Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tsk, Tsk: More Criticism of Beyoncé’s Moral Choices In a New York Times Op-Ed Piece

Oh, my!  In an Op-Ed piece appearing in the last New York Times Sunday review Mark Bittman, food journalist and author and columnist for the Times has taken issue with Beyoncé Knowles’ morality for hawking sugary soda to her audience.  Mr. Bittman notes that Pepsi is putting $50 million into a Beyoncé Super Bowl promotion, part of which money will go to support Beyoncé’s “creative projects.” A correction to the article makes clear that about half of the $50 million that will be spent will go directly to Beyoncé and her “creative projects.” See: Why Do Stars Think It’s O.K. To Sell Soda? January 5, 2013.

Mr. Brittman’s leveling of this criticism at Beyoncé is reminiscent of the criticism I have leveled in Noticing New York articles at Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, for shilling for the highly subsidized, eminent domain-abusing so-called "Barclays" arena and thereby being partly responsible for bringing it into existence at the expense of Brooklynites, the local community and the citizen taxpayers of New York.  See: Friday, April 8, 2011, “Reverse Morality” Clauses for Celebrity Endorsers: What Are They? Something Celebrities, Including Jay-Z, Should Try Enforcing.  Maybe it should be noted that the “Barclays” arena also partners to conspicuously sponsor the promotion of sugary soda: It sponsors Coke, the main competitor of Pepsi.

Beyoncé’s morality has also been previously called into question for her 2009 New Year’s Eve special performance for the Gaddafi clan (Gaddafi as in Lybia) in St. Barts in the Caribbean.  (See: 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!)

Her husband, Jay-Z, also seems to have repetitive problems in terms of his choice of associates: 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.

From Beyoncé’s looks and superbly healthy-sounding voice one might intuit (without it’s being guaranteed) that the 31-year-old Ms. Knowles is not a big consumer of sugary beverages herself;  She is merely selling a brand.

But is it fair for Mr. Bittman to be picking on poor Beyoncé?  After all Charlie Rose, who is such an unimpeachable PBS paragon of legitimatizing influence that New York’s Channel Thirteen itself uses him to sell trust in the station, also shills for sugary soda (once again Coca-Cola, Pepsi’s rival) and Rose has similarly shilled repeatedly for the “Barclays” Center arena and its subsidy collector/developer Bruce Ratner.   . .

. .  But wait: Are there no parallels to Beyoncé performing specially for the Gaddafi clan New Year’s Eve in St. Barts?  Maybe there are: On the second occasion when Rose had Bruce Ratner on his program to promote the “Barclays” arena he also hosted at the same time the arena’s co-owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian oligarch who, as is almost necessarily the case in Russia, is embroiled with his wealth and its procurement in Russian politics.  This entailed some very uncomfortable groveling by Rose as he joked with Prokhorov about Russian politics as he worked to keep the tone of that program light in keeping with the show's overall happy sales pitch theme.

Isn’t Beyoncé just doing what so many of us decide to do?: Taking a job, making a living where one can be found in a world where options for an honest living are fast being gobbled up by our own homegrown oligarchs and our often less than suitably reputable corporations?  But Mr. Bittman argues that Beyoncé and her husband ought now to be past the point of desperation for money and to the point of making moral decisions:
I suppose it would be one thing if she needed the money or the exposure but she and Jay-Z are worth around $775 million.
Mr. Bittman’s hyperlink takes the reader to the information that Beyoncé and Jay-Z are the richest celebrity couple in the world.  But they weren’t always.  Perhaps one can theorize that the original moral compromises were made somewhere along the way to this status . . . so why then should anyone begin to make fine moral distinctions at this point?

Why would we expect Beyoncé and Jay-Z to make finer moral distinctions than Charlie Rose?  Because they have more money?

There is perhaps a more valid moral criticism of Beyoncé and Jay-Z that has been made.  Mr. Bittman characterizes Beyoncé as “a politically aware woman” because:
she with her husband, Jay-Z, raised money for President Obama and supported Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, meant to encourage children to exercise.
There is, however, disagreement about the political awareness and/or sincerity of the couple.    A reader comment selected by Times editors as amongst the best asks why Beyoncé  merits the label “politically aware” (several reader comments question this assessment) saying that she seems instead “much more ‘profitably aware’”.  Jay-Z himself says he doesn’t understand Occupy Wall Street’s concerns about the one percent and the ninety-nine percent (“what are you fighting for?. . . I don’t know what the fight is about. What do we want, do you know?. . . This is free enterprise. This is what America is built on.”)

The criticism of Beyoncé and Jay-Z that may be the most astute comes from black actor and activist Harry Belafonte when he concludes that the now-privileged couple have simply “turned their back on social responsibility”:
“I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. . . . That goes for Jay-Z and Beyoncé, for example.”
See: Harry Belafonte: Jay-Z, Beyoncé ‘have turned their back on social responsibility’, by Alexis Garrett Stodghill, August 8, 2012.

There is no question though that Beyoncé has an influence on the culture.  Mr. Brittman’s column has so far generated 410 reader comments (with still another hundred comments awaiting moderation before they show up- We'll see if my comment shows up).  That’s a lot!  Most are primarily a defense of sugary soda as being something that’s not all that bad, not so much a defense of Beyoncé herself, but the top comment amongst the readers’ pick of the collection (which proceeds on to some other pithy observations) begins:
Did you imagine that celebrities are not just like ordinary people whose judgment can be distorted by the lure of money?

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