In a recent survey of Americans, 75% reported believing that exposure to violence in popular music, television shows, and movies, inspires young people to act aggressively (Lacayo, 1995; Smith et al. , 2000). The consumption of media containing heterosexist and homophobic languages, by young adults and children, harbors aggression and sexual confusion. Jung and Smith (1993) define heterosexism as, a reasoned system of bias about human sexual orientation… rooted in a largely cognitive constellation of beliefs about human sexuality (Hecht, 1998, p. 3).
The constant exposure to hateful lyrics found in some of todays most popular music desensitizes the young to violence against and mistreatment of gays and lesbians. It may also instill a fear in those young adults who may be confused about their own sexual orientation, causing extreme frustration and emotional pain. With the recent success of rapper Eminems sophomore release entitled, The Marshall Mathers LP, much attention had been drawn to this topic.
There has been a tremendous backlash against Eminems music and the messages he delivers to the millions of listeners he has acquired. The most audible criticisms have been those of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation, or glaad. In a media release from glaad, the organization stated that: The hatred and hostility on (Eminems) CD have a real effect on peoples lives as they encourage violence against gay men and lesbians. At time when hate crimes against gay people are on the rise, these epithets create even more bias and intolerance toward an entire community.
The real danger comes from the artists fan base of easily influenced adolescents who emulate Eminems dress, mannerisms, words and beliefs (glaad. org, 2000b). Some of these words and beliefs include the following lyrics from the song Criminal from The Marshall Mathers LP: My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge Or the homosex, hermaph, or a trans-a-vest Pants or dresshate fags? The answers yes There are several other songs on the album that continue on in much the same light. The Marshall Mathers LP has recently been acknowledged as the fastest-selling hip-hop album in history.
To date, it has sold over five million copies worldwide, since its release in May of 2000 (Entertainment Weekly, #554, p. 23). The mass consumption of such abusive heterosexist messages is what concerns many in society. The placement of responsibility for these hateful messages, is an issue that is at the forefront of societal concerns. Michael Hecht and John R. Baldwin suggest that, when looking at prejudices like heterosexism, it is necessary to cover all sides and perspectives of the issue, not just its direct context.
They suggest taking a layered perspective in understanding prejudice (Hecht, p. 59). It is a multidimensional method that looks at intolerance; not only in its immediate context, but also the effect that intolerance has on society, the psychological processes of the individuals instigating or effected by that intolerance, as well as political aspects of it, among others (Hecht, p. 59-60). To express the multidimensionality of this view, Hecht and Baldwin use the metaphor of a hologram. Looking at a hologram from any side produces an entirely new picture.
This is essentially what Hecht and Baldwin hope will happen in taking a layered perspective to prejudicea new picture of prejudice will appear with every new layer that is added. The question of who should take responsibility for the heterosexist languages infused in media messages may be answered by looking at two layers of the intoleranceEminems personal choices, and the responsibility of institutions in society to prohibit hateful media. Should Eminem be responsible for the music he writes, or should the government step in and censor such hateful messages?
Furthermore, why are such violent heterosexist lyrics necessary? It is important to look at Eminems reasons for relaying violent heterosexist messages to his young audiences. Eminem has stated, in several interviews, that he understands his position as a role model in todays pop culture (glaad. org, 2000a). In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Eminem stated: Ive answered this gay-bashing thing many a time. If people would listen to the lyrics, I say, Half the *censored* I say/ I just make it up to make you mad. And you know what?
I shouldnt even have toexplain myself. I could just say, Faggot, faggot, faggot, and leave it at that (glaad. org, 2000a). In another interview, with MTV, Eminem explained his use of the word faggot. He stated that, the most lowest degrading thing that you can say to a manis to call him a faggot and try to take away his manhood. Faggot to me doesnt necessarily mean gay people[it] means taking away your manhood. Youre a sissy. Youre a coward (glaad. org, 2000a). Eminem argues that his words are just expression and should not be taken too seriously.
However, the problem remains that young consumers are buying Eminems music by the millions. These children may not understand Eminems intent when he raps such violent heterosexist lyrics. Although Eminem may not intend to produce heterosexist lyrics, he is reinforcing heteronormativity (Hecht, p. 115). The second possible perspective to take on this issue is the overwhelming belief that the government should step into this matter and censor media containing violent or harmful lyrics. The fear is that the wide consumption of heterosexist messages could possibly fuel hate crimes.
However, this issue has opposing sides as well. Many argue that in censoring music, the government takes away the peoples first amendment right to freedom of speech. Glaad has recognized this argument by stating that, While Eminem certainly has the freedom of speech to rap whatever he wants, it is irresponsible for [Eminems label]to produce and promote such defamatory material. This is especially negligent when considering the market for this music has been shown to be adolescent males, the very group that statistically commits the most hate crimes (glaad. g, 2000c).
Since it would be unconstitutional for the government to stop Eminem, it is apparent that some other answers must be found. Possibly the best choice for a solution comes from the argument that the parents of the child consumers need to step in and prohibit their children from listening to hateful lyrics in popular music. This can be done in a number of ways, from spending more time together with their children, to talking with them about the dangers of what such hateful lyrics imply.
Heterosexism is a prominent problem in todays society. It is widely prevalent in the media from movies to music. At a time when the hip-hop music industry is thriving, it is important to have a full understanding of the content that is becoming easily accessible and available to children. In has been shown that exposure to violent media content fosters fear and learning of aggression in young adults and children, it may also desensitize them to the reality and consequences of such actions. There is a dominant cause for alarm.
By looking at prejudice multi-dimensionally, a clearer picture of intolerance arises. Instead of labeling Eminem as heterosexist, it is important to understand his psychological need to produce the music he does. Likewise, it is necessary to assure that consumers do not misread the messages that Eminem is furnishing. Responsibility can not be placed outside the home. Neither the artist, his record label, nor the government can be expected to raise children correctly. It is solely the responsibility of the parents.