Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Gangsta rap is "offensive and horrible"

A report in today's Guardian tells us that "a headteacher in charge of the government's taskforce on school discipline has urged parents and schools to ban children from listening to "offensive and horrible" sexist and racist rap music lyrics".

Whatever you think of the practicalities of stopping people listening to gangsta rap (Do teachers have to enforce a "no hoodies, no hats , no pimpin my hoes" rule in the classroom?), what do you think about the lyrical content of such beautiful gems as "Nothing left to do, but buy some shells for my glock/Why? So I can rob every known dope spot ... Gotta unlock it, and take me up a hostage" or "And what's between your legs is the product/Use it properly/And you'll make dollars, bitch"?

Many argue that the lyrics of this type of rap glorify violence, criminal lifestyles, abuse towards women and minority groups, and generally perpetuate a worldview that is negative and self-defeating. And I tend to agree, to an extent. Much as I liked the rap of my own era (and I'm showing my age here with names like Public Enemy, De La Soul, Paris, The Goats, Hijack and Ice Cube) a lot of the more recent lyrical output of 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg and many others seems to me to celebrate being an idiot. Maybe it's just my age...

But my opinions aside, is there a linguistic focus for all of this? Could we really argue that the words of these songs affect people - especially vulnerable, disadvantaged young boys - into behaving in more extreme and violent ways? The Sapir Whorf hypothesis (or at least the strong version of it, linguistic determinism) would propose that language can change the way we think, while reflectionists might argue that it simply tells us about a society that's going down the plughole.

Many A2 students have looked at the representation of women in rap lyrics as part of their Language Investigation coursework, and others have explored the different styles of language used in lyrics, but how about exploring the themes of violence and abuse, or looking at the connections between language and attitudes/ language and lifestyle choices?

I know the AS exams have only just finished but now's a good time to start thinking about coursework for next year...

You can join the Guardian debate on this story here too.

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