Originally published in Baratunde’s bi-weekly GOODCRIMETHINK column in the September 12, 2007 edition of Boston’s Weekly Dig

"Read a Book" is a rap video that has blown up online over the past few months, and in mainstream media over the past few weeks. Created by poet and activist Bomani "D'Mite" Armah, the video is a send-up of the misplaced priorities promoted by popular rap music: grillz, spinning rims, ass, drugs, ass, guns and, of course, ass. The song is short on length and lyrics, simply urging the public to "Read a book, read a book, read a muh'fuckin' book." It also asks that individuals raise their kids, wear deodorant, buy some land and drink water.

While there is explicit language and ample booty shaking in the video, satirists, obviously enough, must use the tools and techniques employed by the target of their satire. We could listen to another angry lecture from Bill Cosby, or we could hear a challenge, with a beat, to rap artists, executives and the consuming public to act reasonably. "Buy some land?" When's the last time you heard that kind of sense?

I love the video, but, unsurprisingly, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition don't. Rather than praising the video for its evisceration of pop culture images that are literally killing black America by supporting unhealthy eating, unsustainable consumption and a threatening image that itches the trigger finger of an already gun-happy, black-bashing law enforcement community, Jackson and company have gone out of their way to condemn the video.

Some choice quotes from their press release: "Billed as a satirical look at popular culture, a viewer is left with the distinct impression that nothing matters, that life is futile, knowledge fruitless, manners meaningless." Actually, I was left with the distinct impression that I should read a book, read a book, read a book.

"A common definition of satire is witty language used to convey insults or scorn. The video is plenteously scornful and insulting, but not of crassness. The video insults reading, personal hygiene, family values and frugality. 'Read a Book' heaps scorn on positive values and (un)intentionally celebrates ignorance. The narrator is obviously illiterate, unkempt and disrespectful. So who takes his advice seriously?" Apparently, Rainbow/PUSH does. How can you define satire and then interpret art literally, all in the same paragraph? That takes a special kind of incompetence.

"I was prepared to forgive the crude language and lack of creativity if there was a message encouraging viewers to read and otherwise conduct themselves responsibly. I was disappointed. The simplistic repetitive rhyme and tune made it clear that the creator had not taken his own advice, i.e. to Read a Book." Hmm. How could the song encourage the viewers to read? How about naming the song "Read a Book" and repeating it ad nauseam?

So, no more press releases from Rainbow/PUSH, OK? Of all the no-good rap videos that disgrace our screens, they had to focus on the one that actually says something? It hurts that the people who advanced the civil rights movement, when poets and actors and musicians played such a vital role in opening the public's eyes and challenging the system, are now so blind to the same role being played by today's artists.

Unless, of course, Rainbow/PUSH's press release was itself a work of satire, targeting an increasingly out-of-touch and irrelevant generation of has-been civil rights leaders. That might explain why the video version of the press release featured Jackson making it rain $100 bills on his baby mama with money he extorted from white folks who use the N-word.