Street Summer season, Channel 4

A naff cultural-historical hip-hop gospel packaged according to MTV aesthetics ...

Submitted by Tom Jennings on October 4, 2011

Spectacular Coincidences. Television review – Tom Jennings
A predictably lazy mashup of commercial pop and tabloid pap seasoned with occasional ghostly echoes of grit, Channel 4’s Street Summer (August 12th–14th) purported to faithfully depict the centrality of ‘urban’ culture to mainstream society today – its trailer featuring actor Idris Elba mugging the vernacular to hype ‘how hip-hop changed the world’, thus being ‘the revolution that succeeded’. The dishearteningly superficial tone was cemented by wince-inducing Street Dance Pop Idol contests – their intergalactic distance from the communal working-class origins of street styles being encapsulated by legendary New York B-boy Crazy Legs having to explain that routines might draw on passions borne of the aspiramts’ life experiences. The short film One Man Walking did borrow choreography from patterns of physical expression responding to urban alienation, even if now reconfigured for passively cerebral audiences as serious art, whereas the Concrete Circus portraits of professional parkour, skateboarding and BMX cycling never linked their performativity to any grass-roots milieux bar consumers and fans.
The visual arts strand also prioritised the vicissitudes of celebrity careers, following Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop (reviewed in Freedom, 8th May 2010) with his Antics Roadshow’s random amusing stunt interventions in public spaces. Graffiti Wars finally introduced negativity into otherwise self-congratulatory equations, chronicling the feud between renowned London tagger King Robbo and Banksy – the latter shown to consistently steal from and shit on rivals in cornering street art markets. Embarrassment then peaked with How Hip-Hop Changed the World, whose Top 50 ‘moments’ merely jumbled events piquing the media shock-horror and novelty machine into a cretinous narrative of corporate absorptions of music, fashion and language producing a few Black moguls and politicians momentarily pretending to be down with the yoof. If it wasn’t for Akala’s thoughtful Life of Rhyme, charting UK rap lyricism from reggae through grime, you’d hardly guess from Street Summer that hip-hop’s global resonance as an artform of the powerless and dispossessed best explains its ubiquity.
The series screened on the weekend after August’s riots, giving a convenient opportunity to compare its caricatures with reality on the mean streets – since those who taunted the police with their burnin’ and lootin’ surely are the UK’s ‘hip-hop generation’ in the same sense that their counterparts in 1992’s LA Uprising were. This had already been hinted loud and proud in December’s education demonstrations in London, notably by the EMA contingents whose soundtracks helped inspire the most rebellious tendencies, and is evident in a host of YouTube efforts in our present riotous backlash as the feral rich’s government and media lackeys resume normal racist service. And if pre-insurrectionary apprenticeships should birth more consciously organised, less suicidally nihilistic carnivalesques, you can bet the neighbourhood MCs and DJs will promptly furnish the necessary street reportage, solidarity and embedded reflection – continuing proof, if needed, of the vitality and urgency of the vibrant living culture Street Summer was all but blind to, in its haste to privilege the individual pursuit of fifteen minutes of fame and thirty pieces of silver.
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 72, No. 17, October 2011.
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