They seemed to come out of nowhere, like so many web memes: two apparently satirical music videos celebrating feasting at the public trough courtesy of EBT — the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards state governments use to distribute food aid and other benefits.
But on the internet, nowhere almost always has an email address. And a close look at these emanations of the pop-cultural id turns up some suspicious fingerprints.
The first exhibit is “My EBT,” in which Brooklyn rapper Stanley Lafleur (“Mr. EBT”) runs down the many perks of using his government-supplied plastic. “I’m never going hungry, swiping all day y’all. Sandwiches, chips, a big box of Oreos, cereal, Kix.” The only problem with this subsidized junk-food spree is that EBT won’t cover booze or weed. (On Monday, YouTube took the video down for violating its community guidelines, but it’s still pretty easy to find.)
Then there’s Chapter’s “It’s Free (Swipe Yo’ EBT),” a raunchy paean to the EBT-enabled pleasures of life on the Women, Infants and Children dole: “All you have to do is fuck, and nine months later you’re in the big bucks.” The video’s catalog of racial stereotypes and porn-flick pantomimes came with its own “public service announcement” reminding us that “this is where the taxpayer money goes.”
Predictably, conservatives erupted at this evidence of “All That is Wrong With America” (as The Patriot Post thundered). The chorus of consternation grew deafening after the Drudge Report linked to “My EBT,” injecting it into the big-media bloodstream.
Many observers initially took both videos at face value as authentic statements from African American artists who were (depending on your place on the red state/blue state spectrum) shamelessly exploiting or rudely parodying a culture of government largesse. And there doesn’t seem to be any evidence suggesting anything other than that in the case of “My EBT” — by far the milder of the two videos.
But “It’s Free (Swipe Yo’ EBT)” is a different story. An anonymous blogger calling himself “Fact Evangelist” followed the YouTube posting’s credits and discovered a connection between the video’s producer, one Christopher A. Jackson, and Kroque.com, a military apparel contractor, where he is the executive vice president.
Parke Wilde of the U.S. Food Policy blog picked up the investigative baton and got Jackson on the phone. He said, “Chapter and I wrote the lyrics and Chapter produced and arranged the song.”
When I asked if this was hard-hitting anti-welfare social commentary, Jackson described the video as “a hard-hitting anti welfare-abuse-program pro social lesson.”
So this video that so conveniently hands live ammunition to cut-the-budget conservatives turns out to have essentially been produced by a white guy who works for a military-duds contractor. That makes it feel a lot less like honest ghetto self-satire — and a lot more like a deceptive James O’Keefe-style prank.
Of course, these videos are just flashes in the web’s restless brainpan. The real tragedy is that our national debate on food-assistance policy is still conducted as if nothing has changed since the days when Ronald Reagan railed at apocryphal welfare queens.