by Cadence
Payola is a motherfucker. Indie musicians KNOW this too, but we keep making our music anyway. I guess on some level we still have that naïve hope that the world will forget the rules for half a second and a song will actually get popular because people like it - not because someone paid for it to get plays until people THOUGHT they liked it. But of course, the radio isn't a place to turn to hear music you love - it's a place to find out what you're SUPPOSED to love. And to find out what kinds of products and services are available to you and other like-minded "music lovers."
But what about art? What about ideas? What about opinions? Well, at least there's always politics, right? And if you don't mind people's individual biases you can always tune your radio into talk shows.
Or maybe not. When it was recently revealed the George W. Bush's administration paid $240,000.00 to radio commentator Armstrong Williams to have him talk up the merits of their "No Child Left Behind" initiative my first thought was "Damn, I need a street team."
Williams was chosen - one must assume - because as a black man, his endorsement (offered on his shows and on others where he appeared as a pundit) would help the administration address concerns that No Child Left Behind was bad for urban communities. Their argument goes something like this. "The black dude liked that shit. See?" Bear in mind, you're not SUPPOSED to know about the $240,000.00. Convincing stuff, right?
The trouble is No Child Left Behind is Britney. It was all the elements to be a radio hit. It's aimed at the kids. It's trying to make them all feel like they're a part of something special and it claims to be for everyone. For the urban market, it has a dash of "We're not trying to cut you out of the picture." And for the suburbs it says "Don't worry, you can still get into a good college." It's gonna go to number one with a bullet. And if it's at number one - it's GOOD! Remember "Macarena?" Case closed.
But like everything else made to climb the charts, it lacks substance. These children - the ones we're not leaving behind - they're gonna have to pass tests. And their teachers are gonna have to live up to higher standards too. Nice in theory, but it takes money to make that happen. Not all school districts have that money, which is where the problem begins. But now urban schools have to switch course and focus on federally imposed standards which may not be relevant to the challenges they actually face in their districts. And that's to say nothing of what happens if they don't make the cut. Then what? We leave them behind, right?

I'm from Massachusetts, where they use a test called the MCAS to determine whether students are progressing though their curriculum fast enough. Students are given the tests every few years and if they don't pass they don't move on to the next grade. I guess the idea is that the schools will catch problems before they escalate. But what really happens is that schools spend too much time "teaching to the test" and not enough time on issues relevant to the kids in their district. And if you're in a school that's struggling, forget about extra curricular activities, or teachers coming up with creative ways to engage the students. And forget learning practical skills. There's a test to pass. Besides, if you don't know whether the story of King Midas is a fable, a myth or a legend (an ACTUAL test question), you don't deserve a high school diploma anyway, right? Especially if you go to a vocational high school, where that kind of knowledge is ESSENTIAL. Ask your favorite HVAC technician how often a timely King Midas reference has helped them out of a jam. It's a must-have tool of the trade. I'm saying everything you NEED to know about King Midas, you learned from Run-DMC's "Peter Piper." Now Let's all sing along.
But to radio listeners across the nation - who knew nothing of the payment he had received - Armstrong Williams was selling Bush's plan like Funkmaster Flex with a new Bad Boy record. No Child Left Behind was getting heavy rotation. In retrospect, that's probably why Bush has such a solid reputation for taking care of the business interests of black men in the entertainment business. No wait, that was OIL EXECUTIVES. Bush is the OIL man. My fault.
So, now that this has come to light he's about to be out of job. People are tired of the lies and they're not gonna stand for it anymore. His career is in shambles. And the public trust - once the hallmark of his profession - has finally been violated to the point where people won't take it anymore. And that's as it SHOULD be. Except that those last few sentences describe how people seem to feel about Armstrong Williams, NOT George W. Bush.
Fortunately the FCC - a government agency - is on the case. So we can expect that over the coming months, insomniac CSPAN2 fanatics will see full coverage of hearings telling how little the President knew and how long after the fact he knew it. Armstrong Williams did a bad thing - no doubt about it. But in order to TAKE a bribe, you have to be OFFERED a bribe. Armstrong Williams will take the fall for this payola scandal and Bush will once again get off the hook. it's enough to make me wish some patriotic American intern would just step up to the plate and SUCK BUSH'S DICK already. Maybe then he would finally get some of the bad press he so richly deserves.
Listen to Mike G (of the Jungle Brothers) & Cadence "State Lines" off the album with the same name here.
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