I don’t watch The Today Show. I’ve caught an episode here and there, usually when I was stuck at home sick in the days before Netflix (yes, I try to forget about those days, too). If you haven’t already gathered, I’m not particularly interested in news-ish programs that pander to society’s comfort zone. If I’m being totally honest, I have a Pinterest board devoted to grilled cheese that satisfies my need for comfort just fine. I have little to no interest in mainstream media that ignores the current climate of society.
But, after an incident with Janelle Monae on The Today Show this past week, it seems the program may have finally honed in on the current climate of political discourse in our country. Just not intentionally.
Janelle Monae was scheduled to perform her new protest song, “Hell You Talmbout” this past Friday on The Today Show. The song is devoted to the victims of police brutality, with the words “says his name” and “say her name” appearing several times throughout the song – a reference to the #sayhisname and #sayhername campaigns that have gone viral to bring attention to the victims of police brutality over the past year. After her performance, she began to speak about these issues, saying: “God bless all the lives lost to police brutality. We want white America to know that we stand tall today. We want black America to know that we stand tall today. We will not be silenced …”
Then the camera panned away from her and they quickly cut to commercial. As awful as that is, I have to give credit to whoever edited that segment. You’ve got to have a stellar sense of humor to cut somebody off immediately after they say, “We will not be silenced.” Credit where credit’s due. But also, what the fuck, guys?
If you scroll through the front page of The Today Show website, you’ll see articles about the most efficient ways to pack a lunch and de-frizz your hair. There are so many anecdotal stories of individuals triumphing over adversity that it’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll just pick at random – “‘It humbled me’: Hundreds turn out for funeral of veteran with no family.” If that didn’t eliminate your fear of your own mortality, don’t fret! There’s a story just a few lines down about a husband honoring his late wife by dressing as a storm trooper. The Today Show is very committed to helping you come to terms with death by assuring you that everyone, including strangers, will be constantly thinking about you after you’re gone. There is also a story called, “Super cops! Police dress up as superheroes for children in hospital.” That’s really lovely. Those officers did not have to do that and I hope the kids enjoyed it.
These are nice stories about nice things that make people feel nice. Also, we are all going to die, but it’ll be totally fine as long as you leave behind a husband in the grips of complicated grief. That’s fine. I suppose if you want to put on blinders and earmuffs and live in a world where cops are entertaining superheroes and frizzy hair is the biggest struggle in anyone’s life (except for your grieving widower), that’s your prerogative. It’s a dumb, boring life and you’re gonna miss a lot of great experiences, but to each their own, I suppose.
But here’s the thing – Janelle Monae was invited to perform on The Today Show. She was invited to perform her song, which I have to imagine was cleared with an unreasonable number of producers because heaven forbid anyone feel uncomfortable. She performed a song that has the most surface value lyrics imaginable – here are the names of the victims, say them. Anyone who is not aware of this situation is working really fucking hard to avoid it. After she sang, she attempted to speak to the audience about empowerment and having their voices heard. And she was, very ironically, silenced.
A lot of people are pissed about this, and rightfully so. According to Vice, 1,083 people have been killed by police in America in the past year. This number was given on August 9, 2015 – the one year anniversary of the murder of Mike Brown, the death that sparked the #blacklivesmatters movement. Over one thousand people, and yet we’re still seeing arguments that it’s not an issue, or it’s just a few bad cops or it only happens to “thugs” (not a thing, by the way). Over one thousand people, and The Today Show cuts off Janelle Monae when she appeals to the audience to stand tall and stay strong.
People have the right to be pissed, and in general I’m with them. If anything, it’s criminal to silence Janelle Monae on anything because she’s Janelle-fucking-Monae! But on the other hand, I’ve got to give The Today Show credit. The show has spent years producing feel good fluff pieces meant to appeal to the widest possible audience. They’ve been targeting the heart of America with stories of grieving widowers honoring their late wives in quirky ways, and a never-ending supply of even more efficient diet tips and meal-planning schedules. But when they attempted to silence Janelle Monae on the issue of police brutality, they inadvertently cut to the core of what this country’s all about – silencing oppressed people in order to maintain the status quo.
Way to go Today Show, you finally tuned in to what’s really going on in this country, even if it was accidentally.
Molly Regan is an improviser and writer in Baltimore. She likes chicken pot pie, Adam Scott’s butt and riot grrl.