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Candy Shop No Longer For Kids

Rap, music, videos, imagery, sex, drugs, violence, women, 50-cent, Juvenile, Lil' Wayne

In December of 2003, a study was released in the American Journal of Public Health that promulgated something that many people have been trumpeting for years: rap music is not good for our young people—especially young African-American girls.

The study sampled more than 500 African-American girls between the ages of 14 and 18 and appears to have found a common denominator for bad behavior—watching rap music videos. What do these music videos tell young African-American girls about themselves? What are the images that they ingrain in the minds of young men? How does such imagery reinforce gender roles of the distant past? What are the class implications of this sort of imagery?

Money, power, and respect—oh, and bitches.

I am beginning to wonder whether or not rap music would even be a genre if not for those buzzwords. As I sat down to watch rap music videos—something that I haven’t done since I was in high school—it quickly became evident that each successive video was a carbon copy of the previous. Each and every video portrayed young and exceedingly rich African-American men passing around scantily-clad women like currency.

I’ve never been more appalled at the treatment of human beings as objects. In fact, it is a rare occurrence to actually see the faces of these young women. They are, for the better part of these videos, gyrating in the laps of their bosses with their rear ends facing the camera.

Taking leave from the treatment of women for a moment, I should ask about all the money; where does it come from? The lavish homes and driveways lined with Italian sports cars leave me wondering. What kind of message does this send to our young people? Is this the kind of life we should be impressing upon the most impressionable? The last time I checked, the three keys to success in life were not ingestion of illicit drugs, reactionary violence and promiscuous “fordist” style sex.

This sort of imagery creates an illusion of readily accessible upward mobility in our class system—especially to young people of color in America. This is not the case, of course, and making matters worse is the inference that “livin’ large” implies a litany of anti-social behavior—including drug use, violence and the objectification of women.

For now, I want to concentrate on some of the affects of these sorts of images on young, especially African-American, girls. First of all, I should make it abundantly clear that the images of woman—those that ever so subtly enforce gender roles in society—are already lacking across the board. However, far from being not ideal, these images that appear in rap music videos are destructive.

Unfortunately, a great many African-American girls do not have positive images of women to draw from—to emulate. This is an unfortunate consequence of a whole host of societal failures. Without delving into that much broader topic, I think it is important to note young people often find their own self-image from that which they see on television—and what do they see?

Unfortunately, they see subservience; they see bodies being used as play-toys for packs of men; they see mid-sections being used for craps games; they see alcoholic beverages being poured down backsides; they see women being encouraged debauch one another for the viewing pleasure of male masters; they see two or three women per man. Music videos by such bastions of culture like Nelly, 50 Cent, Ludacris, Lil’ Wayne and N.E.R.D. are setting images of women back into the 1850s. These women are portrayed as nothing more than sex slaves who gratify their master’s every fantasy. And to reinforce their low position, they’ve mixed in a little “how-to” exercise:

“Pay attention boy I'll teach you how to do this shit
You mix a little Coke wit a little Dom Perignon
And a little hennessy, you know we fin to carry on
I'm hollering at these shorties in the club trying to get right
We gon be up in this bitch till we break daylight.”

--50-Cent from “Disco Inferno”

Do we honestly think this sort of imagery is all in good fun?

Sociologists and historians have long understood the affects of imagery on the human psyche. I’ve read books on their affects on Native American identities—in fact, our country has begun to systematically reject the use of Indian mascots precisely because of negative imagery. What then explains the dearth of concern for this sort of imagery—some would say it is patently more offensive—in the American public?

Consider for a moment this: It is no secret that the “American culture” is the predominant media culture in the world right now. What then would someone whose only real acquaintance with this country is popular culture—music and television—think of the role of African-American women? It’s a scary thought.

Images are every bit as meaningful, especially to young people, as buzzwords and labels; and yet, we all seemingly have this overarching fear of labels and not images. If there is one thing that I have learned about human beings—not just in this class, but in others—it is that we want nothing more than to be able to classify one another. This occurs in every human society to some degree or other. We want to be able to quickly place someone into a context whereby we can explain away certain behaviors. It is for this reason that it is at our peril that we ignore the destructive nature of negative imagery.

Finally, I think it is important to examine the context in which we find such negative imagery of African-American women. This is to say that African-American women do not wield a whole lot of power and influence in our society. They are not white; they are not men; and they have, historically, been maligned to what many refer to as the “underclass.” They are in no position to be able to sustain the relentless attacks of negative imagery. It is for this reason, above all others, that we must take steps to reverse this trend of misogyny in music videos.
Published: 2006-04-11
Author: Jared Field

About the author or the publisher
I am a graduate student with a BA in Political Science. I am currently about halfway done with my MA degree in Social Science at the University of Michigan in Flint. In my free time, I operate a web-based basketball publication in my home state for which I have received press credentials.

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