This month’s Ludacris show was belatedly planned, inadequately publicized and failed to sell out, costing the Michigan Student Assembly $20,000 – at least $5,000 more than initially anticipated. Still, MSA President Jesse Levine called the production an “unqualified success.” Why? Levine said the show promoted diversity, bringing students of all shades together under one roof. But diversity is more than a room full of colorful people, and billing the concert as such is a feeble attempt to defend a slipshod production.
Despite his big-name appeal, by the time Ludacris took the stage Nov. 3, 400 seats in Hill Auditorium remained vacant. What should have been a sell-out had become a financial bombshell, and the poor planning by MSA and the University Activities Center – the show’s other main sponsor – is to blame. For its last-minute publicity effort, MSA chose some of the more common campus mediums for promotion: cheap paper fliers, unprofessional e-mails and sidewalk chalking – never recognizing (or at least never advertising) the true significance of having a headliner like Ludacris on campus. Instead of a lottery, which would have virtually guaranteed a sell-out, MSA chose to subject students to the agonizingly long lines of the Michigan Union Ticket Office, lines that gave many students the false impression the concert had sold out early.
Proponents claim the concert advanced a broader purpose by bringing together students of different backgrounds. And had the production been a more low-key performance at the Blind Pig, where the audience can circulate and socialize, this argument would be more persuasive. But the Ludacris concert, held in a large, dark auditorium, had the same passive effect on campus integration that Michigan football games do every Saturday. Aside from facilitating incidental, unplanned and brief interactions between students of different backgrounds, the event did little to promote inter-group communication.
That Levine expressed disappointment because Ludacris chose not to stay and discuss diversity after his concert displays a profound naivete on his part. It turns out that Ludacris – who proudly declared “U of M girls give me U of M head” – may not be the inclusive, inspiring and progressive thinker Levine imagined. Considering that Ludacris is one of the more misogynistic hip-hop artists of his era, Levine’s argument begs the question: Did MSA intend this concert to promote diversity, or was the diversity argument an afterthought added to legitimize the financial shortfall?
If MSA is truly interested in cultivating a cohesive campus community, there are plenty of cheaper, more effective alternatives. For starters, MSA can bring in artists with a relevant message, most of whom will cost less than six figures. The University, through classes and various student organizations, offers a number of avenues for dialogue between students of different races; if diversity is MSA’s objective, it will dedicate more resources to promoting them.