“Who Got the Camera? The Reality of the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising, via TV and Hip-Hop”
In today’s world, many of us are familiar with videos of violent interactions between the police and members of the black community — both police body cam footage and footage taken from smartphones — that too often end in devastating, tragic results. Not only are we familiar with the footage itself, but with the media coverage of those events that dominates the airwaves — as with those events’ social and cultural impact (the nationwide protests after George Floyd’s murder being a prime example).
When considering this, several questions arise for media studies scholars: How do these media events impact public perception on issues of police brutality and violence? What consequences do they have for law enforcement and the justice system more broadly? How do artists in the black community, and beyond, report on or respond to these media events?
As in contemporary discussions of police brutality, similar questions were being asked in the early 1990s as the nation watched news reports of the Rodney King case, heard the verdict, and then looked on as much of LA burned to the ground. In his new book, ‘Who Got the Camera?’ The Reality of the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising, via TV and Hip-Hop, Eric Harvey explores the intersection between two important facets of the early nineties — “reality rap,” aka gangsta rap, and the Rodney King video — the media event that, in conjunction with the acquittal of LA polices officers involved in the King beating, spurned the LA Uprising in 1992. Harvey’s book exists in the tension between the hip-hop community and TV news coverage, with rappers acting as a counterforce to narratives and representations created by news organizations. From the author:
“The Rodney King video was the quintessential media artifact of the first wave of reality entertainment, a pivot point in the representation of American law and order, and a reality rap validation. Those vicious eighty-one seconds verified the street reportage of N.W.A and Ice Cube and cast the growing faction of reality rappers not merely as angry young Black men but as street prophets.”
Come hear Eric Harvey discuss his research into this history. The lecture is Thursday, March 24 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Tyrrell Hall auditorium, with a simultaneous Zoom stream (link to register here). The event is free and accessible to all. Mask wearing is strongly encouraged.
Eric Harvey is an Assistant Professor in the School of Communications at Grand Valley State University, and a freelance writer and reporter on music, media, and commerce. His book Who Got the Camera? A History of Rap and Reality was published by the University of Texas Press in October, 2021.