So we’ve all seen “Bowling for Columbine” now, right? No? It’s playing at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at the State Theater. I suggest you be a good liberal and make it there. Or be a well-rounded pro-gun advocate and watch one of the best 90-minute editorials you will have ever seen. Maybe you’ll learn something you never knew before, like how Dick Clark has it in for Oakland County welfare-to-workers.
Anyway, part of Michael Moore’s hypotheses is that America suffers from a culture of violence not because of Marylyn Manson, hip hop and video games, but because the preference of its leadership is to make policy with the sword, and because the nation’s news media exploit and thrive upon sensationalist images of violence. It’s a worthwhile hypothesis, and Moore attempts to strengthen it by contrasting the American media with the tamer and less sensationalistic Canadian media. He then throws out statistics that illustrate how many more violent crimes are committed in the United States than in other Western nations (we suffer approximately 34 more times as many gun-related murders here than they do in England and Wales). He suggests that it is the nation’s propensity toward war and the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy, rather than hip hop and video games, that give rise to America’s “culture of violence.”
What’s interesting is that in the wake of the renewed awareness Moore’s film has brought to the issue of gun violence, one of the nations that has famously (and, to some Americans, puzzlingly) little gun violence has entered into a panic of its own.
One of the lead stories on the BBC last Thursday proclaimed that gun crime in England and Wales has escalated 20 percent over the past year. This news comes in the wake of a double homicide in Birmingham (the real Birmingham – not the one in Michigan) where two teenage girls were shot at a New Year’s Eve party.
British politicians are reacting with alarm. Home Secretary David Blunkett has taken a page out of the American politicians’ handbook by searching for answers in hip hop lyrics. He called Jay-Z “appalling,” and said that, “I am concerned that we need to talk to the record producers, to the distributors, to those who are actually engaged in the music business about what is and isn’t acceptable.”
Labour Party MP Kim Howells joined him by proclaiming that, “For years I have been very worried about these hateful lyrics that these boasting macho idiot rappers come out with.”
It is no coincidence that these misguided accusations come in a year when The Streets, a.k.a. Mike Skinner, a.k.a. the English Eminem, has found his way into the CD players of little lads and lasses everywhere. Parliament, acting entirely unFunkadelically, doesn’t know what to do with rap music.
The Brits, bless them, have also found that it is easier to target scapegoats than search for answers (or stand up to the NRA, ahem, ahem!) when it comes to dealing with handguns. The BBC’s online coverage of this story included a link to a page containing various hip-hop lyrics, from Jay-Z, 2Pac, Outkast, Biggie, Ludacris and Snoop. Sound familiar? What is it Michael Moore said again about the media? And then when I thought they couldn’t fuel the panicked fire any more, I found that www.bbc.com provided a discussion board on the topic, “is rap music to blame?”
No, BBC, rap music is not to blame. But to the loyal subjects of the Queen I have bad news: This has been going on in the States for over two decades, and American politicians still believe they can avoid the issue of gun control by blaming popular entertainers instead of the relentless and affluent National Rifle Association.
As for Mr. Moore, your hypothesis seems weakened. There is nothing unique about the American media, or about American leadership – the British are as panic-stricken and specious in their approach as we are. But I’ve got a job for you: pack your bags for Merry Old England, and convince our chums across the Atlantic that the source of gun violence runs deeper than song lyrics.
David Horn wanted badly to title this column ‘”Panic on the streets of London.” He can be reached via email at email@example.com.