The Goddess Speaks
Hear what your kids hear
It doesn't take a linguist to notice that there's something unpleasant happening to language in America. Television, movies and music all show that we accept language in many venues that is denigrating to women and often glamorizes violence and brutality.
You only have to step outside of a classroom to understand that offensive words are part of the school social environment and are embedded in nearly every casual conversation. I believe this is symptomatic of a culture of permissiveness. Case in point: The lyrics of the top five rap songs on the charts cannot be read out loud on the radio because of their foul and/or offensive language. Indeed, it strikes me as profoundly ironic that rap hits often are about brutalizing women and use language and promote behaviors that are to most of us, violent and abhorrent.
My concern about the whole thing is that access to sexist and offensive music is readily available through downloads direct from source to adolescent brain. The privatization of music through the current fashion of plugging into iPods and other minidevices results in music that is not shared through airwaves across a room. Instead, there's an epidemic of earplugs, small boxes and an unknown stream of ideas and sounds being fed directly into young minds with no parental or adult supervision of any kind.
Would most parents approve of their children listening to hours of racist and/or sexist propaganda on television? Clearly they would not, and yet parents sanction technology that allows their children access to music lyrics embedded with hate speech, sexist commentaries and deeply offensive language.
It isn't that our kids are racist or that all rap music is offensive; it's only that unless we hear what our children are hearing, we have no idea what they are being exposed to. This really troubles me. When I ask my students to play their music through the speakers on my stereo so I can supervise what they are listening to, often they turn off their devices and tell me that I wouldn't want to hear it. This implies they are listening to lyrics that are indeed offensive. I am worried that through constant exposure, young people are becoming desensitized to issues of sexist and racist language, and the "hallway" talk I hear outside my room supports this notion.
I am not suggesting that we restrict the freedom of speech which allows musicians the license to write and sing whatever they might wish, and for fans to buy and play the music they choose. However, when we allow young people access to media without attempting to supervise what they are consuming, we expose them to ideas and language that might not be appropriate. There are beautiful words in English, and there are ugly words. As a parent, grandparent and educator, I hope that in the balance, the beautiful words are the ones we try to pass along to the next generation.
Cris Rathyen teaches English at Moanalua High School.
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