I have a confession to make. I don't know much about music but I know that I don't like rap music. I don't like the in-your-face dark philosophy of recklessness, hopelessness and nothingness, spooned out in bit size morsels by angry rap icons such as Eminem.
The Slim Shady LP of Eminem is described by his publicist as chock full of dazzling lyrical escapades that delve into the mind of a violently warped and vulgar yet extremely talented wordsmith, the 14-cut collection contains some of the most memorable and demented lyrics ever recorded.
In the rap, My Name Is, Eminem wails:
Hi kids! Do you like violence?
(Yeah yeah yeah!)
Wanna see me stick Nine Inch Nails through each one of my eyelids?
Wanna copy me and do exactly like I did?
My brain's dead weight, I'm tryin' to get my head straight but I can't figure out which Spice Girl I want to impregnate
Well since age twelve, I've felt like I'm someone else
Cause I hung my original self from the top bunk with a belt
And smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kris Kross
For the most part the publicist wasn't exaggerating. However, based on a cursory examination of the lyrics, I would suggest that the accolade of an "extremely talented wordsmith" seems more gratuitous than factual.
It isn't just the foul language, the gross presentation of sexuality and mindless depravity that bothers me. What I find particularly offensive is the unmistakable undercurrent of violence-violence against gays, against women, against adults/parents and against life itself. I worry about the packaging and promotion of such material. Such audio and video images are helping to create a bizarre youth culture.
There is nothing artistic about being shot with a bullet, or maimed by a knife; there is nothing erotic about rape. The condoning of violence, prejudice and hate is making it more difficult for our youth to believe in, much less cope with this increasingly complicated world.
A noteworthy counterpoint and vision is offered by Pope John Paul II who invites the youth of the world in their preparation for the 17th World Youth Day to reflect on the conditions that Jesus asked of those who wanted to be his disciples: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
To deny oneself is to give up one's own plans that are often small and petty in order to accept God's plan. This is the path of conversion.
Jesus does not ask us to give up living, but to accept a newness and a fullness of life that only he can give. Human beings have a deep-rooted tendency to think only of self, to regard one's own person as the centre of interest and to see oneself as the standard against which to gauge everything.
One who chooses to follow Christ, on the other hand, looks on life in terms of gift and gratuitousness, not in terms of conquest and possession. Life is lived in self-giving, and that is the fruit of the grace of Christ: a life that is free in communion with God and neighbour.
Following such a path we do not fear failures, difficulties, being marginalized or alone, because our hearts are filled with the presence of Jesus; this is the path of peace, self-dominion, and deep happiness.
Regrettably, there is a widespread culture of the ephemeral that only attaches value to whatever is pleasing or beautiful, or ugly and distasteful. It would have us believe that it is necessary to remove the cross in order to be happy. The ideal presented is one of instant success, a fast career, or alternately, of meaninglessness and despair. Sexuality, of course, is separated from any sense of responsibility, and ultimately, existence is centred on self-affirmation, often bereft of respect for others.
On April 8th in Rome our Holy Father, John Paul II, entrusted the World Youth Day Cross to 47 Canadian youth at a ceremony in St. Peter's Square. "Open wide your eyes and observe well ... this is not the road that leads to true life, but it is the path that sinks into death." Jesus said: "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Jesus leaves us under no illusions: "What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?" With the truth of his words which sound hard but fill the heart with peace, Jesus reveals the secret to live a true life: "If you allow God's grace to work in you, if you do not fail in the seriousness of your daily commitments, you will make this new century a better time for everyone."
Following the ceremony, the Cross was welcomed in Canada at a 20,000 person ceremony at Ottawa's Corel Centre and now the Cross will undertake a 16 month trip to every region of Canada, including Calgary, prior to WYD 2002.
☩ Frederick Henry