Sowmya Krishnamurthy: O'Reilly not so ludicrous

BY SOWMYA KRISHNAMURTHY: AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM

Published March 12, 2004

Well Bill O’Reilly is at it again.
Fox News’s patron saint of morality and host of “The
O’Reilly Factor” is continuing his tirade against rap
music and the rapper Ludacris, who recently inked an endorsement
deal with beer giant Anheuser-Busch. According to O’Reilly,
Ludacris’s brand of “gangsta rap” (a highly dated
term, by the way) contains violent and misogynistic lyrics that
debase young people; Anheuser-Busch should follow Pepsi’s
lead and sack the rapper as their pitch man.

Sowmya Krishnamurthy

As an aficionado of rap and ardent O’Reilly condemner, it
pains me to agree with his argument. The lyrical and visual content
of Luda and most mainstream rap is disgraceful. It’s
entrenched in a “money, hoes, clothes” mentality; the
bigger the name brands, the more numerous the bullet holes, the
fewer the clothes on the girls — these are the benchmarks of
success in rap. Content has little effect upon most people legally
able to purchase explicit records, because they have already
matured and formulated their own values, but the same does not hold
for developing and especially misguided youth. Children idolize
rappers and emulate their lingo, style and attitude. This can be
especially detrimental if there is a lack of adult guidance to
differentiate rap fiction from reality and if rap behavior is
acceptable in society. I was appalled at this year’s K-grams
Kids-Fair when a fifth grader approached me with the word
“PIMP” proudly written in magic marker on his cheek. I
asked him if he knew the word’s meaning, to which he replied,
“It means I get all the girls.” All this occurred while
a sexually suggestive Lil’ Kim and 50 Cent track played in
the background. Perhaps there was no connection between the two,
the little boy could just as easily have heard the term on the
playground or television, yet the fact that he prided himself on
the same negative behavior being reinforced by the song is a little
disconcerting.

Creatively and morally, rap needs changes. Sadly, heavyweights
within hip hop who have the power to address the issue, like
Russell Simmons, are quick to sidestep the problem by labeling
O’Reilly as “racist” and attributing harsh lyrics
to the harsh realities of urban life. And who can blame them?
Exploiting social maladies like crack, gangs and educational
disparities have made many individuals in hip-hop tremendously
wealthy. Sure, mainstream rap presents a very narrow definition of
minorities, glorifying crime and prison life and perpetuating the
stereotypical image of the angry, hyper-sexualized black male, but
who wants to burst the billion-dollar bubble?

O’Reilly’s harangue is not without fault though; its
singling out of Ludacris over other equally guilty stars appears to
be more of a personal vendetta than anything, but this quickness to
defend the rapper is an essential problem in our society. Whether
they are right or wrong, certain celebrities are always given the
assumption of correctness, a perpetual “get out of
jail” card. Even when undoubtedly guilty, we give them slaps
on the wrists and numerous chances to redeem themselves (a luxury
not afforded to the common folk).

Bad celebrity behavior is not just condoned, but encouraged. Due
to the disgustingly growing tabloid industry and our general
propensity to live vicariously through the lives of our favorite
stars, celebrities are rewarded for breaking the rules. Hollywood,
for instance, is exceedingly forgiving, with countless celebrities
using their bad-boy/girl images as benefits. Actors like Mark
Wahlberg and Hugh Grant have both made unsavory life decisions
— Wahlberg was arrested for beating two Vietnamese men and
making racist comments towards schoolchildren, and Grant was caught
soliciting a prostitute — and still landed A-list movie
roles. Actress Halle Berry was involved in a misdemeanor
hit-and-run incident and then won an Academy Award. Criminal
behavior can stigmatize and institutionalize the common person, but
the famous utilize rap sheets as resumé bullet points,
adding edge and depth to their careers.

This distorted view holds true for professional athletes and
musicians too. Even with several legal run-ins, basketball player
Allen Iverson has a lifetime shoe contract with Reebok, likely due
to the “streetwise edge” his image brings to the
company. Singer R. Kelly, despite facing 14 counts of child
pornography, was even nominated for a NAACP Image Award this year.
I wonder what kind of image the NAACP was trying to propagate with
that accolade.

Stars need to be knocked off their pedestals and given a healthy
dose of reality. We all make mistakes, and celebrity snafus are no
exception, but one cannot be granted free range because of the
intangible label of fame. If legal and moral standards are set by
society, then everyone, regardless of whether a Ludacris or a
nobody, should be held accountable for their words and actions.

Krishnamurthy can be reached at "mailto:sowymak@umich.edu">sowymak@umich.edu.