IT MIGHT SURPRISE Eddie Dean and the rest of you, but there are people out here—liberal/libertarian, rude, fond of a little good porn now and then, anti-censorship—who think that a song title like “Entrails Ripped From a Virgin’s Cunt” is disgusting (“Dirty War,” 8/25).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as fed up as everyone else with the mania to marginalize certain viewpoints or social groups in the name of “protecting our children” (and if you don’t believe it, check out some old Northern Virginia Journal papers to see me slugging it out with Karen Jo Gounaud and the Library Policemen). But can’t we defend First Amendment rights without implying that pointless morbidity somehow speaks for our youth?
It’s one thing to point out that actual attempts to penalize certain forms of verbal expression, however offensive, lead pretty directly to the gutting of our constitutional liberties and the demonization of large groups of people. (If you push through a regulation, as the Gounaud crowd keeps trying to do, establishing that materials discussing homosexuality in a nonpejorative way are “harmful to children,” it’s tantamount to legally categorizing homosexuals as evil.)
On the other hand, I don’t think we have to defend revolting lyrics in order to defend someone’s right to utter them. This is a fine distinction which often gets lost in this debate. It’s disingenuous to say that “if artists of one generation are failing to offend the previous generation, they’re not doing their job right.” News flash: Most of what my contemporaries in high school were listening to offended me, because I’d been studying music seriously all my life and I found it repetitive, musically unimaginative, and reliant on sheer volume for effect. Likewise, I don’t think it’s old fogeydom that turns me off of rap lyrics; they make the same impression on me as a 4-year-old who’s learned he can annoy people by saying “poop” and says it all the time, just to enjoy his new-found power. In other words, if people weren’t trying to censor rap and death metal, I suspect its performers and listeners would be disappointed. To me, they express the frustrated narcissism of people who are desperate for attention and can’t think of any more constructive or artistically substantial ways to get it.
Get real, Washington City Paper: The white boys in Jeeps who drive by my corner blaring rap on their speakers aren’t raising awareness of the agony of the ghetto. This music isn’t about exposing ugliness in order to heal it or any other high mission (if there’s an inner-city aid project funded by profits from gangsta rap albums, I haven’t heard about it). It’s about being obnoxious for fun and profit, which is the closest some people ever come to “self-expression.”
My problem with the PMRC is not the idea that parents should pay some attention to their kids’ cultural tastes—sounds like a winner to me, really—but the idea that said parents need to take their marching orders from an organization with a specific agenda and that legal sanctions of any kind should be involved. For pity’s sake, let’s bag the idea that popular music is critical to anyone’s identity. If you haven’t got one, flipping on the stereo ain’t gonna get you there.