Americans have always been skeptical of government support for the arts, with one shining exception. When it comes to publicity driven congressional investigations into comic book reading, risque dancing, dirty songwriting and the many other threats to the commonweal that crazy kids throughout the ages have considered "dope," this nation has been happy to devote its tax base to the enrichment of world culture.
So props to Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), who today will be getting to the bottom of this whole gangsta rap business. In his capacity as chairman of the House subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, Rush is kicking off "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degrading Images," a hearing that will include hip-hop luminaries and business leaders testifying on excessive use of what the Rev. Al Sharpton has coyly called "the b-word, the n-word and the h-word."
Rush, a longtime progressive and co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party, is no right-wing culture warrior, and it is not unusual to find a community-minded Democrat leading this type of circus. From Fredric Wertham, the academic star of Kefauver-era Senate hearings on the danger of comic books, to Tipper Gore, co-founder of the Parents Music Resource Center, pressure on indecorous speech has frequently been a left-liberal phenomenon. And in the immediate case, there's plenty of legitimate cause for concern. To believe that there is no potential downside to the relentless misogyny and violence celebrated by Cam'ron or his enemy, 50 Cent, is to believe that words have no value at all.