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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Thug Nation

If you haven't seen it yet, you should check out Kansas City Chief offensive linemen Eric Winston tell the fans in Kansas City how repugnant it was to hear them cheer the fact that Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel was knocked out of Sunday's game with a concussion.

Today, media types are indignant about what happened in Kansas City on Sunday as if, all of sudden, they opened their eyes and saw for the first time the climate they were complicit in creating.

Thugs have been with us forever. Thuggery is nothing new. The problem is, for the past quarter century we've been conditioned by the dominant media culture in this country to cheer and emulate the behavior of thugs instead of separating the indiscretions of youth from the needs of society.

After World War II, the nation was filled with thugs. Marlon Brando and James Dean  made their reputations playing thugs. People liked thugs just like they like them now, the difference is there were societal forces keeping them from emulating their favorite thug as a way of life. Through 1960s and 1970s thug life was a favorite well for Hollywood to draw from, but by the late 80s, things began to change.

People still liked thugs, but by then mainstream media and dominant media culture were fully embracing the thug mindset as an acceptable way to sell product. In previous years, we visited with thugs by choice. We bought a movie ticket, or otherwise made a choice. By the mid-90s, thuglife became the norm as it began being incessantly forced on us by advertising and entertainment concerns.

Most Americans were also afraid to voice their disapproval with this new cultural phenomenon out of fear of being labeled as racist. Like all popular cultural movements that came before, rap music attached itself to the thug life as a means of expressing the cultural discontent of the people making the music. Gangsta rap, West Coast versus East Coast, and all of the trappings that made rap music exciting and exotic when it started to break out were predominantly black idioms--but they were also the colorblind idioms of youth. That rap was a predominantly "black" idiom was used as a sales tool, but it spoke to all colors of disaffected youth (just like it's doddering old grandfather Rock & Roll had done thirty years before).

The music and lifestyle were simply a natural progression from the Wild Bunch through Shaft to NWA. Race wasn't--and isn't--the issue, it's just that people who didn't understand the music also didn't understand that point. The explosion in media outlets during the time brought the music into the mainstream as older media outlets tried to compete with newer ones. MTV had huge ratings that ate into the broadcast networks revenue so the broadcast networks jumped on board. This also happened during the shift from the old-school media moguls to younger ones looking to change the paradigm. The result was a saturation of a lifestyle that would have otherwise remained counter to the culture and in the sole possession of the kids who were buying the music. This explains why punk, which was also a movement that embraced violence and thuggery had a normal shelf life while rap didn't.

Now rap music is tired, bored, and corporate (just like all the other cultural movements that came before it) but we're stuck with its watered-down, pretend-thug version, because of the corporatization of it. The common-denominator that remains intact? The manufactured danger of the "thugs" the media upholds as role models while they are simply trying to earn advertising dollars on the backs of wanna-be's. That would be okay if there were actually civilized adults who weren't afraid to stand up and say "sure be a thug, just wash your hands and face and watch your language when you come in the house." Unfortunately there aren't.

Couple that with the incessant glorification of violence the NFL uses to sell their product and you wind up with 50,000 farm-raised, mid-western middle income Americans cheering the brain damage of one of their entertainers.

Entertainment is entertainment and life is cheap. Entertainers serve to entertain us: So serve us! Ancient Rome would be proud.

Congratulations America.

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