David Segal has an interesting breakdown in yesterday’s New York Times comparing right-wing talk show hosts to rappers, especially gangsta rappers. He admits that both groups would probably not be happy to be compared to the other, and I agree, but I still think he has a point.
Segal argues that four key things are necessary for success in both fields: an enormous ego that you’re not shy about discussing; haters; feuds with others in your field; and verbal skills, especially an ability for improvisation and free-association. This is true, but not the most profound analysis–yet.
Segal then describes how rap can be among the most politically conservative of genres: that it “exalts capitalism and entrepreneurship with a brio that is typically considered Republican.” And so do Rush, Glenn Beck, et al.
Rap loves the Second Amendment; right-wing talk radio fans are probably the kind of people who made gun sales spike right after the 2008 elections.
Both rap and talk radio regularly assert that criminals cannot be reformed–but “gangsta rappers often identify themselves as the criminals, and are proud of their unreformability.”
Finally, rappers and conservative talkers both speak for a demographic that believes its interests and problems have been slighted and both offer stories that have allegedly been ignored.
Obviously, there are limits to all these parallels, but there is one more worth noting: rap has inspired its share of fear and now, liberals and moderates are asking the same question about conservative talk radio that conservatives have long asked about rap: How dangerous is it?
Interestingly (with respect to the first paragraph of the quote) rap was often referred to as “black TV” in its early days for its timeliness and opinionated, sometimes paranoid take on current events. Anyway, I will admit that I am much more scared of Glenn Beck’s followers than those who listen to Ludacris (notwithstanding the fact that I’m in the latter category), but perhaps that’s just the socialist-health-care-loving left-winger in me talking.
Anyway, I think that overall Segal’s right on here. I would have been interested in a little more gender analysis, though. It is well-documented that gangsta rap is (at least partially) about working out a very specific kind of masculinity in the face of oppression or perceived oppression–a tough, heterosexual, homophobic, muscular, violent, self-sufficient masculinity.
This has not been as studied in the case of right-wing talk radio, but anecdotally, it seems to serve the same purpose for angry white men. In fact, Rush Limbaugh is well-known for tasteless rape jokes, Glenn Beck has made misogynistic remarks about women’s looks and a host of other things, and Michael Savage has stated that “any heterosexual woman today over the age of 25 who grew up in America is basically a dominatrix. You ask any heterosexual guy” as well as making some nasty transphobic comments. (Note, I find it interesting that Ann Coulter, who doesn’t have a talk show but who is a public figure who says a lot of similar things, is often characterized as “mannish.” Perhaps we are picking up on this gender work going on in right-wing media, albeit in a sexist way.)
And this doesn’t take into account the xenophobia, pro-gun and pro-war positions, and other macho and bigoted things that come out of these guys’ mouths. They are constructing a notion of white American masculinity that is even more unappealing than gangsta rap’s portrait of black American masculinity. Men can do better!