Better Late Than Never: 1938 Media's TechN*gga Video Costs Feldman Verizon Deal

July 7, 2008

in Video

It appears as though yesterday was the day the rest of the human world caught wind of 1938 Media’s TechN*gga video. Verizon signed a video distribution deal with 1938 Media (Loren Feldman) last week.While the insular Web 2.0 geek world obsessed over the TechN*gga controversy last summer, grassroots and civil rights groups spoke up and issued statements asking for Verizon  to pull 1938 Media’s content from their VCast offering on Monday. The story even made the evening news here in Los Angeles.

I’d been silently watching this whole thing unfold as the day went by. I first thought something was fishy when one of my friends (who is not tech savvy whatsoever) instant messaged me the link to the video early this morning. My response to him was, “You are (literally) about a year late on this.” He said a friend of his e-mailed him the video that morning. It turns out HipHopDX was running the story, as well as many other non-tech African-American blogs, forums, and websites. Some are also reporting this was a topic on some talk radio stations today.

While I don’t want to beat the dead horse that is TechN*gga (a summary in 10 seconds: 1) Black Tech Bloggers do exist, 2) Loren was foul for what he said and did 3) He’s apologized and subjected himself to the SXSW panel about the issue–we get it!) I am amazed at three things:

1) how quickly the outrage appears to have spread–in one day–on the web, radio and television
2) how insular the Web 2.0 crowd can be, so much that nobody outside of the bubble caught wind of it the first time around (last year), or even weeks ago with the CNET announcement
3) how insular the web 2.0 crowd is to have not noticed the protests until late Monday/Tuesday. TechMeme didn’t get wind of it until later on Monday evening.

It seemed like for weeks on end last summer, all I heard inside the echo chamber was TechN*gga this, 1938 Media that, PodTech this, Scoble, Huffington, yadda yadda. Yet mainstream interests didn’t pick up the issue until 11 months later. Dare I say the echo chamber really doesn’t matter to the outside world? Granted the Verizon deal put a new spin on the story, but it did take a solid week in this Twitter-happy information age for someone to take note of the dirty little secret.

TechCrunch is suggesting there is a conspiracy against Feldman and his success as of late. I’m not entirely sure I agree with the idea, but I wouldn’t rule it out. On the other hand, I definitely thought about the controversial video as soon as CNET signed Feldman. Had anybody at CNET or Verizon seen the TechN*gga video? In a world of Don Imus stories did CNET and Verizon want this on their hands?

Now that everyone is officially late to the party (CP Time, anyone?), I ask where were all these civil rights groups when Loren Feldman wasn’t catching a check from Verizon or CNET? The video was first released in August 2007. It had a good long run as controversial fodder at least until the SXSW panel in March 2008. The video wasn’t any less controversial before he signed a deal with CNET or Verizon. Was he just a silly man with a camera and a voice back then? Is the business angle the real issue at hand? Why didn’t the Black internet world (myself included) support itself earlier with more outrage and protesting when the story was fresh?

I guess nobody cares until you try to be somebody.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Toney July 8, 2008 at 1:22 AM

I think your last line is exactly it.
Inside the bubble, I think the assumption is we (the universal we) can police ourselves. There was moral outrage, there was our own mini-firing, black folks got together in a protest of our own fashion (at SXSW – where the black tech bloggers go…at least those in the digital glitterati), and, you know, it was done.
Outside the bubble, who cares about Loren until he tries to go mainstream? He’s just some fool with a camera until Verizon, a brand everybody knows, decided to invest in him.

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Jay Smooth July 8, 2008 at 2:38 AM

I think it got all the attention and protest it warranted at the time given the reach of his voice at that time (more than it warranted, really).. to bring in civil rights groups when that vid first launched would’ve been way too much feeding of the troll.
But now that his name was getting connected to brands that are known to the 99.999% of the world outside our tech/vlog circle, I’m not surprised the vid brought a new and heavier round of repercussions for him.
Trying to pin this on conspiracies, and intimate that “the real story has yet to come out” or whatever, is absurd.. He chose to do work that no respectable organizations would want to be associated with, and now he’s finding that respectable organizations don’t want to be associated with his work. It ain’t no mystery.
I really think Loren is is a gifted performer and does very good work when he plays to his strengths (the puppet stuff, albeit motivated by hate, was funny and showed a lot of savvy IMO). I’m not happy to see him take a fall. But these are the natural consequences of his own choices, and there’s nobody else to blame..

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Angela July 8, 2008 at 6:07 AM

So on point Liz! I have actually be battling with myself as whether to post on this or not considering we covered this last year from a number of different angles. Talk about beating a dead horse.
I also agree with the real story being about the deal with Verzion and not so much the TechNigga video. In the same breath I can understand the outrage from others outside of the tech community, when I first saw it I felt the same way. I think we have to not give this dude so much energy (the same fuel that triggers his “parodies”) and focus on the real topic.

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I got a question? July 8, 2008 at 8:18 AM

I got an honest question….
IF that skit was done by Dave Chappell, would Black be making this much noise about it?

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Bill Cammack July 8, 2008 at 8:52 AM

Excellent post. :) Too many great points for me to chat about right now, but essentially,
The point here is “Association”…
As long as Loren (or anyone that chooses not to walk the beaten path) is associated with “nothing”, nobody cares. If he has his own website or puts videos on youtube, nobody cares.
In order for a company to hire him, they have to be willing to accept being ASSOCIATED with him. Not SOCIALLY associated, like Arrington & Calacanis… Associated on a business level to the point that they’re admitting in public that they endorse this person and are putting money in his pocket.
Once you do that, you take on a different level of association and are liable to be dragged through the mud because of it.
It appears that history has repeated itself and will continue to do so. We don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Verizon didn’t want to be in the tabloids every single day, just like PodTech didn’t like being in the tabloids every single day and who knows what happened to the announced CNET deal? (also, the apparent dissolution of his Huffington Post column after Arianna Huffington saying about the video in question: “I found it both offensive and unfunny.”)
I’m sure there’s a way for Loren to parlay this new attention from the media, including being on actual television on the news. I’ll be interested to see what that is. From what we’ve seen so far, people find him unique and interesting, yet simultaneously hazardous to their company’s public image. We’ll see what happens when he strikes up a deal with a company that can afford to be associated with him.

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Jennifer July 8, 2008 at 11:20 AM

I agree with your post and all the comments. I tried sharing this situation last year with non tech friends and they did not understand it but I first heard about the situation through @tiffanybbrown’s blog and I was shocked. I’ve been watching Loren for awhile since then, and his crazy antics continue to surprise me.

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Suki Fuller July 8, 2008 at 11:25 AM

Excellent post Liz.
Bottom line up front…money. Verizon could not afford it.

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Corvida July 8, 2008 at 11:40 AM

I recently chimed in my thoughts about the situation once I got wind that Verizon was adding his content to their network. http://shegeeks.net/i-requested-that-verizon-drop-their-deal-with-1938media/
The reason why my response was late is because I only recently found out about the video about a week or two ago. While it did bother me when I saw it, it was from last year and there was no point in rehashing the past and bringing him more publicity.
Once I heard that Verizon picked him up that’s when I decided to move into action. Before, the situation was contained to a small niche and group of people. It wasn’t going to move outside of that group and I was happy about that at the very least. However, once Verizon picked it up, that meant it would be available for mass consumption. No one wants that and I think that’s why everyone decided to chime in at this point. Loren Feldmna is not important to mainstream, but with Verizon picking him up, that may have changed the game.

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tiffany July 8, 2008 at 11:44 AM

@I got a question?: No, because *if* Dave Chappelle did it, he would not have titled the post or video “Where Are the Black Tech Bloggers?” and it would have been funny. Plus there’s a difference between making jokes about you and yours versus repeating stereotypes. But you didn’t really need anyone to explain that to you, right?
But yeah, this is a case of Verizon not doing their homework on Loren and how his videos were received. I will just sign my name to what Bill, Jason and Jay said :-).

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Fresh July 8, 2008 at 12:08 PM

Angela asked the question “If that skit was done by Dave Chappell, would Black be making this much noise about it?” Tiffany responds “No, because *if* Dave Chappelle did it, he would not have titled the post or video “Where Are the Black Tech Bloggers?” and it would have been funny. Plus there’s a difference between making jokes about you…”
The whole age-old problem is many of us want to use the term *ni**a as a term of endearment these days, just cause it is US who use it about us, but let another race use any derivative of the word, and it’s a racial stereotype? That is insane. The word itself (save its Latin root) is a deragotory term no matter WHAT race says it in any context. IMHO, knowing the comedic talent of Dave Chappelle, the title would have remained the same.
Back to the issue at hand… bottom line, it is a shame that it took a year to surface. Me, I didn’t even know about it last year, and I am a VZW customer (who doesn’t use V-Cast.
Good post, Liz.
July 8, 2008 8:18 AM

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tiffany July 8, 2008 at 12:32 PM

@fresh: (1) angela didn’t ask that question. some punk a** named “i got a question” did.
(2) my beef isn’t with “technigga.com” it’s with “nigga-ish” or (“nigga-esque” if you prefer) behavior being equated with blackness in that video.
at the risk of being tacky, i’ll point to my own post from earlier this year since i’m too lazy to re-type the point, and i could use the traffic:
http://tiffanybbrown.com/2008/03/15/where-are-the-black-tech-bloggers/

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Roy July 8, 2008 at 12:44 PM

“my beef isn’t with “technigga.com” it’s with “nigga-ish” or (“nigga-esque” if you prefer) behavior being equated with blackness in that video.”
It’s wrong but, its not like its that far from the truth. There are some of “us” who fit that stereotype, so lets not act like he just pulled those stereotypes out of his ass.

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Kenneth Darryl Brown July 8, 2008 at 2:35 PM

Yes Liz! I appreciate your honesty and candor. I was shocked and surprised that he got any business deal after he was exposed!
Everybody should make it their personal responsibility to confront these negative stereotypes and images. First, we should become great role models ourselves, do what we can within our own communities to bridge the digital divide for all people! We must take control of our digital image and web presence!
Second, we should seek, support, promote and become a resource for each other! Specially, include African Americans, Latino & Hispanic Americans and Native Americans who are technology experts and professionals in our blogs, podcasts, webinars, articles, news releases, wikiis and websites! Don’t talk about it, be about it!
Last, for all the entrepreneurs, let’s continue to build profitable companies and to connect, collaborate and create greater opportunities for all of us!

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ProHipHop: Hip Hop Business July 8, 2008 at 6:10 PM

Verizon Reverses Course on Loren Feldman Deal

I’ve been avoiding the Loren Feldman issue for quite a while. I just had a bad feeling about the whole thing and black bloggers addressing the issue seemed to have the matter well in hand. So I was quite surprised to hear of Verizon’s deal with Loren F…

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MiniMage July 8, 2008 at 10:11 PM

I was outraged by it last year, and I made a comment or two, but I didn’t go all out. Feldman struck me as the kind who could dish it and would to make himself feel like a big man, but who would not be able to take it (the rant at Kawasaki being the proof). My voice is too small for the shouting one to hear, anyway. I hope LF is learning to take it. He certainly earned it.

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lynne July 8, 2008 at 10:13 PM

I was late to the party this time, but early the first time — last year. Bill C hipped me to it this time, and at first I thought to leave it alone — we in the insular tech world had done what we do — blog about it, talk about it, etc. Because of this, I mainly side with JT, Jay, Angela, and Tiffany here.
I would have continued to leave it alone until I saw @Corvida’s blog post today — at which point I somehow felt necessary to provide context and history. Every other post I read about it, had not moved me to that action.
As for radio, it still lives. NPR News & Notes plans to do a segment tomorrow.
As Bill said though, he’ll get work. And we’ll just have to see how that plays out then. I actually used to subscribe to his podcast way back in the day, and found some of what he was doing interesting enough at the time. He blew my world when this video came out, I guess, because I felt betrayed to some extent. I was vibing with his rants on new media and social media, and this first video in that opus just came out of left field at the time.
At the end of the day, people have to be held accountable for their actions.

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Liz July 9, 2008 at 7:24 AM

Wow, thank you everybody who came by to weigh in on the subject. I really appreciate the time.
Angela, yeah while most people seem to be arguing about the content of the video, I think the real issue is just the fact that it exists and Verizon got in bed with someone with a questionable content history. I really don’t want to sit around and rehash the play by play analysis of the video itself.
Bill, I agree, this is a tabloids issue. Nobody cares that Loren may not be a bonafied racist when you get down to his details and semantics of the situation. The fact is, 5 or 6 second clips from his video aired on TV and he looks like a racist prick to the world. It’s unfortunate that this is how he is being represented to the greater public, considering the hours of video content he has produced on the web that don’t make him look like a racist prick, but that’s the nature of this whole mainstream thing. People are reduced to a few soundbites, and so you have to keep that in mind.
Roy, of course he didn’t pull the stereotypes out of thin air, but as someone who is Black and reads and participates in a lot of tech conversations online, I don’t think a large majority of my peers are anything like his rendition of what a Black Tech Blogger should be. If he were doing a parody of Soulja Boy? Maybe it would fit. It’s definitely about context and not content, for me.
Kenneth, thanks for dropping by. Sometimes I struggle with being a visible Black woman in this space. I think Loren’s original question was warranted, where are the Black Tech Bloggers? Sometimes I feel that since people like Loren don’t seem to see us, then I have to put in my community service and make myself visible to them. But what if I don’t want to do that? What if that’s not my style? Am I doing it because people like Loren don’t see people like me? Or am I doing it because I want people like me to see me and feel encouraged to step out as well? Does all of this really matter (to me) in the end?
Minimage, I think I felt somewhat the same way you did. Though I am finding that a lot of people silently feel the same way, yet the squeakier wheels get heard or get seen.
Lynne, yes thank you for leading a lot of the commentary the first time around. I hadn’t heard of him until Bill C put me on as well. I’ve been watching Loren’s stuff fairly regularly since then and it does seem as though nothing else he does is in the same vein of randomness (though he is random, haha) as the TN video. I am sure he will get some work and bounce back from this all.

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D July 10, 2008 at 6:31 PM

Ah shit, where’s George Carlin when you need him? He’s rolling in his grave already — or glad as hell to be there, as this is the kind of inanity that pissed him off so much.
Old news makes for no news at all. Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Eddie Murphy, Russell Peters for god’s sake! just about comic of ethnicity (whatever THAT even means anymore) gets to do this schtick for laughs. Why not a grumpy Jew?
Why can I, as a white, fallen Protestant, laugh like crazy when Chappelle makes fun of how I dance with my ass out like a chicken, but simultaneously be expected to be outraged at Feldman’s take? It’s a joke. Correct me if I’m wrong, but stereotype is a classic form of humour. Because we all know that it is both true and false at the same time maybe?
Give me a break, this is old, tired and worthless news.

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Jay Smooth July 12, 2008 at 3:19 PM

George Carlin was indeed a pioneer of trasngressive humor, but he was never just about transgression for its own sake. He knew that it matters what you are rebelling against, and why.
And that’s the problem with these equations of Feldman’s work with Chappelle, Peters etc.. they work from an assumption that all transgression is created equal… that it doesn’t matter what you are specifically trying to say, and how well you say it. But those details are, in fact, the part that matters.
Nobody is saying that stereotypes or race or racism in general should be off-limits. Anyone should be free to address any topic. But it does matter whether you address the topic well, or address it poorly. The problem here isn’t that Feldman shouldn’t have addressed the topic, it’s that he shouldn’t have addressed it so clumsily and ineffectively.
Just because you are free to do it doesn’t mean you won’t get called out when you do it badly.

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D July 13, 2008 at 9:23 AM

“Just because you are free to do it doesn’t mean you won’t get called out when you do it badly.”
Amen! Fair point, we should all be held to task when we fall short of executing properly.

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