Bleep! Censoring Rock and Rap Music

By Betty Houchin Winfield; Sandra Davidson | Go to book overview
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commercial force, becoming increasingly mainstream. ( Time-Warner even embarked on publishing the VIBE, a magazine that positions itself as the Rolling Stone of hip-hop culture.) Whether commercial success will compromise rap even more than citizens' action groups remains to be seen. One explanation for the resistance to rap is that it is a subculture transmitted to a mainstream still learning to read it; this accounts for the controversy, the misreadings, the confusion of cultural codes. Certainly the message of rap, as of any subculture, is the demand not only to be heard but to be listened to. As Dick Hebdige points out in his study of subculture:

The "subcultural response" is neither simply affirmation nor refusal, neither "commercial exploitation" nor a "genuine revolt." It is neither simply resistance against some external order nor straightforward conformity with the parent culture. It is both a declaration of independence, of otherness, of alien intent, a refusal of anonymity, of subordinate status. It is an insubordination. And at the same time it is also a confirmation of the fact of the powerlessness, a celebration of impotence. Subcultures are both a play for attention and a refusal, once attention has been granted, to be read according to the Book.24

This oppositional stance was confirmed by Ice-T's remarks that:

The people in the [heavy] metal community, the people in my posse, we all have to connect with our allies, consolidate, create one big posse. The key in America is to keep us separate, hating each other, fighting. Once we really find out who's on our side, we'll gain a lot of power. That's the first thing we're trying to do right now with the music; trying to organize all the people who want to really go and fight and get things together. That's stage one."25

The Cop Killer controversy notwithstanding, the culture wars in the battlefield of mass culture have barely begun.

Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy ( New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994).
Richard Bolton, ed., Culture Wars ( New York: The New Press, 1992), p. 337.
Bolton, op. cit, p. 4.
Pat Buchanan, "Losing the War for America's Culture"? Washington Times, May 22, 1989.
Bolton, op. cit., p. 332.
Hilton Kramer, "Is Art Above the Laws of Decency", New York Times, July 2, 1989.
Pat Buchanan, op. cit.
Carol S. Vance, "The War on Culture", Art in America, Sept. 1989.
Clement Greenberg, Dallas Observer, October 8, 1992.
Greenberg, op. cit.
Brian Wallis, Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation ( New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984), p. xi.
Wallis, op. cit., p. xiii.
Bolton, op. cit.


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