: It Couldn’t Happen To Some More Deserving People . . Over and Over, Again- Ratner, Illegal Bribes and Jay-Z and Beyoncé

1 comment:

Avery Smith said...

Interesting considerations!

Consider this, though: Beyonce is hired by the Gaddafi clan to celebrate his young niece's birthday!

Yes, perhaps Mr. Gaddafi and his entourage are bad men, but should we place the same burdens of shame and exclusion on their entire families?

As outlined in my textbook, Ethics in Human Communication , "...our knowledge of any individual situation inevitably will be imperfect and partial. Frequently, we engage in an action with best intentions, but the action turns out to have unintended and harmful side-effects that we never predicted." (Johannesen, Valde, and Whedbee, 2009, p. 89).

This can apply both to Beyonce's performance, as well as our own perspectives on these, "evil men."

To push this point further, what if Beyonce performed for an American billionaire who has a past of sexual abuse? Perhaps he's never killed, but he is still a sleazeball... should she refuse then? Who draws the line, and where is it?

From my personal point of view, I believe that all humans, regardless of their karmaic loads, have the capacity and the right to experience moments of joy. An evil man may still experience pure love when he holds his infant granddaughter, and why shouldn't he?

Why shouldn't this principle apply to enjoyment of music as well?