I have a few questions that have been nagging me about all the issues falling out around this past weekend’s tragedy in Tucson?
First, there’s been a lot of talk about how accused Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner is mentally unstable, crazed and out of his mind. People are looking at his smiling/ smirking mug shot and concluding that only a genuine psychopath would display such demeanor after killing 6 people in cold blood and injuring 14 more.
Personally I don’t know.. I never been around anyone who’s killed 6 people so I have no idea how they would act. I would imagine if it was me I’d be remorseful, but when I watch folks like Fox News commentator Glenn Beck telling us he wants to kill filmmaker Michael Moore or Bill O’Reilly saying he thinks Washington Post columnist Dan Milbank should be decapitated ,they seem to be jovial. They seem to relish in the idea of ending someone’s life.
Is that the mindset of a violent person? Are they all smiles? Is that why Loughner was smiling?
When I heard former governor Sarah Palin unapologetically use gun rhetoric in describing how she wanted to eliminate her political opponents, she seemed pretty gleeful even after receiving complaints. One of those opponents who voiced concern was shooting victim Gabrielle Gifford, but Palin paid her no mind. She never stopped smiling.
Noting that a smiling Jared Lee Loughner indicates craziness, my question is; ‘Just how crazy is he?’
Is he too crazed to hold a political opinion? Does he know the difference between a socialist and a communist? Is he discerning the difference between a commentary from MSNBC host Keith Obermann and one by radio hosts Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage?
Perhaps a mentally unstable Loughner reacted and followed the leads of the loudest most ruckus voices around. After all, all the tough talk about ‘don’t retreat and reload’ is not hidden. It’s pretty much mainstream.Such rhetoric along with footage of angry Tea Party folks showing up to rallies with guns threatening to take their country back are shown on the highest rated news stations like Fox. Inflammatory rhetoric expressing violence comes off the mouths of some of the country’s most visible hosts, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
In a staunchly conservative state like Arizona it’s almost impossible to escape a steady of diet these loud, in your face personalities and their violent rhetoric. Whether he leaned to the left or to the right, there’s no doubt he was exposed right-wing, Fox News-like pundits routinely denounce civility in both words and actions. There’s no doubt in mind that had an influence.
Now some folks reading are thinking what I’m saying is a bit far-fetched. The argument they’ll try to put forth is it’s not about the speaker it’s about the listener. They’ll insist that the person on the receiving end of a political tirade needs to be RESPONSIBLE for their actions. In other words, a pundit like Sarah Palin is not responsible for the way someone reacts to her public utterings?
A guy like Glenn Beck who fantasized about killing Michael Moore and crusaded against the Tides Foundation is in no way responsible for the near deadly actions of would be mass murderer Byron Williams, the 580 Freeway shooter who went toe to toe with police while en route to the Tide headquarters where he planned to lay in wait?
I asked these questions because some of the same people defending this violent rhetoric from political pundits and politicians weren’t too kind when it came to rap artists who invoked violent imagery to make a political point.
The most famous among these is Public Enemy who 2o years ago did the song ‘By the Time I Get to Arizona‘. Here, they wanted to bring attention to the fact that there were certain politicians who were refusing to allow the state to recognize the Dr Martin Luther King holiday, so they did a song that spoke to it.
In the accompanying video, the group showed black and white re-enactments of Civil Rights demonstrations which were juxtaposed with images of Chuck D and his armed crew the heading to the office of one of the Senators opposed to the holiday where they handed him a box of poisoned chocolates. As the video ends we see Chuck D blowing up the car of an unnamed elected official.
Needless to say folks went nuts over the video. Chuck D and Public Enemy were accused of fostering violence with some critics stating that there would be blood on their hands if anyone resorted to violence as a result of this video.
Chuck pointed out it was basically political theater, but very few in the halls of power were trying to hear that. As far as they were concerned Public Enemy had crossed the line.
Another group that caught heat was Queens based group Screwball who had an issue with then Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In ’99 around the time that police shot and killed an unarmed Amadu Diallo 41 times, the group did a song called ‘Who Shot Rudy?’ The song was widely cheered and accepted throughout many of NY’s Black communities where residents were at odds with the police. Many in the establishment including the Mayor weren’t happy. The group got a visit from NYPD who confiscated their recording equipment and CDs. I recall the outrage that was voiced toward the group..
‘How dare they call for the shooting of a public official ‘? , is what critics howled.
Like PE Screwball was told there would be blood on their hands should any violence go down.
We can list at least a dozen more examples where artists have caught heat over what was described as troubling politicized rhetoric. The list includes Sista Souljah who got a harsh rebuke from then president candidate Bill Clinton when she made racially charged remarks around the Rodney King riots. Clinton went after a Souljah as a way to prove to skittish voters he could stand up to Black leaders. When he heard that Jackson had invited Souljah to speak at his Rainbow Push convention, he dropped his harsh critic which is now known as Sista Souljah Moment.
Bay Area rapper Paris had his album delayed and he got a visit from the Secret Service when he released a song called ‘Bush Killa‘ which was featured on the album ‘Sleeping With the Enemy’. The track starts off with the mock assassination of President George Bush Sr . That caught folks attention. But what really made people angry and perhaps triggered the Secret Service visit was the inner sleeve album cover that showed Paris in a knit cap holding a rifle ready to shoot the President.
Paris described the song as a ‘revenge fantasy‘ and political art. All conversations along these lines went out the window as political pundits soundly rejected the political rapper accusing him of having gone too far.
In June of 2001, Boots Riley and his group the Coup released an album called Party Music where they had the World Trade exploding. Boots explained that he wanted to show a symbolism of capitalism being destroyed to underscore the political content of his album. It was no different then the video released a few years prior during the East-West Coast Battles where Snoop Dogg was depicted knocking down a building that characterized the NY skyline. It was symbolic.
When the 9-11 attacks took place, the Coup, who weren’t on too many people’s political hit list, suddenly found themselves under the microscope. The symbolism was taken seriously in quite a few circles. Some wanted to know if this album cover would encourage other acts of terrorism. Words like Unpatriotic and Treasonous were bantered about when referring to a group that had been consistent with their political views for almost a 10 years before 9-11.
One of the more infamous rap songs where an artist came under fire for ‘influencing’ the public into destructive action was Ice Cube‘s ‘Black Korea‘ . This was a racially charged song where Cube targets Korean merchants in the hood for not liking Black people.
Fresh in his mind was the shooting death of 15 year-old Latasha Harlins,a Black girl who was killed by a Korean grocer. It sparked racial tension between Blacks and Koreans in LA and the Black Korea took things to new heights.
When the Rodney King riots occurred, many Korean merchants were on the receiving end of anger being expressed. Cube was caught in the firestorm and blamed for helping bring harm to innocent people.
Cube defended the song as being a reflection of the political and racial climate at the time. Many others including quite a few political types though Cube was irresponsible with his words.
The point being expressed by citing these examples is that law enforcement and many of these political pundits when on the receiving end of harsh words no longer wanna uphold the ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ adage . Suddenly we’re not having conversations about listeners being responsible. Sudeenly we’re’ concerned about the influence of the artist.
Is the GOP and Right wing trying to have it both ways?
I guess if we had time and space we could have a lengthy discussion about the war around cop killer type songs. Numerous artists ranging from Ice T to NWA and Ice Cube to Mac Dre to 2Pac have all faced not just a firestorm of criticisms but saw their songs banned, concert venues stipulate they could not perform their respective songs, lawsuits, a stinging letter from the FBI, labels dropping them etc. The list is long.
From where I sit, if everyone from the FBI on down to law and order politicos feel that a rapper and his video have undue influence on the public then the same rule applies to these right-wing talk show hosts and politicians like Sarah Palin. Glenn beck himself said it best.. He’s an entertainer. Sarah palin says she uses colorful rhetoric to appeal to folks.
Well if they’re entertainers and choosing words to ‘appeal’ to folks why can’t the same criticism and censoring actions that that Ice Cube and other rappers had to endure not apply to Sarah Palin and her gun totting rhetoric. What’s good for the geese is good for the gander.Right?
something to ponder-