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19 June 2007

In defence of the moral majority

Hip-hop's misogynistic and carbine-infused soundtrack is symptomatic of the creative bankruptcy of p

By Michael Massive

When Geoffrey Chaucer dragged English literature into its first golden age 600 years ago, he wasn’t above highlighting the sexual proclivities of 14th century England.

The Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales, for instance, is as salacious an individual as any in the history of publishing. But her perceived amorality is not an inherent component of an art form in the same way as the archetypal crack-dealing career that seems to be obligatory for almost every rap star seeking mainstrean musical success.

Pop music is the most pervasive arm of the wider popular culture encompassing all aspects of the modern media, including TV, web, motion pictures and magazines.

Invariably, where pop music leads others follow; the multinational corporations which oversee and dominate the distribution and consumption of pop music are the same entities responsible for all other manifestations of pop culture.

Therefore, the strip club imagery which has become a staple of pop rap and rock iconography over the past decade has been introduced and subtly and overtly integrated into TV soap operas and sitcoms and even gossip magazine content.

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In Britain, this has led to a diminution of standards, evidenced by the sexualisation of certain content within children’s TV and the proliferation of profanity in ‘family’ movies, ‘reality’ TV shows and other TV content screened before the watershed.

Most TV and record company executives seek to conceal their bankruptcy of originality and absence of creativity behind cryptic statements claiming “freedom of speech and expression”, while they cry all the way to the bank.

Meantime, in the real world, ordinary working people, schoolchildren and even infants must negotiate their way through their daily activities to the accompaniment of a vulgar urban soundtrack.

This is punctuated by derivative computer-generated muzak led by some tuneless neanderthal intent on discussing subject matter that would be deemed inappropriate in most gym locker rooms or barber shops.

Last week’s Home Office standing committee report into teenage participation in casual sex and recreational drug and alcohol abuse highlighted the influence that pop culture had on the behaviour of a vast swathe of Britain’s adolescents.

Some might claim that parents are responsible for setting moral guidelines and should pay more attention to potentially errant youngsters, rather than point fingers at soft targets.

One might answer that pop culture, and the media which propagates it, has set itself against responsible parenting. After all, how much control can any parent exert over a curious juvenile bombarded by TV, websites, billboards and the plethora of technological graffiti plastered across the social environment?

In defence of the argument claiming music has a minimal influence on public morality, some might cite Jamaica during the 1970s; the Caribbean nation experienced a cultural zenith in the achievements and international acceptance of its national pop music, reggae.

But the peace and love outpourings of The Wailers, Third World and others were set to the backdrop of internecine political violence comparable to other similarly distressed nations, such as Northern Ireland and Palestine.

Political motivation has receded in importance as a determinant factor for murder in the contemporary Jamaican landscape. But the often misogynistic and carbine-infused gangsta rap and bashment, which has succeeded reggae as the music of choice for young Jamaicans in the 21st century, has coincided with a rise in casual violence which makes the Western Kingston of the 1970s seem idyllic.

Chaucer’s characters displayed a ribaldry which seemed rather full on in the context of a society which later birthed the Victorian age. If a return to 19th century modesty is a less feasible option in our modern global village might we be advised to encourage music and movie auteurs who are better able to reflect the psyche of the moral majority?