“You’re not responsible–but you are” – Paraphrasing Jordan Peterson
I picked up my sixteen-year-old son from the homecoming dance, and we talked during the drive home. He called me at 9:15pm saying it was ‘pretty much over’, but the event was not due to end until 10 pm. It’s been a long while since I’ve been sixteen, but some things don’t change, and one of those things is staying out as late as possible. Why did he pull the plug?
I navigate the high school parking lot, find him, and we get out of there just as the rain picks up.
“Boy, that ended early. Wasn’t expecting your call for another thirty minutes.”
“Yeah, by 9:15 it was pretty much over.”
“Why? Was it wack?”
“Yeah. The DJ didn’t have up to date music.” – Long pause – “How could he not have the latest music?”
So, having been a semi-professional DJ in my younger years, I recalled to him one of my frustrations of playing for young people:
“Teenager, here’s the problem. He probably had it; he just couldn’t play it. Music today is vulgar . . . I mean, not a little suggestive, or a curse here or there. Am I wrong?”
“The DJ is under instruction from the school not to play the vulgar stuff for you impressionable youth. But . . . that’s almost every song. There’s little to nothing that he can play that is not offensive.”
“Yeah, ‘cause it was hot for like . . . two songs. Then it was dead again.”
“What songs would have kept the party live?”
“Like, some Pit Bull stuff . . . or Pop Smoke.”
“And I bet that music is really vulgar, full of cursing and/or violence.”
“There you go.” I huffed. “Today’s artists feel like they have to do that to stay cool. Or some just only think about themselves, there is no concern for the young who listen. They know what they’re doing and think it’s okay”. I already knew the answer to the next question I was going to ask, but I did anyway:
“Do you like all the cursing?”
The conversation moved to another topic, but this stuck with me all night. When he was about ten years old, we were in our car and I had the radio on a R&B channel. I can’t remember what song came on, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate for his young ears. I switched stations.
“Why is it when we listen to the ‘black’ music, you always have to turn?” I was stunned. “I noticed that.”
“Is it every time? Are you sure?”
“Yeah, like they’ll say bad words or something and then you have to turn. The other radio station doesn’t do that, make you have to turn. Why?”
“Well . . . I don’t think its right to say that on the radio, so I turn. But I don’t know why the black-wait a minute, why do you call the radio station black?”
“Cuz they play music black people like.”
Listening to the now ever-present and famous Jordan Peterson on YouTube, I thought of one of his lectures wherein he presented this philosophical concept: When something happens in the world, individually you’re not responsible—but as part of a group, you are. We all contribute to our world and culture, and what we love flourishes, what we ignore dies. If we push Dr. Peterson’s concept further out, we’re not all responsible–but we are.
Interpreting that, those of us who are responsible and caring parents do not make the music that is increasingly vulgar and violent. But we help promote it. Ask yourself, when your children were impressionable, what did you expose them to musically? What music did you enjoy IN THEIR PRESENCE? In my job serving the public, I witness cars cruising past elementary schools playing songs with lyrics that are heinous. Fathers with their child(ren) wearing a screen-printed t-shirt with DMX or Biggie Smalls glorified on it. Young mothers wearing t-shirts with Tupac’s image, sometimes holding two pistols.
We are responsible for the environment that normalizes this. I grew up watching Hip Hop music grow from birth, and I am guilty of promoting it. It was always vulgar—get any of the early tapes of the pioneering groups from the late seventies and early eighties and the themes and drug references are thorough. As is the glorification of violent street culture and sexual irresponsibility.
We are negligently assigning the label of creativity to music that is mentally debilitating. Hip Hop music is a
celebration of dysfunction, but we allow it because it’s fun. No one wants to stop their own fun, or the rapper’s money. In an act of justification, we call it creative and tell ourselves that this is this generation’s art form equally as different as those before. And so, just as we were seduced, now it has come to seduce and claim our children. Just like the Pied Piper.If these artists are so creative, WHY are we accepting that they can’t make a single song without ‘b***h*ss’, ’n****r’, ‘f**k’, ‘p***y’, ‘s**t’, ‘m*****f****r’?
“We’re not responsible–but we are”