Mar 19, 2015

March 19, 2015: Cultural Cesspool, Hip-Jerk Reaction, Musak to the Unwashed Ear

Shaun King, writing for Daily Kos on March 12, took Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe", to task for remarks she made defending an exchange with host Joe Scarborough and guest Bill Kristol about a college fraternity engaging in a racist chant about lynching black men.

"Popular culture becomes a cesspool, a lot corporations profit off of it, and then people are surprised that some drunk 19-year-old kids repeat what they’ve been hearing," said Bill Kristol. He added that Tipper Gore "tried to raise this issue, and was widely ridiculed," referring to the parental advisory labels the future V-FLOTUS enacted after her daughter purchased Purple Rain thirty years ago. "

"The kids that are buying hip hop or gangster rap, it’s a white audience, and they hear this over and over again," Joe Scarborough said. "So do they hear this at home? Well, chances are good, no, they heard a lot of this from guys like this who are now acting shocked."

King then proceeds with the standard hip-jerk reaction quipping "Instead of saying they just got it dead wrong, she denied that was ever how they felt, and then again pivoted back to hip-hop and how a discussion on why hip-hop artists use the "N word" was still very timely and appropriate.

The thing is, though, the conversation about hip-hop artists using the "N word" is completely irrelevant and is only being brought up as a distraction for the real matter at hand—shockingly ugly racism from elite college students". (1)

But did she "get it dead wrong" and was the conversation about hip-hop or rap artists using the "N-word" completely irrelevant?

Many years ago I found myself working as a cashier in a small retail establishment. One bright sunny morning I was working alone in the store when a young man, judging by his stature about 12 or 13 years of age came through the front door and asked "hey man, you got any rap music?"

"What kind of music?" I replied

"You know, rap music, man" He said.

"Son, there is rap and there is music, there is no such thing as rap music", said I.

"What are you talkin about? Of course there is", he protested.

"Well for starters, there is no melody in ‘rap’ music, come to think of it there is no harmony either"

"What’s that?" He asked quizzically

"That", said I, " is what I’m afraid of" I thought to myself; musak to the unwashed ear; songs to the barbarian.

"Rap", and its sister offspring "hip-hop" are cultural abortions. At its best the so-called ‘art-form’ is mere limerick set to a rather pronounced beat. At its best it can be somewhat engaging, and socially redeeming, if culturally limited and musically truncated. At its worst, it is a celebration of barbarism, a celebration of the culture of incarceration with constant use of the "N-word", calling women "Hoes"; a celebration of crime, misogyny and violence. This is especially so with so-called ‘gangsta-rap’.

When ‘Rap’ first emerged my reaction was much the same as when in the early ‘50's I sat before a small black and white television in my great-grandmother’s living room watching ‘Lawrence Welk". I remember to this day being 4 years old and thinking to myself that ‘this too will pass". Someday, I was sure, there would come a time when this would be no more. But like Welk, Rap has not been so keen to vacate the cultural stage, with the result that it has permeated the culture, to the point that middle class white adolescents are buying this stuff so as to participate in the ‘right of passage’ to manhood, if only vicariously. Is it any wonder that the obscenities that is this medium celebrates demystifies, by continual repetition, to the point that the ‘N-word" gets re-introduced into the subcultural lexicon as an appropriate adjective? And, how is the violence depicted in these rants (I cannot bring myself to call them ‘songs’), in any measure different or more justifiable than limericks about lynching.

I’m not here defending the frat rats. I find the whole concept of ‘Greek" life on campuses obnoxious and deleterious to serious scholarship. The Greeks, incidentally, knew no such institutions. Nor am I defending the obscenity that was their chant, nor the racist behaviour behind this naked display of hatred. It is hate speech pure and simple.

My point, and I think Mika’s point is that this behaviour, reprehensible and outrageous, is indicative of a much broader trend in this country; where hate speech has become not only acceptable but profitable. To point this out in no way deflects criticism nor does it justify the disgusting fraternity behavior. By drawing attention to other cultural influences one is performing the public duty of demonstrating that the problem is much more pervasive and deep-rooted and we have, consequently, much more work to do.   

1. Shaun King, Daily Kos, " MSNBC host tries to clean up the mess her show made blaming hip-hop for the racist SAE chant." Thursday, March 12,2015

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