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Critical judgment

The moral challenges of writing about music these days

I have a moral and professional dilemma. As a journalist, I'm charged with the responsibility to be objective and mostly impartial in relaying information to readers about the subjects I cover. Well, for the most part, I cover members of the music industry: singers, rappers, producers, people who often say and do things that don't jibe with my personal beliefs. As a conscientious grown-up member of society, I'm charged with the responsibility to uphold that which is righteous and beneficial to humankind. And as a mother, it's my job to protect my children from the ugliness of life (as much as that's possible), to set a positive example for them and to raise them to be healthy, well-adjusted adults who view themselves and their world positively.
So how do I justify sitting in my office at home blasting music replete with references to bitches and Bentleys, chickenheads and niggas? How do I justify writing a story that, regardless of its slant, ultimately promotes the smallness, frivolity and downright ugliness of some music?
I have on more than one occasion rationalized that it's just my job. I'm simply being a journalist. It's not my job to judge, just to report. And sometimes that rationalization eases the discomfort. Most of the time it doesn't. So I decided that anything I have to listen to after my children have gone to bed or while they're at grandma's house, is not worthy of my consideration. I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes I've made exceptions. But for the most part, I've held fast. When I say I don't want my kids to listen to Eminem — I'm convinced there's something wrong with the boy and until I figure out what, he's off limits to my impressionable music-loving kids — I can be proud of the fact that nowhere has mommy written a glowing review of his music or a profile extolling his many accomplishments.
By no means am I a prude. I fully appreciate the hip-hop generation and what it means to our youth, and by no means do I intend to condemn my children to a life of Barney songs and Schoolhouse Rock, but I do intend to set some standards for them. And for myself.
I know from talking to other women and men in the music industry that this kind of inner-division is difficult. Many of those who work at record labels have no choice but to pitch and promote material they might find personally offensive. I can't tell you how many times I've gone into a record executive's office only to have them immediately start to sell me on this "hot new artist." They then proceed to blast the stereo (that seems to make it sound better than it really is) and bob their heads convincingly (as if it's the best stuff they've ever heard) and mouth the words to the song with all the conviction of a patriot reciting the preamble to the Constitution. But if you can crane your neck enough to get a good look in their eyes, you'll see how they really feel: "I'm too old to be promoting hip-hop. If I have to play this song one more time today, I'm gonna puke."
I feel sorry for those folks. Like me, they've chosen a field that in exchange for the occasional satisfaction of getting the word out about truly great music to people who want to know also means sometimes dealing with stuff they might actually find repulsive. Unlike me, though, some of them can't easily just say no.
So the next time you see an advertisement for Eminem or some equally-disturbed rapper, think about the poor suffering publicist who had to do 100 Hail Marys after extolling the virtues of shockingly explicit material, or the tormented promotion man who can't bring his work home (for fear his small children will sneak into his briefcase) or the frustrated journalist who just can't find enough good clean stuff to write about to make ends meet. Think of us all and pity us if you must, but when your child asks you to buy that stickered album — the one that won a glowing review in The Source, the one that had the killer ad copy — just say no. u