By Josie Luetke
Is your neighbour’s teenage son going to shoot up a school because he plays violent video games? Short Answer: No. Long Answer: Still no. Is he going to join a gang because he listens to rap? No.
The entertainment we consume doesn’t deterministically dictate our path.
Piercings, tattoos, and dyed hair are generally not moral failings either, despite what I was taught.
I, like the rest of my generation, have come to reject this attitude as unnecessarily controlling and paternalistic—an attempt to enforce conformity to subjective notions of propriety.
For some, socially conservative criticism of culture never comes to be considered as anything more than that, which is disastrous. The baby—modesty, tradition, temperance—is thrown out with the bath water.
American Hip Hop artist Lil Nas X is one of the most influential musicians at present. His 2019 single “Old Town Road” broke all sorts of records. A significant portion of his fan base is children. He literally performed Elmo’s song on The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo, a Sesame Street spin-off, and published a children’s book this year titled, C Is for Country.
This same openly gay rapper just released the intentionally sacrilegious “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” – a reference to the 2017 film romanticizing a relationship between a 17-year-old boy and 24-year-old man. The music video features Lil Nas X giving Satan a lap dance before killing him, thereby, according to the provided synopsis, “dismantling the throne of judgment and punishment that has kept many of us from embracing our true selves out of fear.” (There was also a related controversy about 666 pairs of “Satan shoes” containing human blood, but I won’t scandalize you further.)
The social conservative outrage that followed is exactly what Lil Nas X hoped to elicit. A Politico article, “How Lil Nas X Flipped Conservatives’ Culture-War Playbook,” documents how “the meme rapper pushed one button and the right did his publicity for him.”
Last summer, it was Cardi B’s and Megan Thee Stallion’s chart-topper “WAP” (which I don’t advise googling) that attracted the ire of conservative commentators (including a cringeworthy take from The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro) for its objectification of women and degradation of sex, until a new horror, Cuties, effectually child pornography, began streaming on Netflix and rightly occupied our attention.
This film and these songs are unbenign in a sea of unbenign. Their popularity says something about our culture, and nothing good.
The entertainment we consume doesn’t deterministically dictate our path, but, unquestionably, it’s not unrelated. Abortion, euthanasia, transgenderism, etc., do not emerge in a vacuum. We talk a lot about the “culture war,” and really, this is how it’s waged. Aside from the most ardent pro-choicers and pro-lifers, average folk are not consciously choosing to align themselves with choice or life, vice or virtue, but they are ingesting socially liberal propaganda daily from music and television.
(This understanding is hardly new, and thus, conservatives have made varyingly effective attempts not just to commentate on our moral ruin, but also to gain back cultural ground, e.g. through Netflix alternative Pure Flix and The Daily Wire’s recent foray into entertainment with film Run Hide Fight.)
Anyway, I don’t think social conservatives could have ignored “Montero,” “WAP,” or Cuties any more than we can ignore the social ills like promiscuity and pornography to which they contribute.
But where’s the line between righteous chastisement and the judgmental, moralizing finger-wagging we’ve become known for—the governing of superficial appearance and simple hobbies?
The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens’ past ridicule of singer Harry Styles for wearing a dress is a good example. Transvestism and drag demonstrably undermined gender roles, but conversely, fashion does evolve – there was a time when men wore dresses and women couldn’t wear pants. Dresses aren’t inherently feminine, so what business is it of Owens’?
Even if you’re convinced that a dude in a dress is a slippery slope into debauchery, is there a way to make that argument on Twitter without coming off as a bullying member of the fashion police?
I’m not blaming social conservatives for North America’s descent into Hell, which Lil Nas X symbolically makes for us. Had we done things differently, we still may not have ended up anywhere but here.
But I do wish that social conservative commentary on the state of our culture and the media shaping it wasn’t so instantaneously dismissed or mocked, mere mileage for the left, as when laid out like this, pop culture is so obviously depraved. I can’t help but wonder if we were tuned out for haughtily crying wolf too many times.