Eminem's violent lyrics still OK?

Posted on 12/08/2014 by John Poland CEO, Town Hall Foundation

Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY 8:01 p.m. EST November 25, 2014

Eminem's songs pull no punches, and they have also thrown a few of their own.

In a genre that hasn't skimped on the degradation of women, the forthright rapper stands out for his alarmingly violent lyrics — most recently, free styling in a video this month that he will "punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice, like Ray Rice," before threatening to rape Iggy Azalea, on leaked track Vegas.

And that's just his latest offering. As far back as the 1999 song My Name Is, Eminem rapped that he ripped off Pamela Anderson's "(boobs) and smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kriss Kross." Jennifer Lopez, he "nailed ... to the railroad" on 2013's Symphony in H, and on 2000's Off the Wall, he was "causin' terror to Christina Aguilera When I grab her by the hair and drag her across the Sahara."

While his demeaning lyrics have long been a point of contention (a 2000 profile of the rapper by the Guardian labeled him a "misogynist, homophobe, (and) hero"), the arrival of his double-disc compilation album ShadyXV on Monday reopens the debate among critics. Why, in 2014, do fans still give him a pass on intolerance? And will the tides of public opinion ever turn against him?

Likely not, says Brittany Lewis, senior music editor at pop-culture site Global Grind. "Quite frankly, Eminem could put out an album of him yodeling and people would still buy it," she says. "His fan base is that real, and at this point, there's really nothing he could ever do to lose that."

Part of the reason people continue to embrace the 42-year-old rapper (born Marshall Mathers) is because he has operated this way from the beginning, Lewis says. "Since it's been, like, 15 years of these really sadistic fantasies that he likes to rap about, people are like, 'Oh, he's harmless,' " she says. "If some of this stuff lined up with his actual life, like if he actually got charged with domestic violence, then people would think differently."

Another reason he can get away with lyrics about raping his mother (Kill You), murdering his ex-wife (Kim) and killing "every last woman on Earth" (Nicki Minaj's Roman's Revenge) is that he does so under the guise of rap persona Slim Shady, introduced on the 1997 EP of the same name.

"In his music, he often goes to great lengths to signal his creation of an alter ego: a stage name (Eminem) and (persona) Slim Shady, to remind us, explicitly, that this is made up, " says Erik Nielson, an assistant professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia who teaches hip-hop culture classes. As a winner of 13 Grammy Awards and the second-best-selling male artist of all time (behind Garth Brooks), Eminem is also "widely regarded by casual fans and hip-hop aficionados as one of the most talented MCs in the game, lyrically."

But with more intense scrutiny by the media and social media, would Eminem be able to sustain such career longevity were he coming up as an artist in 2014? After all, younger rappers such as Tyler, the Creator and Hopsin haven't achieved near those levels of mainstream success, even while their lyrics also have an aggressive nature. Issues of domestic violence and rape have also become hot-button topics on college campuses, in the NFL and in entertainment, including recent accusations against Bill Cosby.

The answer is still "yes," says Chuck Creekmur, CEO of AllHipHop.com,noting how the rapper has been feeding off controversy long before his threats against Del Rey and Azalea.

"Em's hit various valleys and mountaintops in his career, and now that he's been away for a while, he needs to get people talking, generate controversy and get awareness around the album, " Creekmur says of the rapper, whose The Marshall Mathers LP 2 has sold more than two million copies since last fall, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "Controversy sells, and all press is good press. We haven't heard a lot about Eminem recently and now we're hearing a lot about Eminem."

In light of such controversy, Eminem has jumped to defend himself in the past — telling Anderson Cooper in 2010 that he feels "attacked" and wonders if he gets such flak "because of the color of my skin." And while his lyrics may be "completely unacceptable" in 2014, Lewis says, the problem is not just limited to him.

"Hip-hop's moving into a more accepting space, but the recurring themes of misogyny and violence are always going to be a part of the culture," Lewis says."The culture was born in the streets, so that's always going to be an element (of that). Until every single rapper comes from a two-parent house hold in suburbia, hip-hop music will have violence and misogyny in it."


Punitive Damages

Posted on 11/13/2014 by John Poland CEO, Town Hall Foundation

The Town Hall Foundation has compared the damages done to our children from music lyrics as similar to the damages done to children and adults alike as a result of smoking. Smoking is and has been regulated by the FDA as a drug and therefore the tobacco industry must live within a narrow band of distribution protocols.

A recent lawsuit found that a cigarette company must pay $23.2B in punitive damages to a longtime smoker who died in 1996. That ruling also said smokers and their families need only prove addiction and that smoking caused their illnesses or deaths. The bar being set by the court is low and was handed down some 18 years after the lawsuit was initiated.

What does this mean to the music artists of today, the producers, the record labels and the RIAA? Even though they hide behind free speech as a disclaimer to write and sing damaging lyrics, the time for reckoning will come and with it, punitive damages.

Punitive damages will occur in the future as courts examine what the purveyors of the filth should have known. They can’t escape the liability of their actions just like the cigarette companies hoped they could escape theirs. The RIAA has established a PAL (Parental Advisory Label). This is a joke as artists must self discipline themselves and ask for the label to be applied. Wal-Mart for example uses this guideline to remove songs from their inventory. As the artist created the label he or she can rerecord the song in a Wal-Mart friendly version at the original recording session.

The Town Hall Foundation has reached out to the corporate offices of Wal-Mart and they assured us that they are OK with the RIAA PAL. We asked that they adopt the THF rating system with our Seal of Shame (SOS) replacing the PAL. That would give them an unbiased resource to uniformly rate songs. They declined to accept our offer.

So, who will the courts find guilty of punitive damages in the future: the artist, the producer, the record label, RIAA or the music distribution industry? They all knew what these music lyrics can do and they turned a blind eye as though they didn’t care. If that is the case, maybe they should worry and begin saving for the lawsuits that will come.

That’s the message for today, more coming.

Rights, Privileges and Responsibilities

Posted on 10/13/2014 by John Poland CEO, Town Hall Foundation

The Constitution of the United States grants its citizens certain rights as have been defined from time to time. The first is set forth in the First Amendment:

“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.”

The other twenty six Amendments contain other rights but this editorial will restrict itself to the First Amendment rights.

The Rights guaranteed in the Constitution separate America from other countries where these rights don’t exist. We honor the men and women who have given their lives protecting our freedoms, and we grant these rights to non-citizens residing in America. A terrorist bent on killing Americans has the same set of rights as do we all, and they use those rights against us.

Congress and the states have granted Privileges to our citizens and continue to pass laws that impact those privileges. The privilege to drive an automobile, to a basic education, to marry, to pilot a plane, to use government owned airways, to broadcast TV and Radio and so on are privileges. Congress and the states can limit or modify these privileges at any time in accordance with the Constitution.

Responsibilities are different. They come in many flavors, but examples such as child labor laws, laws affecting human trafficking, protecting the homeless, providing health care to those who cannot afford it, and providing foods stamps to the less economically enabled are part of our social-economic fabric.

I have talked to twenty plus "Gen Y"ers regarding the THF and the children we serve. I was dumbfounded by the overwhelming feeling that Freedom of Expression over-weighed the need to protect our children. Even with Academic (scientific) evidence, they stood their ground and wanted unfettered freedom of speech to prevail for the small minority of musicians who violate the THF review criteria.

It is my view that this is a narcissistic view and an example of the “I want it, and I want it now” attitude. As a society, we must work together, not to limit our rights but to use our rights to convince those who would harm our children to back off.

This small minority of artists have the right to write and sing whatever they feel moves them. The THF recognizes that and accords them that right. BUT, as responsible members of society, we want to educate parents and let them make the decisions what music is appropriate for their children.

We can, and do, limit the broadcast of offending music, a privilege. Now we must unite together and take responsibility for protecting our children during their formative years. We will see more violence and killings on a day-to-day basis and, unfortunately, the mega violent actions of deranged individuals. We can take a step forward together and stop the offending artists. That is what the Town Hall Foundation is all about; protecting our children, not limiting Freedom of Speech.

That’s the message for today, more coming.

THF Is Not Alone

Posted on 09/22/2014 by John Poland CEO, Town Hall Foundation

Media Smarts, Canada’s center for digital and media literacy, published an article that is consistent with the views of the Town Hall Foundation. Take a read and see if you agree.

Inappropriate Content in Music

Pushing the boundaries for artistic expression has always been a part of popular music. However, the drive for profits may also be pushing the envelope of what is acceptable. In this section we examine some of the issues in today's music.

Explicit Lyrics

Music hasn't changed since the days when the Beatles shocked the world. What has changed is that popular music lyrics have become much more explicit.

Hip hop and other genres have received criticism for lyrics with graphic references to drugs, sex, violence, and hate aimed at women, minorities, gays and lesbians. Pop stars such as Katy Perry may be marketed under a "girl power" guise—but what they are really selling to their mostly pre-pubescent audiences is adult sexuality.

To censor or not to censor? This is the thorny question many parents face when their children bring home music they find offensive. Where the line is drawn is largely dependent on family values and the maturity and temperament of the child. For families with both older and younger children, parents may want to designate the more explicit music their teens listen to as “iPod only”.

With so much of this music within listening – or downloading – range, discussions with children about explicit lyrics should start sooner, rather than later. It is important that adults talk with their kids about the types of lyrics they find offensive – and explain why. As children get older, encourage discussion and debate on these issues to provide them with opportunities to reflect not only on stereotyping and violence in music recordings and videos – but in other media as well.

In 1990, the U.S. recording industry introduced Parent Advisory Labels (PAL) to identify music containing explicit lyrics, including depictions of violence and sex. Parental Advisory labels are printed at the bottom right of a CD's cover; they are found in the same place in the album art included with digital downloads.

For consumers, the system has its drawbacks. Companies and artists voluntarily label their products, so customers can't automatically assume that music without a label will be appropriate for all ages.

The retail industry is also inconsistent in dealing with Parental Advisory labels. Some stores have policies forbidding the sale of labeled music to kids younger than 18. A few retail chains, such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart, will not carry stickered products, while others have no restrictions to stop children of any age from purchasing CDs with advisory labels. Digital downloads, of course, have no age restrictions, though some retailers such as iTunes offer "clean" versions of songs with explicit lyrics. Generally, parents should be especially mindful of the music their children are downloading.

Critics charge that although the music industry warns parents of inappropriate lyrics with labels, at the same time it's aggressively marketing explicit music to young people. In December 2009, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report showing how media industries, including the music industry, aggressively market media meant for adults to young children. The report showed that albums containing explicit content were frequently advertised on TV shows and websites popular with youth.

Negative Effects of Music

For kids with a healthy self-image and varied interests, music probably has little or no influence on their values and lifestyle choices. However, violent, racist, homophobic or sexist lyrics in music may impact some youth: research shows possible correlations between a teenager’s preference for certain musical genres and risky behaviours.

There is evidence that listening to music with sexual content in the lyrics makes teenagers more likely to start having sex earlier than their peers.Music also contains a lot of commercial content, mostly in the form of product placement, much of which is for alcohol.While research hasn't yet shown consistent effects of lyrics or music on teens' personalities, one study found that listening to songs with "pro-social" lyrics made teens more likely to behave in helpful and compassionate ways."

That’s the message for today, more coming.


Punitive Damages

Posted on 08/25/2014 by John Poland CEO, Town Hall Foundation

The Town Hall Foundation has compared the damages done to our children from music lyrics as similar to the damages done to children and adults alike as a result of smoking. Smoking is and has been regulated by the FDA as a drug and therefore the tobacco industry must live within a narrow band of distribution protocols.

A recent lawsuit found that a cigarette company must pay $23.2B in punitive damages to a longtime smoker who died in 1996. That ruling also said smokers and their families need only prove addiction and that smoking caused their illnesses or deaths. The bar being set by the court is low and was handed down some 18 years after the lawsuit was initiated.

What does this mean to the music artists of today, the producers, the record labels and the RIAA? Even though they hide behind free speech as a disclaimer to write and sing damaging lyrics, the time for reckoning will come and with it, punitive damages.

Punitive damages will occur in the future as courts examine what the purveyors of the filth should have known. They can’t escape the liability of their actions just like the cigarette companies hoped they could escape theirs. The RIAA has established a PAL (Parental Advisory Label). This is a joke as each artist or label must self discipline themselves and ask for the label to be applied. Wal-Mart for an example uses this guideline to remove songs from their inventory. As the artist created the label he or she can rerecord the song in a Wal-Mart friendly version at the original recording session.

The Town Hall Foundation has reached out to the corporate offices of Wal-Mart and they assured us that they are OK with the RIAA PAL. We asked that they adopt the THF rating system with our Seal of Shame (SOS) replacing the PAL. That would give them an unbiased resource to uniformly rate songs. They declined to accept our offer.

So, who will the courts find guilty of punitive damages in the future: the artist, the producer, the record label, RIAA or the music distribution industry? They all knew what these music lyrics can do and they turned a blind eye as though they didn’t care. If that is the case, maybe they should worry and begin saving for the lawsuits that will come.

That’s the message for today, more coming.