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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Racism + Music = Non-offensive

It recently struck me, amongst all the furore over free speech, that we allow a lot more offensive attitudes to be aired through the medium of song than through speech. There have been a number of releases over the last few months which have led me to metaphorically, sometimes even literally, gasp in horror when their lyrics have poisoned my ear drums.

Misogyny is the key evil perpetrated by these musical misdemeanours, with the equivalent towards men – Mrogyny? – sometimes evident as well. The Pussycat Dolls song ‘Beep’ is a prime example. With lyrics such as ‘You got real big brains, but I’m looking at your…’ and ‘I’m a do my thing while you’re playing with your…’ the song patently endorses misogyny by glorifying and endorsing male exploitation of women based on their physical assets. Some may argue that it’s “okay” because she tells him where to get off, but the whole concept of the song is devoid of any respect between the two sexes.

I can hear what you’re saying already. The words ‘lighten up’ and ‘it’s only a bit of fun’ are probably emanating from your amused lips as you read. But at risk of sounding like someone who takes life far too seriously, I think a point needs to be made, and heeded, here. Imagine if you heard the words of ‘Nasty Girl’ (Notorious B.I.G.) spoken out loud by a man: ‘I need you to strip… I need you to grind like you’re working for tips’. Would you be laughing it off as a bit of fun, or would you be wanting to punch him in the face and forcing a copy of The Female Eunuch into his groping hands? I doubt that most girls, who may enjoy dancing to such songs, would be telling me to lighten up if a man actually spoke those words, rather than sung them.

Another example which I find astounding is the Live Aid song, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. A lamentable song for a commendable cause. In writing this article I looked up the song on the internet and found a plethora of sites condemning it for its ridiculously out-dated (read: offensive) sentiments. Take the line, ‘and there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time’. Not only is this factually incorrect, it is just one part of a flawed ethos which the song embraces. Take pity on the poor Africans, they don’t have snow, they live somewhere where ‘nothing ever grows, no rains or rivers flow’, so let’s ‘Thank God it’s them not us’ (possibly the most offensive line in the song). And yet we belt this song out at Christmas, and recycle it for 2005’s Live8, at the same time condemning racism with hypocritical lips.

This would not happen if the song were a written speech. If Bob Geldof stood up and spoke those lyrics to the world, he would be condemned as ignorant, if not racist. Yet because it’s set to music (and let’s not forget, lots of A-list celebs sing on it), it’s acceptable.

There is an extent to which prejudices are perpetrated and perpetuated by discourse. Misogyny and racism are no exceptions. Next time you hear a song and find yourself humming along, ask, ‘What message is this sending out? Would I be so quick to agree if it was written down?’ Don’t ignore the power of song. It has been used in a positive way; don’t let it rekindle the flames of hatred still burning in some areas of society.


  • imagine speaking any song, whether it's Dylan, Cohen or Steps. Still sounds daft.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:39 pm  

  • and i would have thought 'thank god' was used as an expression of speech, rather than literally thanking the Christian God ofr inflicting misery on others rather than us. Besides, me and Bono are glad by chance we were born in a country where we're rich and well fed. Don't you take pity on the poor Africans? I certainly feel sorry for some poor Ethiopian bastard with no food.

    the big problem with all the live aid stuff was it ignored the real reason africa is crap and full of dead people (bad governance, civil war). Trite sentiments are fine, just direct them properly..

    btw I'd be interested to know what you think of the whole Cartoons stuff + if you saw Rod Liddle's evangelical Christians Dispatches prog on ch4 last night..

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:49 pm  

  • ‘Thank God it’s them not us’ (possibly the most offensive line in the song). And yet we belt this song out at Christmas, and recycle it for 2005’s Live8, at the same time condemning racism with hypocritical lips.

    the above is a misquote...

    it should be:
    "Well tonight thank God it's them
    instead of you"
    It should be offensive because it draws attention to the fact that anyone should indeed feel priveleged that they are not having to suffer what the people in third world countries are experiencing!

    It's not racist! It's just fact! Areyou not in fact glad that you dont have to live in the situation that they are living in?

    Misogyny, the hatred or strong prejudice against women? whilst I dislike the Pussycatdolls for completely different reasons, this is not one of them. it isnt glorifying and endorsing male exploitation of women... In fact by stating that it is men that made the call to do this song and "forced" the pussycat dolls to sing it it demeans women to being nothing but a puppet of the males that forced them to do it and that the PSD had no input into doing the song or not.

    ‘You got real big brains, but I’m looking at your…’ so the singer has a wandering eye... I'd personally be more worried at the active song "Milkshake" by Kelis, which actually makes people think that women should be viewed as objects because inthe opinion of the song, they just like it like that!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:57 pm  

  • Hi, Bec. I have to say that, whilst that's the line I like least in a naff and manipulative song, I think that classing it with the sexual and racial offensiveness of the other music you list is a bit steep. At least it meant well...

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 9:11 pm  

  • I have often wondered at what people find acceptable in songs.

    I don't wish to see anything banned, but like you I do wish people would actually notice how bad some of these lyrics are.

    By Blogger Serf, at 12:30 pm  

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