Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 2:20 PM EDT

We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics, here on the Riff. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive. Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out (except the homophobia part). Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos. Reports Variety:

Just as his colleagues on other committees have summoned TV execs to be grilled on sexual or violent content, Rush wants to hear from the leaders of companies purveying rap music. The intent is to examine commercial practices behind the music's most controversial content.

"I want to talk to executives at these conglomerates who've never taken a public position on what they produce," Rush said. "But it's been surprisingly very difficult to get them to commit to appearing."

Witnesses include toppers Philippe Dauman of Viacom, Doug Morris of Universal Music Group and Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music Group... So far, only one artist has committed to appearing—Master P, who began his career as a gangsta rapper but has since focused on positive messages and images in his music.

Hey, they've even got a catchy title, to distract from that whole First Amendment problem:

Currently titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degradation," the hearing is intended to address "what is certainly a timely issue and one that won't go away," Rush said. ...Rush stressed that this is "not an anti-artist hearing, or antimusic or antiyouth hearing." He said he's hoping for voluntary—not regulatory—solutions. "I respect the First Amendment, but rights without responsibility is anarchy, and that's much of what we have now. It's time for responsible people to stand up and accept responsibility."

I'd been wondering what to call this rights-without-responsibility feeling I've been having. Hooray, it's anarchy! And any sentence that begins "I respect the First Amendment, but..." is gonna be an awesome sentence.

In all seriousness, it's mostly just sad that this hearing will do nothing to illuminate the troubling issue of offensive art versus free speech, or of representation of offense versus actual offense, issues that have vexed us for a while. If we rely on the media to represent ourselves and our interests, then it's easy to want art to portray our ideal society, not our real society, or a negative fantasy. The problem is, not everyone has the same ideals, and if the government is involved—even assuring us they're "hoping" not to use "regulatory solutions"—the effect is one of intimidation and censorship. Furthermore, why hip-hop is being singled out seems far more nefarious than some offensive lyrics. God forbid our elected officials might focus on making real efforts against poverty and inequality that might lead to social changes and less-offensive art.