BET Dishonored Jackson’s Legacy

BET logoBET has never been one of my favorite networks, but when it announced that it would change its awards show at the eleventh hour, working overtime as a labor of love, to pay tribute to the King of Pop, I had to tune in. And though there were a number of times I wanted to tune out, I did not, hoping that it would get better. I am sad to report that it never did.

I expected BET to honor Michael Jackson last night in a way befitting a King. I expected BET to have a tribute that was thoughtful, meaningful, memorable, and inspirational. I expected to be proud after the show was over and to have my spirits lifted. I expected to see those most influenced by Michael Jackson to collaborate and show an anxiously awaiting world how much Michael Jackson meant to them and their careers. I never expected to be so embarrassed and ashamed at this substandard expression of blackness … ever.

Jamie Foxx’s monologue was terribly inappropriate. Many of his jokes were out of line and just not funny. I understand the notion of celebrating Jackson’s life; but humor, in my estimation, was not the best way to commemorate his life, legacy, and contributions — not this soon at least. His death is too fresh, and too many people were still in the first stages of the grieving process. But I don’t blame his shortcomings on his poor judgment or even on the alcohol he openly admitted to consuming before the show. Rather, I blame the executive team of BET who should have demanded that Foxx’s tone be serious, solemn, and respectful of the Jackson family and millions of adoring fans who were watching the show to process the loss of a musical genius who forever changed the way we view entertainment.

Instead of a video montage of all of the times Jackson appeared on BET, or a montage of all the artists who were heavily and noticeably influenced by Jackson, or even something as simple as a short bio of his life, there were 10-second snippets of Jackson dancing scattered randomly throughout the show. Is this what chairman and CEO Debra Lee was talking about when she said the show would be an ongoing tribute to Jackson throughout the evening’s festivities? I hope she wasn’t referring to the few celebrities who were selected to share their personal encounter with Michael Jackson before the commercial breaks; and I certainly hope she wasn’t talking about the arbitrary and thoughtless statements too many of the artists inserted extemporaneously before they presented or received an award.

Perhaps the most humiliating and embarrassing aspect of the awards show was to witness the disconnect between what Black entertainers said they received from the now late-and-forever-great Michael Jackson and the vulgar, offensive, and tactless lyrics with empty messages of individualism, materialism, misogyny, and self-aggrandizement. My suspicion is that had Michael Jackson been there that night, he would have probably felt more insulted than honored.

CNN reported from the red carpet before the show began. During this special presentation, Danyel Smith, the editor in chief of Vibe magazine, had an exchange with CNN anchor Don Lemon. In summary, Lemon said that many people expressed to him that they had never heard of the BET Awards and admonished him to explain. She replied that everyone knew what the BET Awards were and went on to give them accolades. Regardless of whether she was right or wrong, the international coverage of the first big awards show since Michael Jackson’s untimely passing invited new people to the audience. I, for one, am sorry they were invited. Though there were a few artists who had moving tributes, as a whole, the night’s celebrations were overwhelmingly sloppy, disorganized, distasteful, and unsophisticated. In a word, the 2009 BET Awards was a disappointment.

The BET Awards is just a small piece of its greater programming. The advertisements for new shows that will broadcast in the cable network are indications of the buffoonery that is to come. Personally, I am in favor of starting a campaign to take BET off the air. The network does nothing to edify the Black race and seems more interested in working against the ground we have gained as it relates to a more positive portrayal of Blacks in media.

We have come too far to let one cable network turn us around. I am reminded of the song made popular by the Civil Rights Struggle: “Ain’t gon’ let nobody turn me around!” — especially not self-serving Blacks and media conglomerates who care more about the bottom line than they do about the future of the Black community.

Related Article:BET’s Tribute Was Messy, But Sincere

About the author, Tim Lee

Tim Lee, a Chicago-based editor and youth minister, is the founder of One Black Man, a leadership consulting firm for Black boys between the ages of 13 and 18. In his free time, Lee actively participates as a member of the Metropolitan Board of the Chicago Urban League and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
  1. Tim,
    I commend your very tactful, yet firm coverage of the BET Awards. At first, I thought I was being too hard on the network because I always am. But when I began to speak with others and especially after reading your commentary, it has been thoroughly confirmed that last night’s display was the worst 3 hours of “entertainment” I had witnessed EVER. Thanks so much for speaking out on the lackluster show. As a media professional, a black woman and an avid Michael Jackson fan, I was insulted as well. What also bothers me is the fact that MTV and VH1 have been saluting Mr. Jackson since they announced his death. BET…not so much. If there is a campaign to remove them from the air, please let me know because I will most certainly help.

  2. Tim Lee,
    I agree whole-heartedly with your views of the BET awards and their “coverage” of Michael Jackson’s untimely demise. I thought it was disheartening and discouraging. We need to continue efforts to show our people better examples as young men and as black people in general. I support your stance fully and feel that this is a very poignant yet appropriate view of a poor display on BET’s part.

  3. I agree with you to a certain point. Initially I did not intend on watching the awards show until I heard they were doing a tribute. I was so disappointed. Beyonce’s tribute was truly self indulgent. There was no montage of Jackson why she performed we totally had to focus on her being half naked and that was tribute the King of Pop? I was disgusted. She might as well did her Single Ladies or any other booty shaking song. That was not a tribute to me. Jaime did his best. Jaime is still learning. However, it is okay to invoke humor when you are celebrating a life you don’t want an entire program solemn and so serious. We are to celebrate the time the Lord allowed Michael to share his gifts with us not be depressed that he is gone.

  4. This article helped me to understand why people were so disgusted with the BET awards. There were a few times that I gritted my teeth during the presentation, and I’m sure that BET is not generally concerned with the legacy of Michael Jackson more so then self-serving interests. I feel like BET was between a rock and a hard place, if they didn’t attempt to throw a tribute together haphazardly it would have been a question of why BET of all channels didn’t honor MJ. I don’t have any problem with the mention of MJ continually through the program but it was not a Jackson tribute as much as it was the awards show with MJ crammed in it. Another station with less connection and history will do a better job.

  5. Tim, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments and appreciate you speaking up. I was extremely disappointed as well with the inappropriateness of the “tribute” to Michael Jackson. Like you, I expected to see at the very least a montage of his BET performances, in particular the moonwalking performance during BET’s 25th anniversary show. Instead Jamie Foxx provided a poor performance that appeared mocking and disrespectful. I hope BET is paying attention to feedback like yours. It’s a shame that our community dropped the ball under the glare of the international spotlight.

  6. EXCELLENT ARTICLE. I don’t watch awards shows period. However, I have been hearing a lot about this particular show and was going to watch a repeat to see what people were actually talking about. However, you have just let me know that I will most likely be furious after I watch.
    As an MJ fan, I think BET should have planned a separate tribute show dedicated to ONLY Michael. That way, they would have had more time to brainstorm an appropriate show to honor this legend. Two and a half days is definitely not enough time to plan an “MJ worthy” tribute which it seems was clearly the case. Meanwhile, I turn on CNN and see prisoners in the Philippines doing a performance of the Thriller video! You mean to tell me that a Filipino prison can do a better job at honoring MJ than BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION?!
    As I said earlier, I “was” going to view a repeat of the show. However, I think that I’ll just go ahead and save myself the head and heartache of watching buffoonery at its best. Again, great article.

  7. First of all Thank you for writing this article, I totally agree. I did not enjoy this year’s BET Award show at all and unlike some of the other comments, I watch the show every year. I was embarrassed to say the least, this show was thrown together in the worst way. I do understand that they changed the format of the show at the last minute to include a well deserved celebration of the life of Michael Jackson; however the celebration turned into mockery. Jaime’s opening monolog was unfunny; his outfit looked like a special kid dressing up like MJ. Beyonce’s performance was very self serving and had nothing to do with MJ, the song she sang may have been better suited for a Catholic audience, but I do believe the meaning of the song went over many heads. BET would have done better by going with the format they already had set with maybe a video montage of MJ and honored him at a later date. I was disgusted.

  8. I disagreed with this article on many levels.
    First of all, it has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity or faith. You would think an article written by a youth minister on a Christian blog site would and should contain this element.
    Secondly, Michael Jackson dishonored his own legacy when he let his life and career turn into a freaky circus sideshow. He was excellent in the ’80s when he changed the sound of music forever, but it was all downhill from there. This is the real tragedy, not his death. As far as I’m concerned, he’s been gone for the last 20 years.
    Thirdly, Michael Jackson was not a godly example by any means, with his crotch-grabbing antics and affluent lifestyle. He was a worldy icon, not a Christian icon. He is the prime example on how not to live your life. I find it disturbing that so many Christians are acting like it’s the end of the world now that Michael is gone. What is there to admire about a man who finished the race with 500 million dollars in debt, a tarnished reputation, and a distorted face?
    I did not watch the BET Awards, but I do agree that the channel’s content is terrible. It just seems to me some people have lost the true meaning behind MJ’s “legacy.”

  9. I would like to commend UrbanFaith for allowing this discussion to take place. I think too often Christians get so “deep” that if it’s not a discussion about the Bible, they conclude that it shouldn’t be taking place. I believe that the intent of this article is to ask that BET have integrity and respect when it comes to all of their programming (tributes, shows, videos, etc.). I think that expecting people to have integrity and complete their work with a spirit of excellence is fundamentally Christian. Have we as Christians become so holy that expecting people to do their best is considered pagan? I hope not!
    I do not believe Michael Jackson was godly, but to dismiss him as a damned soul, as so many are doing, is unnecessary and cruel. Michael Jackson may have died with debt (although new reports are showing that his assets are worth more than his debt), but we do not know if he petitioned Jesus for forgiveness. I agree that Michael Jackson did not live his life totally in sync with Christian values, but according to people who had contact with him, he had qualities that some Christians can learn from. He was generous, kind, and concerned with brotherly love. Are these not characteristics we should strive to demonstrate? Are these not attributes worthy of respect? Should we condemn everyone who has fallen short? If so, none of us would deserve respect in death (John 8:7).
    Let’s not do what every other secular media station is doing. Let’s not judge and spew hate about a man who cannot defend himself. Let’s not be unforgiving and hateful. Instead, let’s love and forgive. Let’s hope that his soul is with God.

  10. I do think that most people (not just Christians) have mixed feelings about Michael’s legacy … and that is ok! He is a public figure and so his life will always be viewed on a big screen – the good and the bad.
    But what is not ok is what BET did this weekend, and I only saw the last 30 minutes! Since the show aired, I have heard that this is “Business as Usual” over at BET.
    My question is this: Why is BET still on the air? Bravo Tim Lee. Start the movement, its obviously long overdue.

  11. Good article, Tim. I concur. I was disappointed, too. The only reason I watched the award was in anticipation of the tribute. MJ deserves better, especially from BET. As happens in so many arenas, I’m sure we’ll have to look to VH1 or MTV to give a fitting tribute to the King of Pop.
    No matter what people think about MJ, one thing cannot be disputed: he gave the best of his God-given talent to the world. There are not a lot of people who can say that. Thinking about that has caused me to consider whether I’m giving the world the best of what God has given to me…

  12. Tim, I totally agree. Lately, BET has not shown many postive aspects of anything, needless to say that dressing as MJ, at the time of his death, was more of a mockery than tribute. I’m very disappointed.

  13. I agree 100%…I think that Jamie Foxx went too far with the jokes. I think Ving Rhames went TOO far. It was a fiasco ! I appreciate the fact that they honored everyday people, and gor the tribute together in so short a time. But, it was mor of a dishonor than anything. I think Jamie should have kept it somewhat serious at a time like this…Mr. Jackson and Janet were in attendance and the baby mama jokes & jokes about Michael’s nose were not wise or necessary. Debra Lee should have spokeen to Jamie and pre-warned him to keep this particular tribute classy ! I betach the white networks would NOT have dishonred theirs like that. Nobody cracked Elvis Jokes on TV when he died ! And we shouldn’t do Michael. I don’t have a heaven OR hell to put him in, so I can’t judge him…Whatever he did in his life God knows…As for us we enjoyed his music, philanthropy, and talents ! He desrves to be remembered better than that ! BET could have done better than that ! Let a classier and more serious Black star host when the occassion calls for it. They need to do things with excellence.

  14. Yes, it is time to pull the plug on BET. It truly speaks to their amateurism that beyond awkward teleprompter delays and the host asking on air, “Am I on, am I on?”, they were incapable of getting right what should have been the easiest thing to pull off: a real tribute to Michael Jackson.
    In spite of…no, BECAUSE of the limited time they had to prepare, all they had to do was keep the show focused on the man they were “honoring.” To do so would have presented a can’t miss opportunity. Viewers surely would have understood that the network had to make major changes to the show in the 11th hour and would given them a pass for a few bungled moments. Instead we got the disorganized mess that was the awards show.
    Shame on BET. As a friend said, it’s too bad that Michael wasn’t paying tribute to BET after its death.

  15. MICHAEL THE NARC-ANGEL
    Millions of little members of the worldwide F.F.A. (Future Followers of the Antichrist) have finally learned how to find a certain part of their lower anatomy and quickly touch it while dancing – thanks to Michael Jackson, the highest paid Lower Anatomy Toucher of all time! Special thanks also go to the Jesus-bashing, Hell-bound Hollywood moguls who were just as quick to see higher profits in lower anatomies! [Just saw this opinion on the web. Other grabby items on MSN, Google, etc. include “Separation of Raunch and State,” “David Letterman’s Hate, Etc.,” “Tribulation Index becomes Rapture Index,” and “Bible Verses Obama Avoids.” – something for everyone!]