Musical Chicken & Egg

One ironic aspect of the Don Imus brouhaha is the fact that the insulting, racist things he said are almost routine in black culture. James Taranto revealed yesterday there is actually a popular band called Nappy Roots. They warmed up the crowd at a Barack Obama event just last year. So presumably Mr. Obama doesn't find the term racist.

Likewise, the term "ho" ("whore") in reference to black women is common in rap music. So what's the difference? The difference is that Don Imus is a white male. Because of his ethnic background, he is forbidden to use these terms. They are reserved for inner-city youth.

This brings up the question of modern music and its meaning in our culture. Some people think rap and heavy metal music has a perniciously negative effect on the young people who listen to it. Does it? Or it this just another aspect of youthful rebellion? I know that my parents didn't care for the music I liked. I suspect their parents didn't care for the music they liked. And I don't really care for the music my son likes.

Zippy points us to a long, scholarly article from the Hoover Institution that argues it is different this time. Basically, the authors suggest the music isn't a cause of our broken culture. It is a result of our broken culture.

Why, we must ask, do kids like this music that we Baby Boomers find so unpleasant? Answer: because it expresses the deep longings they have for the security of home and family:

If yesterday’s rock was the music of abandon, today’s is that of abandonment. The odd truth about contemporary teenage music — the characteristic that most separates it from what has gone before — is its compulsive insistence on the damage wrought by broken homes, family dysfunction, checked-out parents, and (especially) absent fathers. Papa Roach, Everclear, Blink-182, Good Charlotte, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Eminem — these and other singers and bands, all of them award-winning top-40 performers who either are or were among the most popular icons in America, have their own generational answer to what ails the modern teenager. Surprising though it may be to some, that answer is: dysfunctional childhood. Moreover, and just as interesting, many bands and singers explicitly link the most deplored themes in music today — suicide, misogyny, and drugs — with that lack of a quasi-normal, intact-home personal past.

The study goes on to list many specific examples of popular artists pouring out their souls with sad stories of broken homes. A common theme, especially among rappers, is the absence of a father during childhood. This is a perfect reflection of what really happens in the urban black population. The prototypical nuclear family of mom, dad, and kids is almost unknown. Yet the kids somehow know it is the ideal, and they miss it. They sing about it.

This also explains the popularity of "retro" themes among kids today. Consider That 70s Show which was amazingly popular on Fox TV. The Foremans had their share of problems - but they were a family, and other characters were drawn to them because of it. I think many kids today fantasize about living in a such a "normal" family.

Certainly some of the attraction in modern music is simple youthful rebellion, just as our generation experienced in the 60s and 70s. Kids from loving, intact families are still drawn to the latest rap just because they like the beat. Even so:

...there is no escaping the fact that today’s songs are musically and lyrically unlike any before. What distinguishes them most clearly is a the fixation on having been abandoned personally by the adults supposedly in charge, with consequences ranging from bitterness to rage to bad, sick, and violent behavior.

And therein lies a painful truth about an advantage that many teenagers of yesterday enjoyed but their own children often do not. Baby boomers and their music rebelled against parents because they were parents — nurturing, attentive, and overly present (as those teenagers often saw it) authority figures. Today’s teenagers and their music rebel against parents because they are not parents — not nurturing, not attentive, and often not even there. This difference in generational experience may not lend itself to statistical measure, but it is as real as the platinum and gold records that continue to capture it. What those records show compared to yesteryear’s rock is emotional downward mobility. Surely if some of the current generation of teenagers and young adults had been better taken care of, then the likes of Kurt Cobain, Eminem, Tupac Shakur, and cer­tain other parental nightmares would have been mere footnotes to recent music history rather than rulers of it.

I have to say this article struck me like a ton of bricks. The music many in my generation find so unpleasant isn't just an attempt by the next generation to annoy us. It is a finger in our faces, reminding us how we failed. It is pain and sadness. It is a cry for help.

Sadly, for many of these kids help is too late. We failed them. We will pay the price.

1 comment:

TexasFred said...

Old joke, really tacky...

Why don't black folks square dance??

Everytime they hear 'Ho-down' they look to see who's girlfriend it is...

I know, but it was the best I had at the moment... Nicest too..