The look on my mom's face was priceless the day we heard 2 Live Crew on the car stereo. I think I was being picked up from school perhaps (7th grade?), a hot day in Houston. Little did she know, or come to understand, that their hit song Me So Horny had hit the airwaves in a rush of adrenaline. The song was scandalous at that time. Explicit lyric rap songs were almost like stealing looks at dad's skin magazines. I would hang with my friend Brent who seemed to have the lineup of everything foul--Too Short, NWA, Ghetto Boys--and we would laugh at the lyrics like we knew that life. We were basically fringe suburban kids who dressed in preppy clothes but lived in apartment complexes--him in a ranch off Aldine Westfield that was neither a neighborhood nor a reclusive shack--me in a townhouse down the road. We didn't think anything of that kind of music then, just that it fed into our fantasies of what we wanted out of girls at our age.
There were many kids like me who were raised on the same type of music. Later it was Tupac and Biggie, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. Don't know these artist? Well, millions of kids like me did. I don't remember any warnings besides the labels that accompanied the CD's when we bought them. I guess our parents felt that the music we listened to would have no ill affect on our character. Some, I assume, didn't much care.
I remember Tipper Gore leading the charge for censorship back when I was in high school. I wrote a paper about the 1985 era Parents Music Resource Center that aimed to control what children bought and listened to over the radio. Whether it was overtly sexual lyrics like Prince's Darling Nikki or more innuendo-laced songs like Sugar Walls by Sheena Easton or She Bop by Cyndi Lauper, the battle lines had been drawn. Artists claimed their rights to freedom of speech and mothers claimed indecency.
I'm not proud that my generation grew up on Tupac, NWA or The Ghetto Boys.Watching the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton adds fire to the social justice agenda of today--police corruption--topping these sentiments off with Ice Cube's Fuck Tha Police. While the arguments has certain credence within the LA community (see the doc on OJ Simpson that just aired on ESPN), I wonder what the image of this means to today's kids. I had several students of mine see Compton with their families. If my 7th grade son would have seen the movie with me he would have asked, why do they hate the cops so much? Is he out of touch with his brownness? Doubtful. But as a home we have a healthy respect for authority figures, cops being one of them.
Today's culture has replaced common sense with a whatever-is-good-for-you mentality. There are almost no restrictions on the amount of pornography, death, sex, or violence one can attain. As a parent of a kid who has access to the internet through his iPod and iPad, it's almost impossible to block adult content. If you call attention to these facts, these truths of our lives, you get things like--
Well, he's going to watch porn anyway
Just teach them right and wrong.
No game/movie/song ever made me want to kill/rape someone so he should be okay.
I read comments on group pages like Common Sense Media and One Million Moms or the American Family Association that are inundated with intolerance towards their views on what is acceptable in our media. It's not as simple as if you don't like it turn the channel any longer because when the channel is turned, there's something on that channel too that's probably even less family friendly. I can barely watch popular "family" shows with my kids. Blackish, while positive in its portrayal of an African-American family, makes every white person on the show out to be a buffoon, racist or just plain tone deaf. This has no bearing on actual reality.
I don't believe that our culture of entertainment has led to the destruction of cities like Chicago, Baltimore, or has led to the violence we have seen in Dallas or Baton Rouge. But it is one of the many thorns in a bushel of problems America now faces. Fatherless families, which is almost never talked about, has destroyed countless lives of youth in the urban areas. Poverty too. The educational system is fighting this too, and coupled with a humanist philosophies, have basically bankrupted the faith that was so important in our beginnings.
I find it ironic when popular celebrities like Beyonce and Snoop Dogg hold a press conference to promote unity, when the lyrics they peddle undermines the very authority figures they want to be united with. But that's what this world has done. Our president invites Black Lives Matter groups (and other controversial celebrities) to the White House, while our kids demand products from Dr. Dre that keep him well into the multi-millionaire bracket. It's funny how his headphones are called beats when that's what he's been accused of for most of his younger life.
Before I end, I want to reiterate how I feel about our law enforcement personnel. Being a public employee, teachers are under the same microscope as cops, but in a different vein. We must educate all children, despite their lack of parenting, reading skills or home training. Just today I was confronted with the news that one of my incoming 5th graders who I taught this summer, probably had no formal schooling for almost 3 years. He’s living with his father now, but the time he lived with his mother is vague. It’s like the kid fell off the grid. His writing and language are like looking at struggling kindergartener. How the hell did he get all the way to 5th grade? You don't much hear about what happens in our hallways, or stories like those, except for when we screw up--sexual allegations or some poor sap losing his mind on youtube. You don't see the disrespect we face each and every day, the apathy, the disregard for authority, the body language of a nation of quitters. All my summer school students can Dab and Nae Nae but they have no perseverance when it comes to decoding or answering to a prompt. This lack of self-respect is not just focused on these particular kids, but it has been my experience over the last several years as a 5th grade teacher.
Perhaps I will see the hope again when I return to school in August. I’m moving to 2nd grade. I’m anxious to see their little faces. I want to cheer them on when they reach the next reading level, or learn to play a game at recess. In the meantime, I hope to filter out what they’ve been watching on the tv with their parents. It was said to me this summer that to build character is like mining for gold. Imagine the panning of a California settler, sifting through the mud and dull, earthen rock to find one sliver of gold. It’s easy to mine the rock and debris and soft mud that seems to melt between your fingers. None of those characteristics, like greed, laziness and apathy, are long lasting, nor do they offer stability in the long run. But good character sustains a person their entire life. Honesty, integrity. There’s gold to be mined. Surely there is, even today.