Growing up, I always liked horror, sci-fi, comic books and computers. And whether it was because I was actually good at math and science and wore glasses, or something else… for whatever reason, people always considered me sort of a mad scientist.
It helps that in the 80’s and 90’s I was also into Hip Hop and video production and like others, referred to my home studio as “the lab” (or laboratory) which is, of course, the scientist’s favorite place. Still, every so often, I would get comments or cracks about how I was like some scientist with the way I approached creating my art. And, the thing is, they were right. I do treat my art like a mad scientist, and the following convoluted tale is about one of my more successful experiments.
About 10 years ago, in 2009, I was the Marketing Director for the legendary Hip Hop emcee known as, The Teacha KRSONE. At the time, we were preparing for the launch of his book, The Gospel of Hip Hop and his 20th Anniversary Stop the Violence Movement Tour. When the book was finally printed and shipped to us a not long before the release party, I had a meeting with KRS to get one of the first copies.
At the meeting with me and KRS was his wife and manger Simone Parker. She’s an exceptional woman and someone KRS considers an “Acronologist” or someone who is skilled at giving words new meaning by assigning acronyms to describe it. (For instance, G.O.D. is Guiding Our Direction)
So, as we sat discussing our next moves on the tour there was a lull in the conversation because I had to make some confirmation calls. When I was refocusing my attention on KRS and Simone, she remarked to him sort of as an aside saying. “doesn’t he remind you of a mad scientist?” I don’t know if I was supposed to hear that cuz she thought I was still on the phone, and it sounded kind of complimentary I guess, but I acted as if I didn’t and started back in where we left off.
When I was on my way back home, a slight feeling of being exposed or put on blast still bothered me. See, with the exception of this explanation, I have never really referred to myself as a scientist outside of the mid 1990’s. Since Tupac and the ‘Thug-Era’, the respect for intellect had gone down consistently in rap music and society as a whole. So, her calling out my true nature like that was almost like a tarot card reader exposing some deep dark secret. Its like she saw thru me in a way and it was slightly offensive; kind of like someone walking in the bathroom when you’re on the toilet. It felt sort of intrusive, though in true accordance with my nature, it helped solidify the concept for my next thought experiment.
Simone is spectacular at redefining words because she has the gift for seeing the true nature of a thing. That ability helped The Teacha come up with a better way to express some powerful ideas he puts in the book and he gives her credit for that several times throughout the Gospel of Hip Hop. The acronyms she comes up with are usually dope too. Like, STRONG is a mental process to practice when faced with situations like prison; Stay Tolerant, Respond Objectively, Notify God. She has good concepts to pass on but like so many other good concepts, hers get overlooked because they don’t go viral or floated around in social media heavily. This notion was the basis of my experiment. The idea was to take a concept or phrase and make it popular in the mainstream culture. Marketing, after all, is about promotion and sometimes re-packaging. Here I was trying to promote a specific phrase to see if I could push it into the everyday lexicon or at least popularize it. Hip Hop has an underground history of artists intentionally trying to popularize new phrases and maybe, this was in part, from that vain as well.
The concept or phrase I chose for my experiment was ‘willful ignorance’ or ‘willfully ignorant’. At first, I used it to describe the state of Hip Hop as expressed by rap music. In fact, by 2012, my disdain for the rap music industry in general had peaked due to so much willful ignorance, that I left the Temple of Hip Hop and KRSONE’s marketing duties for the next man to handle. I needed a break from an industry that was being taken over by mumble rap/trap music.
My primary interests shifted more toward politics as I started getting more graphic design and marketing work from local politicians. But even there, I began to notice the same effect. The dumbing down of America in politics was resulting in the same willful ignorance. Similar to rap music, politics thru gateway of the mainstream media was encouraging people to remain stuck in a place where they could just ignore facts or the future and instead create their own reality. This state of ignoring the long-term consequences of ill-advised present-day actions is, to me: willful ignorance. MAGAts do it, and rappers with tattoos on their face who snitch on themselves on records, only to be locked up later, do it too. Their fans who sip lean and play with guns are as willfully ignorant as white boys in khakis shouting “Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville. It was apparent that the whole country had been simmering in a stew of willful ignorance flavored with each group’s own special seasonings for a while.
So, I began using the phrase as often as possible in five main places on-line between 2009 and 2018. At first, I used it on my personal blog on hiphoplives.net which started as another promotional platform for KRSONE/the Temple of Hip Hop and Facebook. On September 23, 2009, two months before the book came out, I wrote an article called “More Random Babbling” that began…
“At what point are we gonna realize what is going on in society? We remain disconnected to a large degree from what is real by our own unwillingness to see life as a whole. We become trapped by our own willful ignorance of the things that aren’t connected to our immediate attention (Hip Hop Know What I’m Sayin’, 2013, Amazon).”
A few years later I wrote an article titled “No More Rappers”, in which I said…
“Hip Hop lyricism has gone from those who had confidence in their innate talent, determination and sincere effort, into those who feel comfortable enough to fake it til they make it. Rap has gone from justifiable confidence to unjustifiable arrogance and willful ignorance (Hip Hop Know What I’m Sayin’, 2013, Amazon – reposted March 2015 http://hiphoplives.net/less-rappers-more-emcees/ ).”
By 2015, I was deeply invested in Hillary Clinton winning the election and despised the blatant use of Russian propaganda and 25-year-old smears to weaken her chances. I used the phrase heavily on Berniecrat internet sites like TPM, Raw Story, AlterNet, The Daily Banter and Think Progress along with other insults until I was banned from all of them. Then I found The People’s View and was able to speak freely again. I continued to make the comparison between the state of hip-hop music and politics as the election of 2016 neared.
Most of these comments were on disqus.com via the other sites mentioned and later I wrote a piece titled “Hip Hop and U.S. Politics Have a Similar Problem: The Media” in September of 2016. In it, I blacked out on the state of the media and made sure to drop the phrase “willfully ignorant” three separate times to drive the point home. http://hiphoplives.net/hip-hop-and-u-s-politics/
Around that time on disqus, I started to notice other people in our niche group of Hillary supporters, starting to use the phrase ‘willful ignorance’ once in awhile. It was mostly to describe members of the Alt-left, like The Young Turks, who at first, refused to see any possibility of Russian influence. After the election and into 2017, they epitomized the concept of willfully ignorant. I soon migrated to Twitter to expand my range of perspectives but stopped using the phrase as much. By then, others had migrated as well and started to spread the use outside of disqus.com. I still use the phrase infrequently on Twitter and other contexts like in a post from Dec. 2017 where I interviewed Duke Bootee, writer/producer of the song “The Message” I said, “Many have willfully ignored the true power of Hip Hop which is the power to edutain.”
Over the last two years, use of the phrase has been solely in reference to political conversations yet grown exponentially. Besides the increased use on-line throughout 2017 and 2018 I also saw the phrase begin to appear in political ads. Some instances I managed to screenshot although a Twitter search of the word will shoe the increase in use. Still, the coup de grace came this week when Time.com published a story that said,
“intelligence officials say Trump displays what one called ‘willful ignorance’ when presented with analyses… (Walcott, Time, 2-5-2019, time.com)”
With the phrase being used in its updated context like that at the highest level, echoing something put forth in a previous article, I would consider that a successful marketing experiment (even though it took 10 years). Now, like any good marketing professional, I didn’t have to come up with the phrase to rebrand and popularize it. The phrase originated for me around 2006/7 when I saw George Carlin’s 2005 NYC show at the Beacon theatre on-line. In it, during one of his many classic rants he said in passing,
“That’s what the owners count on, the fact that Americans will probably remain, willfully ignorant.” – George Carlin