- Vancouver, British Columbia -
"I feel like it's your job to parent them. If you're the parent, be a parent. I'm a parent, I have daughters. How would I really sound as a person walking around my house, 'Bitch, pick this up.' Profanity around my house, no. But this is music, this is my art, this is what I do" - Eminem
Very often, I've heard many Hip-Hop stars all deny any responsibility for the impact of their art on the most vulnerable generation of our society: our children. It is parroted by many artists that parents need to watch what their kids are watching and listening to. They need to be more involved and take a more active role in protecting their kids from artistic content, which is apparently not produced for them. You see, in many artists' minds, the only responsibility that an artist has is to himself: to be true to himself and to never bend to any pressure that would manipulate his most truest expression; no matter how clean or explicit that expression is.
In many ways, I understand this pressure. As someone who comes from a religious background, I experienced some pressure from family members and colleagues to re-consider certain parts of my debut novel, Teardrops in the Rain. By re-considering, what I mean is be mindful of who likely will be reading my book. Each week, I get to hang out with a bunch of teenagers and some of them have allowed me to have the role of a mentor in their lives. With this in mind, I was really challenged to examine everything that I included in the book that could be viewed as explicit. I toned down the language and re-worked some scenes to eliminate certain imagery, both in terms of violence and sexuality. Still, it wasn't enough for some, but I felt comfortable with myself, because I only left what I felt was essential for the story and what I felt added to the story overall.
For many other entertainers, this is unacceptable, because it amounts to nothing other than censorship, and for the artist, the C-word is Public Enemy No. 1. An artist or entertainer who bows to the pressure to edit their art is considered a sell-out. Recently, Rihanna lashed out on Twitter when she found out that her most recent single, "S&M" was re-titled as "Come On!" in the United Kingdom. And while her video is far beyond sexually suggestive, she reacted against this act of "censorship" by the record label.
Many Hip-Hop stars have rebuked attempts to reign in their lyrics, which objectify women, glorify drug trafficking and prostitution, and celebrate violence as a symbol of power. To them, it is the job of parents to make sure that their kids don't get their hands on explicit hip-hop tracks, yet I'm afraid that these artists, whose product is marketed to these same teenagers, are living in a fantasy world, as are other advocates who echoed such a platitude about the parents' responsibility. Certainly, parents have a responsibility to prevent their children from listening or engaging in any art, music, film, or literature that is harmful to them, but since this is 2011, it does not take a genius to realize how impossible this is; short of unplugging the internet, television, cellphone, and then homeschooling your child and locking them in their rooms when you can't give them your complete attention. In the Age of the Internet, it just can't be done.
The argument goes that parents must be reviewing what music their kids have on their computers or iPods, but as someone who grew up in the dawning of the Internet, I can tell you that I developed more than a few ways to hide music from my parents and siblings. There was some music that I knew my parents would not approve of, so I was going to make damn sure that they couldn't find it and then delete it. While my parents did not allow us to have MuchMusic or MTV on our television, I was more than capable of going to MTV.com and watching whatever music videos I wanted. If they wanted, they could've blocked MTV.com, but if they did that, I could've just gone to YouTube or any other of the thousand video sites to watch explicit music videos. If they told me that I couldn't buy Kid Rock's latest album, I was more than capable of finding it on Napster, MP3.com, or any of the other now-obsolete music sharing websites/programs.
My parents did not let me watch the Simpsons at my house growing up, but that didn't prevent me from watching it at my best friend's house. He was a big Simpsons fan, so why wouldn't I go ahead and watch it if I wanted to when he turned it on? Someone would make the mistake of taking these scenarios as evidence as to why it is pointless for us to put explicit lyrics warnings or R-ratings on films, but not me. The fact that any 10-11 year old boy can find pornography intentionally or accidentally with almost no effort on Google does not make me think that it is a waste of time making it illegal to sell the latest issue of Playboy to minors at your near-by convenience store.
Instead, what I believe is that today's parents need all the help that they can get. I don't believe that there has ever been a harder time to be a parent in human history. Make no mistake, while other generations had to fight for their family's survival, today's parenting generation are up against a destructive force that is much more subtle and subversive. Many deny the effect of the arts on younger generations, but one only needs to ask why artists bother making art? Is it simply to entertain, or is it to make a statement for or against some social change? And if it is merely to entertain, does it have an effect beyond their intention to entertain?
You see, in the quote by Eminem that I began this article with, he acknowledges how it would be completely inappropriate if he used the explicit language of his raps around his house with his children. Yet, he fails to acknowledge that teenage boys are his biggest market and they worship him. He may not consider himself a role model, but one doesn't have to make a positive impact upon the world to become a role model. Neither do rappers like Eminem acknowledge how powerful of a male role model they are for a generation of young teenage boys who are growing up with absent fathers or no fathers at all. And perhaps most incredible is that so many of the biggest Hip-Hop stars today grew up in fractured households, often raised by their grandmothers without a consistent father or grandfather figure. No generation has seen higher levels of single-parent families and the fact of the matter is that most children end up in the custody of their mothers. Who else do teenage boys have to look up for what it means to be a man, when they have no father filling in that role?
And when so many teenagers are being raised in single parent homes, when do these single mothers have the time to review what their kids are listening to? Between working full-time, putting food on the table, cleaning house, helping them with their homework, and maybe attending parent-teacher conferences, when do these busy, stressed-out single mothers have time to do this? This generation of parents is more stressed and busy than any previous, because of the demands and pressures of this life.
Thus, when I hear Eminem and other idolized Hip-Hop stars skirting any responsibility for protecting our most vulnerable generation, I cannot help but shake my head at their insensitivity and how they are out of touch with the reality of the world today. Our children are worth protecting and the world does not need any more lazy Hip-Hop stars to rape the minds of our children with their music.