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Janet Jackson: Advocating For Equality And Reminding Us Why She's An Icon

Culture

It's almost 9 PM on a cold fall night in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The energy is palpable as the crowd patiently waits to be reunited with their sister. 90s R&B, classic Michael Jackson, and select hits by Bruno Mars pulsate through Boardwalk Hall's sound system as the audience gyrates to the music with anticipation.


Photo Courtesy of The Fader

Then it happens. A one-minute video montage snatches everyone's attention. Racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, and domestic violence are all highlighted. The names of black men who've lost their lives due to police brutality flash across the screen. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Philando Castille. Oscar Grant. The list goes on. This is our pertinent reminder. Although we're guaranteed a good time, there are serious matters that will be addressed.

The uniform is all black. The message is urgent. The icon is Janet Jackson. Cane in hand, she elegantly erupts onto the stage wearing a black leather trench coat and elbow length black leather gloves to match. Superhero-like, she is our leader for the next two hours. The leader of the Rhythm Nation.

Instead of jumping into “Burn It Up," the Missy assisted dance track off of her critically acclaimed latest album, Unbreakable, Janet starts the show with “The Knowledge" followed by “State Of The World," Both are socially conscious tracks off of her Rhythm Nation 1814 album. Despite these songs being almost three decades old, the issues that a then twenty-three year old Janet Jackson sought out to address are just as prevalent in 2017 as they were then.

To watch the youngest Jackson command the stage as she performs hit after hit is breathtaking. She hasn't lost a step. Alongside her troupe of dancers, who are young enough to be her children, she sings live while performing some of the most famous choreography in pop music history. All of this doesn't come easy though. Despite Jackson being one of the most well-known music artists of all time, she continues to put the work in. She began rehearsing for the State of the World tour in July, only six months after giving birth to her first child. To whip her famous body back into shape she enlisted the help of former sprinter and bodybuilder, Paulette Sybliss, who helped her lose fifty pounds. According to Sybliss, as reported in the Atlantic City Weekly, Jackson followed a strict weight-training program and increased her protein intake, while balancing her diet with carbohydrates and healthy fats to keep her energized.

Photo Courtesy of PEOPLE

But she's not doing too much. Nothing about the State of the World Tour is overstated or tries too hard. The production is not as grand as on previous tours, and the costume changes are minimal, but it all works. Jackson is at a point in her career where she doesn't need all of the theatrics.

Her herd of adoring fans love her without the extras, and she knows it. This tour and Jackson's ascend back into the spotlight is about much more than extravagant costumes and perfectly timed pyro explosions. Similar to the way that she's used her career to advocate for equal rights and the LGBTQ community (she was recently honored with the 2017 Music Icon Award at the OUT100 Gala), Jackson is using the State of the World Tour to send a very clear message – she is not okay with our current state of affairs, and her robust catalog of music will once again be used to create dialog and raise awareness about these issues.

When she performs the emotional anti-domestic violence song “What About," or the female empowerment anthems, “Nasty" and “What Have You Done For Me Lately" the crowd sings along to every word. Women testify and rejoice. This is why Jackson has stood the test of time. The fact that she is no longer the ab-baring chanteuse that she once was doesn't matter. Jackson floats across the stage, fully clothed, just as confident as she's ever been. Her million dollar smile leads the way, followed by an opulent auburn colored high ponytail that bounces to her beat.

As the show winds down you can't help but think about how special and empowering the whole thing really is. The State of the World tour is the culmination of a career that has aged gracefully. With fifty-one years under her belt and a newborn baby boy waiting backstage for her, Ms. Jackson can still outperform your favorite performer, while simultaneously using her voice for good. Now that's Control.

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8min read
Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.