Our pop culture blogger Jorge Rivas set off a firestorm of comments this week by calling out rapper Tyler, the Creator’s unapologetic lyrical homophobia. Tyler won enough viewer votes to nab MTV’s Best New Artist award, and he’s sold enough albums to get put on the ballot by MTV execs in the first place. His success, and the success of his group Odd Future (OFWGKTA), are rooted in their ability to scare parents, a time-honored tradition for young angry artists. In Tyler’s case, however, that shock value manifests in the form of grotesque, vivid misogyny (with a focus on rape and femicide) and a propensity for the word ‘faggot.’

In some ways, the story is more complicated than it seems; Tyler’s youth alone means he grew up in a very different America from, say, Eminem, and Odd Future’s DJ, Syd the Kyd, is an out lesbian (with some misogynistic quotes of her own). And it’s hard not to be moved by the sight of Tyler’s mom in the audience at the VMAs, weeping with joy for her son’s success. In other ways, this seems like a conversation we’ve had a million times before.

Ultimately, the relationship of responsibility between artist, audience, and media megacorporation won’t be worked out any time soon — but our readers at Colorlines are willing to take a swing.

Some related reading for this issue: Alex Macpherson at the Guardian; Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown; and our own writing on Tyler’s associates Lil B and Kreayshawn.

crazygemini12:

I don’t believe in hate speech of any kind but I’ll ask: isn’t it keeping with MTV’s image to put an artist using homophobic hate speech on the ballot? I find it interesting you think they should’ve kept him off the ballot for his language but they routinely put artists using “bitches”, “hoes”, and “nigga” on the ballot and I don’t hear a peep from anyone on Colorlines. When Eminem was at his peak, he was using homophobic speech on wax (I’m old, you guys) AND in interviews, which is nothing compared to those tapes where he was going off on black women but no one seems to say “boycott his music, don’t give him awards”. Again-not saying anyone should be using these terms, just that it’s not fair one group should be protected while others are glorified (and paid) for using equally derogatory terms.

If there was a policy where MTV/BET/AnyoneElseTV started pulling artists due to their lyrics, who should say what’s appropriate? And at what point would it cease?

Nah:

Alas, I don’t think MTV is concerned about their image in that manner. I don’t recall them pulling Chris Brown after committing domestic abuse, and I do remember them giving Eminem full exposure at the height of his homophobia.

Caleb Granger:

“When will misogynistic and homophobic ranting and raving result in meaningful repercussions in the entertainment industry? When will they be treated with the same seriousness as racist and anti-Semitic offenses?”

I’m a homosexual male, but I’m really getting tired of people using this argument. There are people who say dreadful racist remarks on radio every single day and “get away with it” and get awarded for it, such as multi-million dollar Rush Limbaugh. We need to fight homophobia without always trying to compare it with another struggle, as if other minority groups have it so much better.

louie666:

Repackaged homophobic, misogynistic rap. His production is promising, but otherwise he’s totally unremarkable. His unwillingness to explore the power of words and why they offend people is artistically and intellectually lazy. This, and using his age to justify his ignorance (he’s 20) is just fear of taking responsibility for words that he knows are harmful.

Tyler is also dishonest about not being offended by being called a nigger and other racially insensitive jokes. Google “tyler the creator australia racism”. His tweets about the incident: http://bit.ly/ooBxRy & http://bit.ly/rnDjes. I guess context and all of that other bullshit are easy to ignore when it isn’t dehumanizing you. Swag.

Blaxx305:

[…] If I call a guy “fagg*t” in a movie, despite the way I intend that word to be perceived, and then shoot him in the head, does that mean I shouldn’t be qualified to receive any award that is presented to me for that particular role? No, because much like Tyler’s music, that movie is fictional entertainment, whether it appeals to a certain group or not.

[…] It’s not like Tyler is opposing the homosexual community, he’s not saying that homosexuals should be held lower in society. But the usage of some language that homosexuals may take offense to is enough to make him homophobic huh?

This is just another case of someone taking something little and making a big deal out of it. Homophobia is a HUGE deal, but in this case it just isn’t there. Despite how many people define the usage of that word, his view on how the word should be received when coming from him pretty much refutes any accusations of homophobia.

Marcos Andrés Williamson:

[…] I am a linguist and each one of us cannot just simply decide what we feel like a word means. The meaning of words is based on an understanding between speaker and listener. That is why we understand what we say to each other. If it weren’t for that, nothing would mean anything. I could say “Bring me a pen”, but in my head say “When I say ‘pen’, that word actually means ‘tomato’”. But words don’t work that way. You and me and all other English speakers have the word “pen” in our mental vocabulary meaning the same concept. Likewise, all adult speakers of American English have the word “faggot” in our mental mental vocabularies meaning “a guy who has sex with other guys”, “a feminine man”, “the receptive partner in homosexual anal intercourse” or something like that.

[…] Words don’t just mean whatever you want them to, words mean what they mean to society. So until the word “faggot” doesn’t mean “faggot” anymore, you’re still targeting homosexuals whether you truly intend to or not.

Andres Andy:

Dear Thread with Bombastic Opinions,

I’m one of Tyler’s gay fans and this issue has come up within my circle of friends a few times. I guess with these type of things there’s the artist’s intent the audiences perception of that intent and then how they feel that directly or forcibly relates to them personally. Seems like this leaves room for a lot of varied perceptions. So maybe we should try and understand why someone would feel hurt or offense from the lyrics and then in turn those people should try and not demonize someone for making it or liking it. I don’t know. That seems fair to me.

The linguist up the page makes some good points. Slurs don’t just stick with you and who you convey them to (negatively positively or with blank meaningless canvas). They can make it as far away as a teenager already contemplating suicide. So it’s important to remember that these words still bind many people. But it’s also important to remember that as stated language does indeed change and these words are already well on their way. In the meantime we should all realize that their uses or lack thereof are not all so cut and dry. Banishing these words isn’t going to fix the problem. Education will though.

So I’m going to continue to enjoy Tyler’s music. It may be hard to believe if you don’t delve into his catalogue but the kid has a big heart. And no I’m not trying to excuse him. Or myself. Nor should any of you. These are the issues that are good for continual reflection and pruning. How to treat our fellow humans.

Love, A Faggot

Brotha Wolf:

Some of you may harshly disagree with this, but:

I haven’t listened to Tyler’s music, nor do I know what he’s really saying in his lyrics. So, I can not support or condemn them. However, homophobia in the entertainment industry is part of the problem of homophobia around the world. This artist may be wrong in his choice of words, BUT he is brought up in a culture that has yet to own up to its homophobia, and that culture is American culture. I know he should be old enough to know better, but in a land where we demonize and make fun of homosexuality, how can any of us including ourselves judge others when some of us are still uneasy toward that lifestyle? To cast down the actions of one young person will do nothing to solve the issue. This is not to say that you don’t have a right to be angry, but direct MOST of that anger into building ways to help the LGQBT communities.

parkwood1920:

Whether this kid Tyler is homophobic or not in his heart isn’t really the issue here. The point is that “f**t” is a term that signifies systemic oppression and violence. LGBTQ people in this country are still beaten, raped, fired from jobs, harassed, and killed just for existing.

Just a couple of weeks ago a college student in Iowa was beaten to death by guys yelling homophobic slurs at him. The list of LBGTQ people who have been killed in the past decade is a mile long: Deanna Johnson, Erica Keels, Lawrence King, Sakia Gunn, Gwen Arajo, Angie Zapata, Sean Kennedy, and countless other innocent souls who I’m forgetting. And let’s not forgetting all the youth who have killed themselves due to homo/transphobic bullying, whether they were LGBTQ or not. Throwing homophobic slurs around like they’re nothing shows at best callous disregard for the struggles of these folks, and sheer hatred at worst.

Language is not neutral, period. If I say or write anything something, then I as an adult have to be responsible for the impact of my words. I don’t get to hide behind the First Amendment or other disingenuous claims to free speech when someone rightfully calls me out. Remember: young children have lost their lives due to homophobic abuse. This ain’t a game we’re talking about.

As for the N-word and racist slurs, the same rule applies. Now you may see all of this name-calling as inconsequential. But if we know anything about oppression, we know this: It’s the little things that make it okay for the big things to happen. Name-calling, harassment, bigoted jokes, bullying, prejudice-baiting entertainment, and casual slurs exist on the same continuum as redlining, job discrimination, rape, domestic violence, queer-bashing, and imperialist war. If we want to end oppression, then we have to name the tropes and ideologies that allow dehumanization of our fellow beings to exist.

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