Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Using children as political props

Music is supposed to inspire.

Did you know that? So say the brave children of a group called Watoto of the Nile, three little props who are trying to impose their definition of "inspire" on the rest of the world. The ostensible target of their ire: Lil Wayne, a musician who dares to create music for adults, about adult subject matter. The kids don't like that.

Lil Wayne sings about premarital sex. He sings about cheating on your spouse/partner. He sings about accommodating women. He uses words that are considered "dirty."

One song in particular that has apparently deeply offended Watoto of the Nile is a song called "I'm Single," in which Mr. Wayne declares that, although he's in a committed relationship, for one night at least, he is "single." The song is probably not safe for work.

That song is full of foul language and grown-up sentiment. It's a song for adults, not for kids. Parents probably shouldn't allow their children to listen to the song. If they do, they should explain that sometimes adults do act like the narrator of the song, but that you must decide for yourself, when you're older, if that is how you want to act.

Watoto of the Nile wants to eliminate the song altogether. They want to try to shame Mr. Wayne into only making songs that are kid-appropriate. Music is supposed to inspire, one of them whines at the end of their aural complaint, "Letter to Lil Wayne" -- apparently their parents apparently aren't inspiring them.

Or, maybe their parents are inspiring them? Inspiring them to create a song decrying the existence of a musician who doesn't make music directly aimed at them.

Over the weekend, yahoo music had a column about the song, headlined, Lil Wayne's Negative Lyrics Prompt Complaint Song From Little Girls.

How's that for a dispassionate, balanced headline? In case you don't know with whom the writer's sympathies lie, check out this from the second paragraph:
[E]arlier this week, Lil Wayne was called to task by three little girls. Sisters Nia, 10, Nya, 9, and Kamaria, 5, who form the Baltimore, Maryland-based group Watoto From The Nile, released a song, "Letter To Lil Wayne," that questions the New Orleans rapper's lyrics that degrade women and promote drug abuse.
Mr. Wayne's songs promote drug abuse and degrade women.

Children must be protected from this! If they listen to this song, they will be inspired to abuse drugs and degrade women. So, Lil Wayne should stop creating art.

Barring that, one would hope that the parents of these little girls would do everything they could to shield their children from Mr. Wayne's terrible worldview.
Watoto From The Mile decided to write to Lil Wayne after hearing his song "I'm Single" on the radio. The group was shocked that so much of the song was bleeped out because of the explicit lyrics.
First of all, why were these little girls allowed to listen to a radio station that would play a song that degrades women and promotes drug abuse? Didn't their parents tell them not to listen to that station?

Second of all, the radio station bleeped out the explicit lyrics. Do you know why they bleeped out those "explicit" lyrics? Because it is illegal for broadcast radio stations to air "explicit" language. They get fined by the FCC, a government organization charged with ensuring that people won't have their delicate ears damaged by hearing "explicit" language. (This despite the fact that we have a First Amendment to the Constitution which states Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Please note that it does not say anything about, "except if such speech might offend children or other delicate people.")

But the girls' father isn't doing much to shield his children from the song.
The song ["Letter to Lil Wayne"] has received mixed responses, according to Jabari Natur, the girls' father and the song's producer and co-writer.
He co-wrote this song. And:
"Letter To Lil Wayne" is recorded over an instrumental of the Lil Wayne song "I'm Single."
So this man exposed his delicate children to Mr. Wayne's song, in his effort to exploit his children to make a point about how music just isn't "right."
"We want to take back the radio airwaves," Natur said. "We want music to get right."
Does that not sound just a bit sinister to you? He wants music to meet his definition of "right."

No "negative" lyrics.

No "degrading" women.

No "promoting" "drug abuse."

Music is supposed to inspire.

Mr. Natur doesn't see anything inspiring in a work of art that does not conform to his idea of "right." He can't be inspired by a well-crafted song if the message that he takes away from it is "negative." No artist can control how his art is consumed. Artists shouldn't try. Mr. Wayne has absolutely no obligation to your children, Mr. Natur. He has an obligation to create art. If enough people like what he creates, he will be successful and make tons of money. If enough don't like what he creates, if they think it's "negative," he won't be successful. He'll try something else.

Mr. Natur allows his children to listen to radio stations that play music that's not "right." If he really cared about his children and what they were listening to, he wouldn't allow them to listen to those stations. If others who feel as he does do the same thing, they too will not allow their children to listen to those stations. As those stations lose listeners, they will change their format. They will play music that is "right." Watoto of the Nile is based in Baltimore, Maryland. They have a lot of radio stations from which to choose. Surely one of these plays music that Mr. Natur would find to be "right?"

But this gets to another, larger problem in our culture. A recent study suggests that parents exaggerate the emotional benefits of raising children to justify the massive expense they incur. I would suggest that many parents do not merely exaggerate the emotional benefits -- we're all familiar with the phenomenon of living vicariously through your children. We've all seen parents who feel unfulfilled in their own lives, falling short of whatever goals they've set for themselves, who then attempt to mold their children into more perfect versions of themselves. We've seen the politicians who claim to be doing something "for the children." It's a tedious cliche.

I'm starting to wonder if the main reason people have children is to use them as leverage in political arguments.

You can't argue with children. They're so cute and innocent. Their souls are pure. They are "the future." Which is why they make such effective propaganda tools. To wit:




I do not wish to argue the relative merits of any of the causes being promoted by the children in any of the above images or videos. But I do find it offensive when I see children used in this way.

We now know that the brains of human beings don't fully form until their mid-20s. Kids cannot make serious decisions on their own. They can't fully grasp complex political ideas. They can't be expected to make rational judgments. They can be expected to parrot whatever it is that their parents are telling them. They are being manipulated by the authority figures who are charged with raising them.

To the people who are taking your children to political events, who are "helping" them to make videos -- you might be scoring political points, and you might be impressing your friends, but you are doing a disservice to your children. Take care of them. Protect them. Give them time for their brains to fully form before you force your ideology upon them. Give them the tools to reason, and let them make up their own minds. When they've grown up.

And to the little girls of Watoto of the Nile, I leave you with something that the late, great Oscar Wilde once wrote:

"The artist can express anything."

Think about it. Now go outside and play, and try to ignore the crap your father is feeding you.

George Bush bumper sticker source.

Wisconsin kids picture source.

Westboro kids picture source.

Kid with Bush tombstone pic source.


Iced Borscht said...

Well done.

I too vented about the whole kids-as-props thing a while back at WFTC, a year or so before you joined the group of writers over there. Basically, you and I are on the same page:


And as you and I both note in our posts, it happens in all shades of political vicariousness. Here in Portland, I often see a whole ton of ham-fisted liberalization of kids (making children memorize the names of Obama's little girls; persuading a child to choose a "solar-home" doll kit instead of a toy car or whatever...)

I stay very vague on politics with my kid, very vague on religion too.

But kids are smart. For instance, weeks after I've muttered something that I thought was indecipherable and vague about, oh the police or church or whatever, my 6-year-old will re-phrase back the "true" meaning of what I was saying with stunning bluntness and pretty damn good accuracy.

Which is why it's pretty vicious of some of the more extreme indoctrination folks -- e.g. the Funky Fred & the Westboro Fun Bunch-- to use their stupid crap as the FOUNDATION for their kids' worldview. It's awful.

Ricky Sprague said...

Examples abound, unfortunately. And they proliferate. It's getting worse, not better.

I hadn't heard of the Mama Voted for Obama! book mentioned in your WFTC piece. It's uniquely appalling, from the forced enthusiastic exclamation point in the title to the absurdist singsong prose within, i.e., "She didn't vote for an aardvark/or a red-winged lark/or a hammerhead shark./Mama voted for Obama!"

At this point in his term, I would take the hammerhead shark.

That book was by the author of the books Why Mommy is a Democrat and Why Daddy is a Democrat, which contain such howlers as, "Democrats make sure everyone plays by the rules, just like Mommy does."

Of course, Mommy will look the other way when you beat the crud out of your little brother if you pay her enough.