Maybe you read my short jeremiad about “Cuties,” the upcoming Netflix series that sexualizes 11 year old girls. Well, this morning I had to go to the grocery store, and was listening in the car to a discussion on the NPR talk show 1A, in which the guests were talking about the standout pop culture moments this summer.
The host asked them about the mega-hit “WAP” by Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion. I wrote about it here last week. Here are some of the lyrics that I posted:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, you fu*kin’ with some wet-a*s pu*sy
Bring a bucket and a mop for this wet-a*s pu*sy
Give me everything you got for this wet-a*s pu*sy
Those are among the cleanest lyrics in the entire song. Here is a link to lyrics for the whole thing.
If you don’t want to read them — and I don’t blame you — you should at least know that the two women who sing it talk about how they want to be forced to perform oral sex until they are gagging and choking. They portray themselves as whores (their word) who have sex for money. And
I’m a freak bitch, handcuffs, leashes … You can’t hurt my feelings, but I like pain.
There’s even dirtier stuff, but you get the picture.
This song debuted at No. 1. It was streamed a record 93 million times in the US in its first week of release, and the video was seen over 60 million times within 48 hours of its release. Cardi B., who once worked as a stripper, and has spoken of how back then, she would invite men to hotel rooms to drug and rob them, instagrammed about being so grateful that “I want to hug the LORD.”
OK, so that’s “WAP”. It is the cultural mainstream. If you haven’t heard of it, then that just shows how far out of the mainstream you are in 2020. How mainstream is Cardi B.? Elle magazine, which put her on the cover, had Cardi B. do a live Zoom interview with the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.
Joe Biden told her that
One of the things that I admire about you is that you keep talking about what I call equity—decency, fairness, and treating people with respect.
Right. Nothing says “respect” like rapping about how you want a man to put his genitals in your mouth until you choke.
What a sick joke this culture is. I’ve said before that I believe Donald Trump is a morally repulsive man. But I don’t want to hear anyone talk about how Joe Biden is such a moral exemplar when he is willing to embrace someone who stands for the things that Cardi B. does. This is something I do not understand about the progressive elites. On NPR this morning, the guests on 1A (here, just past the 13:00 mark) were talking about “WAP” and the reaction to it. A writer for Billboard lauds “the sexual freedom of this song,” and laments the double standard that lets male rappers get away with sexually explicit songs without criticism. He adds that — “Cardi and Megan have huge young fan bases,” the writer said. He believes that the fact that women rappers have triumphed with such a sexually explicit song is therefore “really remarkable as a cultural shift.”
What he means in context — listen to it yourself to understand — is that Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion are teaching young girls that they can be just as raunchy as boys, with no apology.
On the show, the black writer Brooke Obie praised the song as an example of “women singing about their own bodies and what they want.” It is “empowering,” said Obie. She added:
“People are upset because whenever a woman is actually owning her own sexuality, and not being objectified, there is a kind of conservatism that goes with this.”
Yeah, read the lyrics. There’s nothing that says “empowering” and “not being objectified” like that.
I know perfectly well that this is not the first time a rap song has had filthy lyrics. What is so remarkable to me is how completely mainstream this stuff is now, to the point where a presidential nominee wants to associate himself with a singer of this filth.
Just before our first child was born, back in 1999, my wife and I watched a PBS Frontline episode called “The Lost Children of Rockdale County.” It was about a syphilis outbreak in a high school in a prosperous Atlanta suburb. As the state (and Frontline) investigated, what emerged was a destructive culture of reckless, promiscuous sexuality — orgies with high schoolers, but including some middle schoolers — and parental neglect. Read the transcript here. Excerpt:
INTERVIEWER: Did any of the girls describe the sex as pleasurable?
Prof. CLAIRE STERK: Initially, they described the sex as pleasurable, and pleasurable in terms of it being physically pleasurable, but also psychologically, like, this was a initiation into the next step of their life. It was part of their development that was taking place. Over time, however, very few of the girls talked about the sex in terms of it being pleasurable at all. It became something that was painful, that in some cases they couldn’t even remember what they did anymore. So it became very negative.
INTERVIEWER: Do you ever think they might have done it because they wanted to be accepted by the boys?
D.J.: I don’t think it was a real pressure issue. I mean, it might have been for them. Subliminally, it might have been. Subconsciously, it might have been. But it really- I mean, there really wasn’t any pressure to. It was more of- they just gave in, really.
INTERVIEWER: How did the guys in general treat the girls?
AMY: They were mean to them a lot. They treated them like they were just- I don’t know, not trash, but not very, like, respectable. And the girls seemed not to care. I don’t know why. I guess they just- I think most of it was the alcohol that they were buying because the guys always bought alcohol. They just- they knew that we would like it, and so- but they didn’t treat us like we were anything real important.
INTERVIEWER: You never got angry at them?
AMY: I did a few times. But I couldn’t really do anything about it because they just- they wouldn’t care. They’d just tell me to go home or something.
INTERVIEWER: Why didn’t you?
AMY: I don’t know. I don’t know. I just- I would be alone then.
There’s a part where some of these attractive normie high school girls — remember, this is a school where 85 percent of the graduates would go on to college — are telling the interviewer about their favorite music:
NARRATOR: Katy and her friends are freshmen at one of Rockdale’s three public high schools.
INTERVIEWER: What’s the typical age for girls to lose their virginity?
KATY, BRIDGET, CHRISTINE: Thirteen. Fourteen. Thirteen or fourteen.
INTERVIEWER: That’s typical?
INTERVIEWER: What kind of music do you guys like?
INTERVIEWER: Like what?
GIRLS: Like, Master P. Tupac, definitely. Oh, I love Tupac.
INTERVIEWER: What do you like about rap?
GIRLS: The beat. The beat. And the words. And it’s just, like, loud. You can really get up and dance.
CHRISTINE: And the way that it’s, like- they can talk about something that’s, like, completely stupid, like drugs and stuff. [crosstalk] But it’s the way they put it, it sounds interesting.
INTERVIEWER: Give me an example.
CHRISTINE: I can’t think of a song.
GIRLS: [singing rap] Oh, take three witches and put ’em in a [unintelligible] I take clothes off you, and I’m blowing [unintelligible] mind. Take one more before I go [unintelligible] Seven bitches get f–ked at the same time. The [unintelligible] she can suck a ding-dong all day, all night, all evening long. Bitch has never done it. She says she never tried. [unintelligible] mother-fu–ing [unintelligible] if the bitch is a good trick. Anybody can talk to a bitch and get the bitch to f–k, but how many [unintelligible] talk to a bitch and get their d–k s–ked like me? A pimp that you never saw [unintelligible]
INTERVIEWER: That’s about group sex.
INTERVIEWER: Is that something anybody does around here?
Please, I’m asking you, watch or read the transcript of “The Lost Children of Rockdale County”. This was 21 years ago, but it is also completely contemporary. After we watched it back in 1999, my very pregnant wife and I talked about how we would have to be a lot more vigilant about pop culture and our children than we thought. And we have tried to be. One of the great lies that parents tell themselves about pop culture is, “Oh, they thought Elvis was outrageous back in the day.” This is an argument from relativism that serves the interest of parents who honestly don’t want to be bothered patrolling the line to protect their kids. The filth of rap music was part of a wider toxic brew that those children of affluent people in suburban Atlanta stewed in. You watch that show, and it becomes crystal clear that these kids were abandoned by their parents and the adults in their lives.
Look, with reference to the lyrics in that passage above, people aren’t wrong to say that male rappers have been getting away with filth for a long time. But come on, is that really the argument worth having, the one about the double standard? I don’t want my sons to think that this is the way to treat women, or to think about sex and sexuality, or to regard their own manhood. Nor do I want my daughter to think this way, or to consider men who do to be suitable partners. Period. The observations that the NPR commenters were making today is typically trite, self-degradation-as-empowerment garbage that we hear from the left. Unsurprisingly, one of the female commenters went on to say how much she has been enjoying a cable show about strippers in Mississippi, and the empowering messages it has been sending about the dignity of sex work.
Who are these people — the ones who make these shows and who advocate for them in the media — and why do we let them into our lives?
Behold, here is Yale-educated Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg, explaining why “WAP” is “completely filthy, and we could use a lot more pop culture like it.” Excerpts:
To get the obvious out of the way, the lyrics for “WAP” and the music video for the track are among the filthiest things I’ve ever seen in mainstream American popular culture. But at a moment when movies, music and even some TV are increasingly younged-down, and when changes in the law and an unprecedented economic environment could accelerate the homogenization of entertainment, there’s something bracing about Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s vulgarity. “WAP” is decidedly not for kids, nor for all adults.
And honestly, we could use more culture that isn’t appropriate for everyone.
She writes that
The mistake conservatives who attack raunchy or violent pop culture always make is to argue that culture should be smaller rather than more expansive.
I sympathize with parents who feel exasperated or frightened by the way the Internet has torn down the walls that once separated “Dora the Explorer” from the enterprising strippers of Starz’s “P-Valley,” not to mention QAnon conspiracy theories, Islamic State execution videos and actual pornography. But the fact that modern parenthood is a constant race to keep parental control settings current and to stay ahead of the almighty algorithms isn’t an argument for making pop culture itself more tame and generic.
What odd criticism — as if the only reason, or the main reason, conservatives object to “WAP” is because kids are listening to it, or might listen to it.
Not that that’s a bad reason! As the late, left-wing media critic Neil Postman argued way back in 1994, in his great little book The Disappearance of Childhood, childhood as we know it ends when, thanks to technology (in his era’s case, cable television), children can have direct access to material that was once considered something that only adults had the maturity to handle.
The broader objection is that what was once considered smutty, or at least something not fit for the public square, is now completely mainstream. The fact that Joe Biden believes (probably correctly) that his campaign will benefit from being associated with the singer who has created one of “the filthiest things [a cheerleading Washington Post columnist has] ever seen in mainstream popular culture” is a remarkable sign of our decadence and decline.
You don’t have to listen to Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion, of course, but you do have to share a public square with tens of millions of people who do, and who have made their raunch mainstream entertainment. Look at that high school in Rockdale County for an idea of what becomes of a community that marinates itself in these ideas and concepts.
Back when The Benedict Option was new, I would hear arguments from some Evangelicals saying that they believed that their kids needed to stay in public school to be “salt and light” to unchurched kids. Leaving aside the fact that a lot of kids who go to Christian school are probably listening to Cardi B. too, I would still say: how are your kids going to be salt and light to a community that embraces the moral code of Cardi B.? Be honest with yourself. We are in late Rome. We are in Babylon. We are in Weimar. The people in positions of culture-making (the entertainment industry) and culture-moderating (the news media) are destroying us. Don’t be complicit. Don’t be their target. Refuse, resist, and rebel!