I recently found an audio tape that was a staple of my adolescence. The tape was an early Nine Inch Nails. I was a bit schocked. There were portions that were quite obscene. As a whole, it was quite comparable to many of today’s rap C.D.’s, in terms of smut.
Something in me resisted this comparison… But this resistance, it’s a rationalization which borders on racism. It occurs to me that there are a number of activities that we give a pass to the person in the majority (straight, white, male, adult) that we would criticize someone in the minority for engaging in exactly the same thing. Similarly, there are many activities which we engaged in as kids but we find ourselves much more annoyed by the modern versions of these things… even when the principal comes down to the same.
Let’s begin with a variety of music examples:
Consider a bunch of suburban kids listening to some “edgy” music associated most often with white listeners: industrial, heavy metal, punk, etc. There is no shortage of unhealthy sexuality, mysogomy, drug use, condoning of violence, etc in these genre. Yet it seems like it’s much easier to criticize rap C.D.’s which glorify these activities.
I’m not sure if rap has more of these things or not. But quantity isn’t really my point. My point is how do we react when some kid pulls up to us blaring DMX ( a rapper) out his car stero. Compare this with gut reactions to say the Sex Pistols (punk) coming out of the car next to us.
Or consider an adult example:
Imagine a middle class sales rep. This person is filling out paperwork for reimbursement of his expenses. Or he is filling out paperwork stating his sales to recieve a commission. How do we feel when the sales rep pads his numbers to increase his pay check? He is effectively stealing from the company, right?
Compare this reaction to someone walking into the store– perhaps a minority. They grab goods sold by the company and walk out without paying for them.
I’m not saying that stealing is o.k. I am saying that morally there is no difference between the two examples. Both people should be criticized. But do we treat both theives the same?
Or consider a single mom at a park who is talking with her friends instead of supervising her kids. (This one drives me nuts!) We might — and should– feel annoyed with her for neglecting her children.
But what about the dad who impregnated the mom and took off? He is ditching his responsibilities in a much more significant way. Where is our righteous indignation for him?
This last example is going to stir up something, I suspect.
Imagine a pair of teen agers. Kissing passionately in public. We’d most likely be a little annoyed, especially if we had young kids around. But we’d exhale, and go on with our lives.
Now… what if the teen agers were of the same sex?
I understand all the beliefs that homosexuality is wrong. But that’s clearly not the issue with public displays of affection. We didn’t like heterosexual displays either. If it was all about the fact that heterosexuality is wrong, then we’d have no problems with the “straight” kids.
I further understand that there might be two issues with the gay kids: issue #1 is that they are displaying any kind of sexuality. Issue #2 is that they are displaying the wrong kind of sexuality.
But it seems to me that this just shifts the burden back on to us to demonstrate and explain to society at large why homosexuality is wrong (Assuming we believe it is wrong). Given that we failed doing so, we live in a world where homosexuality is considered o.k. We might not like this fact. We might not want to live in this world. But we do.
Last example: Many kids I knew growing up had a stash of Playboy magazines. I don’t know where they all came from. But it was almost a right of passage.
I’m not saying that it’s right. I’m not saying that we should have had them. But we did.
Today’s kids don’t need a physical place to stash smut. They have the internet.
Is there any difference between a 12 year old boy hiding pornography in his bedroom in 1980 and a 12 year old boy engaging in internet pornography in 2008?
I am not condoning obscene lyrics, stealing, inapropriate displays of sexuality, or pornography in any form. There can be real differences between these. As a society, we need to deal with a thief who steals 1 million dollars differently than we deal with a theif who steals 100 hundred dollars.
Spiritually and morally, though, sin is sin. Furthermore, external shoplifting and internal embezzlement are treated differently; It’s tempting to give punk music a pass while critiquing gangsta rap. These are areas that differentiating makes no sense whatsoever.
It’s telling, I think, the way we make these determinations. I consider myself a pretty enlightened guy, and I know that I have to actively combat my tendency to make some of these judgements. I don’t think I’m alone.