Thursday, April 19, 2007

Is rap to blame?

Well, after the events of this week, I doubt anybody much cares about rap vs. Imus, but I wrote it, so I'm posting it. However, know that our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Young black men fight against social and economic oppression through rap lyrics -- a testosterone-fueled idealization of adolescent male power fantasies. Rap lyrics reflect the rest of society, in that male value is judged by three things: physical prowess, conspicuous consumption and attractiveness to women.

I'll leave the first two alone. The opposite sex, however, is a center of fascination for most every adolescent male -- the source of desire and fear. Since inkwells and pigtails, boys seem to react to girls with hostility. Whether it's the "I don't need you", reject them before they reject you school, or simply a way of proving how cool you are that you can be cruel to girls that everyone else is clamoring to please, misogyny seems to be a step in male evolution.

I think rap picked up the torch for the "hair metal" of the 80's, which was just young male power fantasies for white kids. Motley Crue, Aerosmith, etc., all had the same objectifying attitude. Granted, Motley didn't discuss pimping girls, they merely led listeners through an audio-led guided tour of LA strip clubs. Anybody who thinks women had it better in rock is fooling themselves.

Still, I'm hardly willing to be an apologist for misogyny. So, how do you end it?

Keeping with the rock theme for a minute, I think the PMRC/Government hearings idea is a non-starter. First, I hate censorship of art. It brings into play very subjective (and, I feel, un-American) ideas of "community standards" -- who's community? Who's standards?

Even if you don't share that view, there's another great reason to keep the Government out of it. Rap, as an expression of adolescent male power fantasy, is an oppositional art form. It thrives on conflict with authority. In other words, the more parents it pisses off, the more "cred" it has with it's listenership. The stronger the bond with the audience, the stronger it becomes as an art form. The PMRC made Heavy Metal.

Protests and boycotts won't work for similar reasons. The people protesting are enemies of hip-hop already -- this includes protesters within the black community. These people represent the parents of fan base. As for boycotts -- how can you boycott that which you don't buy, anyway??? Oh, no, hip hop's going to lose the 25+ audience? Who cares??

In some limited cases, if a major label which is part of a larger conglomerate is pushing one particularly offensive act, a mass boycott on all the company's other products could work, but it would need to be a large, coordinated effort.

I think the only way to stem misogyny in rap lyrics is to raise the consciousness of the rappers themselves. The only people who have the moral authority and credibility are young black women. I feel that if young women of color made it known -- with some force and consistency, that such lyrics aren't appreciated, most rappers would come around. Certainly, putting a human face on the women Don Imus objectified and ridiculed brought gravitas to that story. If women in the industry stopped singing hooks or dancing in the videos of offensive rappers, they'd notice. If choreographers stopped working with artists, they'd notice. If young women, who are in the regular habit of buying hip-hop records, suddenly stop buying those cds, they'd definitely notice.

The best part of such an "education" would be that instead of trying to stifle artists, young women involved in hip hop would stand up for themselves and encourage already popular artists to make an important stand.

There is a kind of black feminism, pioneered by Alice Walker, called "womanism", which deals with the unique oppression that comes from the combined marginalizing forces of racism, sexism and classism. It stresses positivity and universalism (unlike the "us" vs. "them" of first wave feminism). Most importantly, by recognizing racism, it takes pains not to lift black women up at the expense of black men. If the older generation worked harder at inculcating this philosophy into young women, and they, in turn, demanded it of the artists they support, we'd be much farther along than if we focus our efforts on suppressing, ostracizing and marginalizing young black men, who, let's face it, are already pretty suppressed, ostracized and marginalized in the first place.


Brian (dad to 3) said...

Great post. I put it on reddit and digg, so hopefully you get some non-adoption related traffic out of it.

Swerl said...

Wow, thanks! I'm not as familiar with those sites as I probably should be.

Sorry I've been a little unresponsive -- my computer's gone all "John Hodgman" on me.

Anonymous said...

some black women have been protesting for years and consistently. however, as can be seen their protest are considered irrelevant and invalid to the majority until it serves the big boy's purpose.

as an aside many of the women that are the features in these videos are not black or call themselves multiracial same with many of the females that sing the hook.

the solution is way more complex. to effectively boycott one would have to never buy a cd since many times the platinum artists earning finance the risky projects and tbh many of these rappers are tax writeoffs