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Jewish World Review March 9, 2001 / 14 Adar, 5761

Stanley Crouch

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Of gangsters, gangstas --- and spin


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- YET another explosion of gunfire at yet another high school this one in a suburb of San Diego. The toll this time: two dead, 13 wounded.

As we go down ever darker paths of anti-social behavior, I'm always amazed at how little is made of the connection between amoral, violent entertainment for young people and young people responding to their difficulties with amoral violence.

In so many ways, entertainment seems to link these lone killers the adolescent white high school boys who flip out and express their rage and frustration with gunfire to murdering black and Latino gangs.

Case in point: I was in California in the early '70s when "The Godfather" came out, and its message was interpreted in the reverse of its intent by Negro knuckleheads who began forming street gangs again after maybe 10 years of relative quiet. Even today, the obsession with being "dissed" traces back to the way that "disrespect" in the Godfather's world was something that could set one up to be brutalized or murdered.

So is a masterpiece like "The Godfather" responsible for the street gangs that have created so much havoc and so many funerals? In some ways, yes. But not, as I said earlier, because that was the intention of the filmmaker.

The problem is that our nation is one in which we have always had trouble determining the difference between rebellion that is in the interest of freedom and the kind of rebellion that reduces freedom.

When the leaders of the civil rights movement and their followers broke the laws meant to maintain an undemocratic system of segregation, they were determined to bring more freedom to our nation, which they eventually did.

But when street gangs and thugs break the law, freedom is reduced, and they become the tyrants.

An amoral entertainment industry contributes to this confusion by fostering the idea that "the rebel" is somehow automatically good a notion that has gotten mixed up with adolescent frustration and the increasing inability of some young people to live through their fantasies instead of acting them out.

Gangster rap and rage-filled rock spin out violent and hostile fantasies that their makers claim have no effect on behavior. But imagine what they would say if movie after movie came out in which gangster rappers were killed off by concerned adults or by young people who blamed them for the deaths of friends.

There's nothing like having a bull's-eye painted on your chest to make you hate and fear violence.

So our dilemma is how to maintain artistic freedom while creating charismatic figures for young people to identify with who are not "rebels" in the cheapest, easiest ways. It's difficult to do, but the more thought we give to it, the closer we will come to handling this demon in the souls of some of our young.


JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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