I gave up two things post-high school: rap and MTV. I have no negative feelings of either form of entertainment, but as I continued to mature, I found my taste evolve as well.
However, now that I’m older, I decided to watch an MTV documentary. A film genre I had long forgotten, but found oddly comforting. You can expect the usual: repeated teen-driven commercials, a solid amount of curse-edits, and, of course, an overarching dramatized theme. It took me back to my adolescent years of Punk’d and Best Week Ever. I found myself easily entertained.
But it wasn’t just the documentary that entertained — it was the documentary’s superstar. Nicki Minaj. Considering my MIA status from the rap and pop-culture scenes, I watched knowing very little of the diva besides her infamous “Anaconda”. However, I quickly learned that this chick is smart. She has depth and wisdom, which kept exuding from her documentary persona. I’m not going to lie, I was impressed. And I was shocked that an MTV documentary could provide me with life perspective and inspiration.
Nicki’s persona was professional and insightful. She made it clear that work is nothing without the ones you love. And to Nicki, she would rather give up her stardom in order to be with her family at the end of the day. Hence her move back to Queens. This non-celebrity mindset allowed me to truly respect Nicki and her life goals. And this was all apparent in a short documentary.
Later that week I found myself contemplating Nicki and curious about her full story. The documentary only gave so much. So I searched other media. Like The Rolling Stone. Fate would have it that Nicki just so happened to be the magazine’s feature at the time. Thanks RS! As I excitedly curled on the couch with a coffee in one hand and the publication in the other, I dug into the editorial.
And I was disappointed.
Nicki—the girl who portrayed such depth and positive work ethic via documentary—didn’t appear as admirable in Jonah Weiner’s featured article. Jonah never said anything outright against Nicki. However, he did portray her in a less flattering light than MTV. His first sentence of the article began with Nicki complaining about her personal hotel room—demanding a switch. Later, he explained how she ordered him to sit shotgun in the Rolls Royce on their way to the Greenwich Village photo shoot because of an issue with a previous interview question. Although subtle, I sensed some irritation from the piece. These parts, together with other similar moments in the article, provided a different image of Nicki.
As I continued contemplating this dual-portrayal, I realized my need to consider the scholars. I turned to McLuhan.
Marshall McLuhan, a communications theorist and media pioneer, developed the area of media studies quite significantly in the 1960s. His motto? “The medium is the message.” Essentially, the way information is presented, the actual medium in which it communicates, influences how the message is understood. Nicki’s documentary is one medium, the featured article another. So which is more accurate?
It’s not definite. We can argue either way. Nicki, to some degree, had control over the documentary. Knowing she was on camera, Nicki could have adapted her actions to portray her desired public persona. I’m not saying Nicki did this; I’m simply saying it was possible. Nicki had an element of control over this medium.
In contrast, Jonah had the most control over the feature. Although I’m sure the article is factual — amounting to a specific level of accuracy — the feature could have been skewed. Perhaps Jonah was biased to Nicki. Perhaps neither was having a good day. Perhaps Jonah writes similarly for all interviews. Or perhaps he captured Nicki’s true essence.
The point? The media is the message. The visual documentary influenced one perception of Nicki. The written feature influenced another. Media truly changes a perception. So, like any solid researcher should, gleaning insight from a variety of respected sources is crucial. That way, next time you chat about Nicki, you are as well informed as possible.
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