Oprah's Got Beef?: Alleged Matriarchies & Masculinist Rhymes

Curator's Note

For the second time “beef” and Oprah became a topic of public conversation (cf. Texas Beef Group v. Oprah Winfrey). However, in this instance, the point of contention was hyped up beef between Oprah and the whole of rapdom. In an Associated Press interview with rapper 50 Cent he dismissed Oprah’s importance to his career. He didn’t particularly care if he was ever invited to Oprah’s couch because he noted, quite rightly, "she caters to older white women. Oprah's audience is my audience's parents. So, I could care less about Oprah or her show." A portion of a free-ranging conversation became central to an attempt, consistent with history, to pit successful black men against successful black women. Echoes of Moynihan’s black matriarchy thesis are revived when CNN host Paula Zahn assumes that black women are racially obligated to support black men, regardless of their own perspectives on actions that may be detrimental to black women’s well-being. Radio host Wendy Williams, offering a less than nuanced gender analysis, situates Oprah’s refusal to invite rappers to her show in childhood sexual abuse and labels it a poor “run of luck with men.” This is more than bad luck; the assumption is hugely reductionist and individualizing. Barely recognized is the synergistic marketing system in which TOWS schedules guests and 50 Cent’s original observation that Oprah’s demographic is not, in fact, his demographic. Instead, we are treated to an age-old spectacle of white femaleness mediating an alleged battle of the sexes between the domineering black “mammy” and the castrated, infantilized black male. Other media outlets ask Black male rappers (erasing females as rappers completely) about Oprah and her failure-to-invite as if they will throw their gats out of the pram at any minute. Black women are once again asked to choose a side---race or gender---or face accusations of black inauthenticity. And as Zahn reminds us, we have to move on from this media-induced flare-up of race versus gender because “somebody” always has to “pay for this segment.” We are, thus, encouraged to ignore decades of black feminist theorizing on intersectionality, which finds that, more often than not, black women consistently refuse to choose between race and gender; instead, allegiances and battlefronts are prioritized on a case-by-case basis.



Thank you for this interesting post, Kimberly.  As I watched the clip in light of your (and 50 Cent's) observation about the importance of differing demographics in this "beef," I was struck by how the editing in the little montage at the center of the clip reinforces it: As the shots cut between rappers in music videos and Oprah in what looks like CCN's archival footage, the shot grammar of the two genres stresses the intended audiences and the difference between them.  CNN's use of archival footage, which includes Oprah in talking-head shots, also has the result of creating a visual continuity between Oprah and the show's talking heads, as they provide CNN's demographic with--in a phrase not wholly inapt to describe what Oprah offers hers--"Top Story Entertainment."

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