By Terence Zhao
Lately, the 11-minute rant by a fundamentalist Christian mother who was so offended by the song “Norf Norf” by rapper Vince Staples playing on the radio that she broke down in tears has been making rounds on the internet, acquiring, as expected, a fair amount of mockery. Vince Staples himself has come out defending the woman, saying, among other things, “People don’t need to be attacked for their opinion on what they see to be appropriate for their children. They have a right to it.”
I’m not sure I’m willing to buy that.
Now, of course, she has a right to think and say whatever she believes — that’s her First Amendment right. However, that freedom of expression does not protect the woman from being challenged on those beliefs, as her detractors have the same exact right to express their own frustrations with her views.
And there are a lot of frustrating things about her views.
For starters, Vince Staples claims that “she doesn’t look like a racist.” However, I think a cursory review of the list of popular artists that the woman thought was acceptable and “not the same” as Vince Staples would say otherwise, because that list consists of NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. You might notice that all of these artists are white. And the music they have put out are not, by any means, significantly less risque or child-unfriendly than “Norf Norf” — for anyone who begs to differ, rewatch the music video for Britney’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”
More importantly, the version the woman’s child heard on the radio had all profanity bleeped out. However, the woman’s rant featured her reading out the full lyrics of the song. She included the song’s obscenities (including the n-word) while her child was in the same room, arguably doing much more damage than the clean version of the song playing on the radio ever did.
But, even if we give this woman the benefit of the doubt — let’s say she wasn’t aware that her kid was in the room, that she was genuinely outraged by the content of the song rather than just part of the group of conservatives who seem to be deathly afraid of hip hop for no good reason, and that she was actually too naive to see past the innuendos and realize that Britney was singing about sex this whole time —
Is that really what’s best for her children?
I recognize that parents have the right to choose how they’d like to bring up their children, but I think it is equally valid to say that certain styles of parenting are better than others. During her rant, the woman vows to not only never again listen to this “top 40” station, but also swears to keep her children from ever hearing it. It is one thing to be offended by a song, but it is another thing entirely to be so offended as to start bawling uncontrollably upon reading the lyrics. And when the said song is a top 40 song in the social mainstream, I can’t help but wonder how this woman is able to function in society, where “Norf Norf” and songs like it are ubiquitous and will be played in malls, grocery stores and other public spaces, including the radio. If she is so sheltered from mainstream American culture that she would have a breakdown by merely overhearing a top 40 song, then I think it is not unreasonable to question, at least in theory, whether we want children to be growing up in that same sheltered environment because inevitably, one of two things will happen. Either her children will grow up having not heard (admittedly somewhat objectionable) ubiquitous pop songs that are icons for their peers, or the children will rebel against these controls, whether openly or covertly.
The response of the woman gets to a larger issue of the puritanical tendencies in American culture, especially in how they manifest in raising children. In comparison, sheltering children from mainstream music is a relatively risk-free action. But, it is also not difficult to see that this same sort of sheltering approach would have horrible effects when used to deal with other sensitive topics beyond potential vulgarities in rap lyrics.
Take sex-ed, for example — always a contentious issue among parents. And, in this matter, the consequences of simply avoiding the topic will be far more severe. Because then, not only will children be shielded from potentially “corrupting” influences (never mind that everybody has to lose their childhood innocence eventually), they will also be shielded from knowledge — knowledge about safe sex, STDs, contraceptives, in this case — that are crucial to their health and wellness as they grow into adolescence and adulthood. And as is well known, when teens are denied proper comprehensive sex-ed, teenage pregnancy rates go up, and LGBTQ teens are put at risk. And the thing is, they will be misinformed whether they choose to follow the moral standards set by their parents or not.
And this isn’t to criticize the mother — I can only speculate on what her opinion on the matter may be — but her reaction to an objectionable rap song is nevertheless telling. The world may be a gnarly place, but the worst we can do for children is to attempt to shield them from everything ranging from alcohol to sex to atheism to a vulgar rap song, instead of providing education and guidance.
As Vince Staples said himself, the woman has a right to her opinion, and to raise her children whichever way she likes. He is a bigger man than I.
Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.