I like free markets, personal responsibility, think the United States is the greatest force for good in the world and that my government’s job is to keep me safe, fill the odd pothole and stay out of my way. Bit of a social libertarian, but Conservative fits just fine.
Everyone needs to commisserate with the like-minded, so I participate in several Conservative communities that each have their own strengths on policy and society at large. On pop culture, however, they’re all useless.
Could be worse than useless — and it usually is. Conservatives’ ignorance and dismissive attitude toward pop culture is flat-out destructive and dumb. Summarizing it in both depth and intent as, “You kids get off my lawn!” is warranted. We’ve earned it.
Beyonce Knowles is in the news again for the non-musical as she and her husband Jay-Z are in Cuba with the full certification of the US. It’s a legitimate topic to discuss why anyone’s priority in the United States government is Beyonce’s travel plans, but it never stops there. The comments and debates always devolve to how valueless Beyonce’s music is and how no responsible adult should let their children’s eyes spy that booty-shaking or lend their ears to a line like “Bow Down, Bitches!”
They’re not altogether wrong — it’s not all high-end stuff — but they’re throwing the Beyonce out with the bathwater.
Consider Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” a song that dominated clubs from 2008 – 2009 and still is a standard. (For you Conservatives, it’s got the same type of staying power as “YMCA” or “The Chicken Dance” at your wedding receptions.)
I know you’re all familiar with the lyrics — and consider it poetry worthy of inclusion in the American cultural canon — but take a listen to remind yourselves:
If Beyonce’s young audience embraced more fully the importance of, “If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it,” it would solve a whole lot of society’s problems.
Here’s what we get in “Single Ladies (Put a ring on it)”:
The song laments a girl’s mistreatment by a man who does not to want to commit, yet feels entitled to be jealous at another man’s interest in her. She’s having a great time with her friends — because herself and her friends are all she has in this troubled romantic culture — and she’s quite clear that if the man wants her, he needs to commit to the relationship and responsibilities of manhood or she’ll find someone who will (as she should).
Hate the costumes, the beat, or the phrasing — I prefer Skynyrd, Hank Jr. and Alabama to Beyonce, myself — but that’s a damn fine message.
The illegitmacy rate in the United States is rising, as it has for decades, at a rapid pace. It’s currently at ~48%. It’s particularly troubling in the Black community where illegitimacy is approaching 75%, and a lack of responsibility among men in each community plays a significant role. Commitments, marriages, babies… these trends aren’t good.
Beyonce’s got more on that. When she was with Destiny’s Child, she told us in “Bills, Bills, Bills” about that “good for nothin’ type-a brotha” who “don’t know what a man’s about.” Tough to fault her argument: her beau as described in the song started out alright, but then maxed out her credit card, blew up her cell phone bill with calls to his mother and drove her car around without filling up the tank.
Really, he’s a scrub:
Same plea: She surveys the romantic climate and is frustrated by the irresponsibility all around her. She wants something better.
We’ve got two options — we can pay attention to these songs, take some of it seriously and talk about what it reflects, or we can dismiss it.
Please, stop dismissing it. She might say, “Bow down, bitches!” here and there, but she also makes on occasion the same social arguments Conservatives do.
Those grains of sand can become pearls in the minds of the young. And if Dad has an opportunity to talk to Daughter or Son about what songs like this are really saying, he’s hit a few numbers in the parenthood lottery. I recommend cashing in that ticket.
But these songs can inspire broader political conversations in and about American society — or are we drowning in pop songs that identify so clearly the plight of a generation’s unwillingness to meet basic responsibilities, the unhappiness it can cause, and the social problems that result? At its core, “Single Ladies” and “Bills” are complaints about a generation’s shortcomings that lead to the societal problems we lament.
It shows us that there’s an ember of our values burning in the young. We can let it cool (bad) or stomp it out (worse) — or we can blow on it and sprinkle a little tinder. I’ll choose the latter.
Conservatives tend to love that stomping. It’s a boastful, self-congratulatory move meant to demonstrate one’s street cred. When that happens, it becomes about you and not the community. It’s the same evolution we saw old hip-hop/rap like Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” — a song that was a warning to the urban community and a plea for change — became what we have now: chest-pounding meant to celebrate one’s status, largely at the expense of the community.
That’s right, Conservatives. When it comes to pop culture, you’re a whole lot more like what you claim to hate than you know.
There’s hope. Stodgy, grumpy Conservatives can change. They don’t have to be proud of their pop culture ignorance. They can stop yelling at kids to get off their lawn, find a way to have conversations with them about what’s important. Takes a little time, but they might end up liking you — or even better, realizing your ideas are eerily similar to their own.
Walt Kowalksi put on a clinic in Gran Torino. Your turn.