White Noise

Recently I found myself in conversation with a friend, debating the various ills of society, when a frequent scapegoat in our great cultural decline reared its head.  The subject:  the degradation of women in modern music… specifically hip hop music.  It seems that since the day songs had lyrics, there has been a rather vocal army of opposition present in society eager to point out how a particular generation of children will simply not survive the sexual onslaught being foisted upon them by dirty songs.  A great screech bellowed from the lungs of middle America on the day Elvis Presley first gyrated his hips, and that roar of white noise has been echoing throughout the land ever since.

However, it seems that throughout history, one specific type of music has drawn more scorn on a national stage than others.  That music has been and continues to be hip hop.  As a music, and as a culture, hip hop has never faced acceptance from those who wish to seek out any possible reason to complain.  In the 80’s it was destroying our youth… well… I’ve never really been sure why it was destroying our youth in the 80’s.  I realize that Run DMC and The Beastie Boys weren’t exactly Peter, Paul & Mary, but that entire wave of controversy escapes me to this day.  In the 90’s it was violent gangster rap promoting the criminal lifestyle.  In the 2000’s it has become the misogynistic nature of lyrics (although, to be fair that one has been around for a while).

But an honest question worth asking to those who find these lyrics so objectionable is:  Exactly what do you find so objectionable?

The common complaints are that women are treated like objects in songs, that the filthy language and lack of romance in the top 40 somehow demeans women.  Not only do I find this to be a rather large leap of logic, but I find the statement inherently sexist.  I have listened to countless hours of these “demeaning” songs, and I want to make perfectly clear of one thing:  the women described in these auditory, bawdy adventures are not being raped.  While the airwaves may be populated with massively successful songs about sexual intercourse, the sexual intercourse described in these songs is always consensual and more often than not, celebrated.

With the exception of artists like Too $hort (the most extreme example), these songs don’t focus on a series of sexual conquests, but rather on a specific object of desire.  While country music, rock, pop and of course hip hop have always featured songs about nameless women drawing the eye of a man, there is a frequent, giant leap associated with hip hop that assumes each of these songs has to be about a different woman.  When audiences listen to song after song about the art of seduction in other genres, it’s (I can only assume) implied that these men and women are merely commenting on the feelings they share for their long-term, monogamous relationship partner.  Otherwise, where lies the outrage?

From 1973-1983, Conway Twitty had arguably the most successful run of singles in any decade in country music history.  These songs, considered classics, played frequently on the radio and never once challenged these days, feature some of the most sexually charged (and by the above standard misogynistic) lyrics you’re likely to read in any genre of music.  “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” “Linda On My Mind,” “The Games that Daddies Play,” “I’ve Already Loved You In My Mind,” “I’d Love to Lay You Down” and “Tight Fittin’ Jeans” represent just a small sample of the songs deemed perfectly appropriate for children by modern audiences, and also happen to house some of the most sexually charged lyrics ever broadcast on public airwaves.  While Conway is meeting women in bars, cheating on his partner, seducing other men’s wives and taking the virtue of nearly every woman within a 500 mile radius, simply commenting on a girl in “apple bottom jeans” has somehow become the scorn of media watchdogs and parents groups worldwide.

Realistically, there are only two logical explanations for how one genre is filled with whimsy and good times, while the other is a danger to society:  culture and language.  While most consumer advocates preach against the sexualization of our youth through popular music, they seem to overlook the fact that the acts portrayed in these songs are the exact same acts portrayed in all artforms since the dawn of time.  The issue isn’t subject matter, the issue is language… and based on the common argument, that issue doesn’t hold water.

Words do hold power, more power than anything else we have.  However, a singular word with a singular meaning holds no power whatsoever, outside of describing the act or subject in question.  If our great cultural fear is that our sons and daughters will begin having sex, inspired by hearing how wonderful it is from modern music, then we must ask ourselves why that wasn’t our fear when countless other genres of music addressed the same topic.  Suggesting that a word can be obscene is, in itself, an obscene suggestion.  While tastes may dictate the usage of certain language in certain circles, there is no mistaking the intent of the word.

For example, the massive success of the Boyz II Men song “I’ll Make Love to You” in the 1990’s, a song played at nearly every high school and junior high dance and played into the ground by every radio station on earth.  Now, change the phrase “Make Love” to “Fuck,” “Screw” or any other word you deem substantially offensive.  Has the nature of the song changed?  Has the theme of the song changed?  Has anything whatsoever about this sweet, innocent song changed in any way as far as the content is concerned?  Of course not.  Thus, the argument that our children are being bombarded with sexuality appears to have something more to do with how it’s phrased than what it actually represents.

Of course, there is another explanation.

More often than not, groups who protest the language in music tend to fall into a certain stereotype:  white, middle-aged, religious females with children.  Now there is certainly nothing wrong with that group of people, I happen to have one as a mother.  But when you examine the nature of these groups, and examine those leading the protests so aggressively, you see a distinct lack of diversity.  Could it be that these crusaders for decency have, even on a subconscious level, a wholly different objection to this type of music?  Why would listening to pop and country stations be more acceptable than listening to urban stations when the subject matter is practically identical?

It’s actually very simple.  On some level, whether subconscious or fully realized, there is racially motivated fear.  In the minds of many voices of protest, there is an incredible difference between being “made love to” by Tim McGraw and “fucking” Waka Flocka Flame.  Of course, in the actual physics involved, absolutely nothing is different.  There is nothing different in the act, nor in the consequences.  However, the language used and the subject involved seem to trigger an often angry reaction.  I can call my car a curling iron if I so choose, but once I’m behind the wheel, I’m doing the exact same thing.

None of this is new, and none of it will go away in the near future.  Years from now the group allegedly having its mind shredded by the culture of the day will grow up to rail against the culture of their children, never bothering to realize that it’s the exact same thing.  Perhaps we can eventually address our real issues in society, knock off this irritating desire to explain it away as something it isn’t and genuinely made strides toward understanding each other.  If your issue is the idea of your daughter bringing home Waka Flocka, then just say it… his past, present or future in-laws probably agree wholeheartedly.

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One Response to “White Noise”

  1. Kevin Says:

    I feel bad for anyone who comes home with Mr. Flocka Flame.

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