Acton Institute Powerblog

Misguided Hop Hip Protests: Media Companies Aren’t The Problem

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The New York Times reports of a well-intentioned protest by a pastor to protest the ridiculous and dehumanizing lyrics of the type of hip hop shown on networks like BET and MTV.

Wearing white T-shirts with red stop signs and chanting “BET does not reflect me, MTV does not reflect me,” protesters have been gathering every Saturday outside the homes of Viacom executives in Washington and New York City. The orderly, mostly black crowds are protesting music videos that they say degrade women, and black and Latino men.

Among other things the protesters want media companies like Viacom to develop “universal creative standards” for video and music, including prohibitions on some language and images. Video vixens and foul-mouthed pimps and thugs are now so widespread, the protesters maintain, that they infect perceptions of ordinary nonwhite people.

“A lot of rap isn’t rap anymore, it’s just people selling their souls,” Marc Newman, a 28-year-old car salesman from New Rochelle, N.Y., said on Saturday. He was among about 20 men, women and children from area Baptist churches marching outside the Upper East Side residence of Philippe Dauman, the president and chief executive of Viacom Inc.

This is well intended but I doubt it will help much. Perhaps the Pastor should focus more on preaching about Jesus to fans of hip hop music as opposed to attacking the media corporations. Here’s why:

(1) As long as consumers want music that degrade women and celebrate stupidity someone is going to produce it and distribute it. No one forced to buy stupid music.

(2) The best way to protest is with your wallet. If people didn’t buy this music, or attend the concerts of the artists who produce the music, this type of hip hop would die.

(3) Viacom does not force artists to rap lyrics that degrade themselves and women. They freely choose to rap about those things on their own volition.

(4) If the public wants Viacom to act virtuously consumers are going to have change their preferences, artists are going to have to refuse to rap about ignorance, and, then, Viacom executives are left to make the risky decision to opt out of distributing filth. If Viacom could make money off of virtue it would.

Viacom does NOT need to create universal standards for content. Maybe morally debased consumers need to embrace virtuous preferences. If the culture is not morally formed citizens will not make moral decisions. Why isn’t this group protesting the malformed desires of hip hop’s consumers and artists as well?

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.


  • Reeta

    Interesting statement, “As long as consumers want music that degrade women and celebrate stupidity someone is going to produce it and distribute it. No one is forced to buy stupid music.”

    As long as hip hop and rap artists create music with lyrics about doing girls from the bakcside, seeing how low she can go, shooting that punk in his grill, etc. young children will continue to grow to be murderers and rapists. Girls and boys will never learn their true worth. Is this what you want for your children? Well, this is what they are getting. Human beings will only learn to use and hurt one another. We cannont pretend that music doesn’t effect our children and that we are not in control. We are the adults. We are the ones who are responsible. When the next big school shooting occurs don’t you dare point your finger at the child. Point your finger at that child’s role models or so called heroes, at yourself. Consumers idolize rap artists no matter what they choose to rap about. If a rapper chooses to rap about peace, God, or poverty consumers will buy the music. If a rapper chooses to rap about sex, drugs & money consumers will continue to buy.

    P.S. I love clean hip hop but isn’t easy to find anymore.

  • Great stuff Anthony.
    This issue, like so many others, is about responsibility and protection. Bootleggers who ran booze on the black market loved the baptists who kept prohibition in place. If vulgar rap is forced to go black market, you can expect to see less of it, but it will be uglier, and more violent.
    It is better to assume full responsibility for what you and your kids listen to and watch. Which sometimes means exposing your kids to the filth to inoculate them. Full censorship and bans never lead to wise or virtuous choices, only fear and ignorance.

  • DAL

    Your logic and dismissive attitude toward the importance of the church as an institution taking on the world institutions is glib. Taking the Gospel outside the walls of the church to challenge an industry that pushes garbage is alright with me — but tobacco companies might agree with you in this way:

    (1) As long as SMOKERS want CIGARETTES that POLLUTE THE ENVIRONMENT and CAUSE CANCER someone is going to produce it and distribute it. No one forced to buy stupid TOBACCO.

    (2) The best way to protest is with your wallet. If people didn’t buy CIGARETTES, or SHOP AT the STORES who SALE the CIGARETTES, this type of PRODUCT would die.

    (3) MARLBORO does not force SMOKERS to SMOKE CIGARETTES that RISK themselves and OTHERS. They freely choose to SMOKE on their own volition.

    (4) If the public wants MARLBORO to act virtuously consumers are going to have change their preferences, SMOKERS are going to have to refuse to SMOKE, and, then, MARLBORO executives are left to make the risky decision to opt out of distributing filth. If MARLBORO could make money off of virtue it would.

    MARLBORO does NOT need to create universal standards for CIGARETTES. Maybe morally debased consumers need to embrace virtuous preferences. If the culture is not morally formed citizens will not make moral decisions. Why isn’t this group protesting the malformed desires of TOBACCO’S consumers?

    Not a perfect comparison, but you the gist.

  • Maybe Viacom isn’t responsible for rappers’ content, but it is responsible for what it chooses to peddle to consumers.

    And, yes, it is okay to hold Viacom accountable for what it markets.

  • I don’t see why anyone ought to act virtuously in regards to things like cigarettes or rap music. These are victimless crimes. Individuals don’t derive their virtue or learn it from society, they lend their virtue to society. My actions are my own responsibility and no one else’s. It is moral cowardice to absolve one’s responsibility onto any other man, even a straw man like society.

  • DAL,

    I don’t understand your point. What you write seems perfectly logical, yet you seem to think that Tobacco companies are the demons. Why is it a problem that people smoke, and Tobacco companies make money from it?


  • mypiece

    The distinguishing difference between Viacom and a cigarette company is that cigarette companies produce the product that you would be protesting.

    Viacom is not the producer, just the distributor. If you use that line of logic, then protestors should be picketing outside of the houses of bodega owners, supermarket owners, etc.

    The focus should be on the artists that are creating the work that is so offensive.

    I didn’t see anything in the original post that disrespected any church or church members. The original post only questioned the tactics of picketing a distributor of offensive material rather than the producers of such material. Indignities are not needed to have a conversation about any topic, and doesn’t sway opinions.

    I am a BIG believer in protest, but protest needs to be focused on the offenders.


  • Still not following…tobacco farmers are equivalent to the rap artists..tobacco companies are equivalent to the record labels..rap buyers are equivalent to smokers…but what of it?

    None of these groups sounds all that terrible to me. If you don’t want to get lung cancer, you should probably not smoke. If you don’t want to hear rap music, then don’t buy it.


  • DAL

    I agree with working diligently to build and encourage better moral fortitude for the individual. I believe also in the importance of holding individual institutions accountable.

    The artist does not act alone and the consumer can not buy what is not sold. The corporation is made up of individuals and the story notes that the pickets occur primarily “outside the homes of Viacom executives.” Challenging the morality of the individual CEO and/or stockholders of a media giant like Viacom is fair game.

    Also, be mindful that Viacom with its’ MTV and BET holdings often targets young people under the age of 18, marketing their music programs to an afterschool crowd with ‘TRL’ and ‘106 & Park’. I guess some would will probably say parents should be omniscient and omnipresent too.

  • Rap music and cigarettes are not crimes, victimless or otherwise.

    Virtue is not inherent; it must be taught. The whole point of education is to teach little savages what ought to be considered “good.” If we as a society are failing to teach what is “good,” we shouldn’t be surprised when the next generations of barbarians turn out to be worse the current generations. There is an element of blame for “society” – no straw man – to shoulder.

    There is only so much I as a parent can do to counteract the poison that passes for modern culture. While I don’t blame Hugh Hefner for my predilection for viewing porn, I can hold him to account for providing the pictures. “I just throw it out there, you don’t HAVE to view it” is not really a defense.

  • Carley

    You speak about music that degrades women and the cultural taste for it. I’ve been alarmed by some hip hop music but your words alarm me more. I’m quoting you here from the resurgence web-site about the influence of strong mothers on their sons. It appears that you blame drug abuse, perversion and all manner of social ills on them. In addition, in other posts on this site you speak with disgust about the feminization of the church and the need for strong men to stand to up to women. I think that your words are far more damning to women who are endeavoring to be godly and do the right thing and be present for their families than any hip hop music out there.

    quoting Anthony Bradly 2007

    Men suffering from PTAFSD are left to the world of women. Unfortunately, no woman can teach a man how to be a man. In God’s design, masculinity is bestowed from one man to another. Guys with PTAFSD get over-mothered by women who go to their sons for the emotional intimacy needed from husbands. Their sons grow up too fast. Mom keeps him too close, too long, and he becomes a “mama’s boy” destined to look to women for validation. The world of women is his home. He becomes the “nice guy” who cowers to her every wish and desire, and can’t challenge women to become more Godly. Many men, resenting over-mothering, become womanizers: they constantly need as many women as possible to get validation.

    Other PTAFSD sufferers were mothered by overbearing women who, in response to their husband’s lack of biblical love, took it out on their sons by controlling, ruling, and often guilt manipulating their sons into filling voids only rightly filled by husbands. These guys are ruled by women. They embrace emasculation just to have a woman close.

    This is the Enemy’s strategy to destroy the world. Kill the men, win the war. Unless the church takes off her apron and picks up a rifle to fight for men expect more violence, drug abuse, sexual perversion, suicide, and passivity from men. God-made men fighting for the love of God and neighbor is the best thing for women and the world.

  • Anonymous

    In regards the the poster who implied some guilt on the part of rappers (or artists) that glorify violence rather than singularly the perpetrators of violence, it must be noted that people all over the world listen to this kind of music, and more often than not, those people do not go out and commit violent acts. Some do, but most do not. The issue is that these people that commit the acts are not morally informed, church will not change this, it can help, but it will not totally remove the problem. Neither will abolishing the genre of music that seems to peddle the violence as entertainment. Some people are just bad, it’s the way it is, and it is the way it will remain.

    If you really have a problem, just don’t buy the music, don’t pirate it either, just stay away from it.

    If you really want to change things, teach alternatives, there’s so much out there that’s better than what most people know about. Boycotting without presenting an alternative does nothing, people may stop for a while but they relapse into old ways.

    You can’t stop “badness” but you can improve on it, by supplementing it a “good” alternative.