Last night MTV News went to the Slam Free or Die reading in Manchester, NH, and filmed in poor faith. When word went out that the music channel had approached SFOD about filming the special event Vote Free or Die in anticipation of Tuesday’s republican primary in NH, organizers pulled out the stops, asking folks to come out with politically relevant poetry, and even inviting in nationally-known poets from out-of-state to read. The expectation was that MTV, who asked that the show start at seven, would film the slam, interview a few people, and broadcast a piece that highlighted the slam poetry scene’s penchant for politics in a balanced, fair manner. What actually happened was something far different: the camera crew showed up hours late, interviewed a few people, filmed a bitty bit, and then left the building to go edit the hell out of the material they got.
Maybe it was because the featured readers, James Caroline, Sarah Sapienza, and Harlym 125, are vocal lefties, or maybe it was in spite of that, that MTV chose to focus almost none of their reporting on the poetry. Only a few choice snippets of poetry actually made it to press (none went into the filmed portion of production), and the entire article was skewed in favor of libertarian-leaning candidate Ron Paul, spinning the SFOD slam to be a hotbed of republican cheerleading. SFOD may or may not have been horrified upon reading the article at press today; this morning on Facebook organizers were quick to let community members know that, “Contrary to what MTV New says, VOTE FREE OR DIE was NOT a Ron Paul event. SFOD does not endorse any one presidential candidate.”
This is not to say that there are no Ron Paul supporters in the SFOD readership – there are, and they got airtime, to boot. This? Is great – respectful journalism doesn’t misrepresent the peoples, right? But that’s where respectful journalism began and ended – the face that MTV News chose to put on the slam was one of deep right-leaning bias, which, if you’ve been to the Manchester reading, um, ever, you know to not be the case. This? Not so respectful, not to mention not so truthful.
Houston Viacomm, we have a problem.
Simplest explanation: MTV News had a story to make surrounding Tuesday’s primary, and they decided that they were going to make it at any cost. MTV may be putting a hip, cool face on politics with its Rock the Vote campaigns over the years, but they can’t publicly endorse a candidate either. So what better way to play the hip cool card than by playing the poetry slam card, right? This primary is a republican primary, so MTV News went to the slam to see if they could find some hip young republicans, and found some, they did. MTV News just neglected to tell anyone that the hip young republicans they found there were only a part of the audience – and in doing so, made SFOD look like they’re something they’re just not. As Sam Teitel, co-slammaster at SFOD stated clearly for the record today, “The article published on MTV’s website this morning claimed that the event was thrown by Slam Free Or Die to support Ron Paul. This is wrong. SFOD doesn’t endorse political candidates…” Teitel continued on, to say, “An open mic is for everybody* – that’s why it’s called an open mic.”
So what’s the lesson learned from this? MTV has been manuipulating artists since the 80s and are still going strong? That corporations, now that they’re people, make no bones about stepping over the people to get what they want? That pre-packaged, highly-funded news is not to be trusted? We knew all that. We just hoped for better from the (former all-) music channel we grew up with, I suppose. Here’s the crux of the biscuit, tho’ – this incident is an amazing display of just how important our words are, and how much they carry. More than that, this incident entreats one to speak up and be heard.
Misrepresentation is no laughing matter, and SFOD will spend a lot of time in the coming weeks doing damage control. If you want to see Slam Free or Die in action, if you want to really know what the Manchester slam scene is all about, come out for the reading and see for yourself. Every Thursday at 7:00, at Milly’s Pub (500 Commercial St in Manchester, NH), SFOD takes the stage with an open mic and a feature, and slams are scheduled as well. This week the feature is Bill MacMillan.
*And last I checked, “everybody” includes all those gay folks , poor people , people of color , and women that the candidates competing Tuesday’s primary may or may not recognize as worthy of the same rights as
the rest of enfranchised Americans. Also, this.