Monday, March 06, 2006
Unpacking the Pimp Myth...
Now it may very well be true that it's hard out here for a pimp.
But I'll tell you one thing -- the payoff is a motherfucker.
That, my friends is the lesson that we can learn from the 78th Academy Awards. Last night, the Tennesee-based hip-hop group, Three-6 Mafia, made Oscar history when they become the first African-American hip-hop group to snag a little gold man with their song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." The song was featured on the film, Hustle and Flow, which follows a pimp/drug dealer's (Terence Howard) attempt to break into the hip-hop industry.
As if the song (and its partner film) weren't offensive enough by itself, the performance that accompanied the song only excacerbated the matter. Of course, the fellas from the Three 6 Mafia were there, as was Taraji P. Henson, the actress who sang the catchy and questionable hook to the song in the film:
"You know it’s hard out here for a pimp/When he tryin’ to get this money for the rent/For the Cadillacs and gas money spent/Because a whole lot of b- talkin’ s-"
But no worries, mainstream America -- the good folks at ABC made sure the song was sufficiently edited and sanitized for television. Still, it makes me wonder: Are pimps, hoes and gritty street life fun family viewing provided there are no curse words involved? Does content matter at all? The performance also featured women dressed as "hoes" dancing around, enticing men, stealing their wallets, getting shaken and reprimanded (presumably by their pimps) and then slithering off the stage with their clientele. It concluded with Henson, shimmying down a small set of stairs, taking center stage and belting out in opera divaesque style --
"IT'S HARD OUT HERE FOR A PIIIIIMMMMMPPPP!"
Not exactly art, but apparently good enough for the Academy of Arts and Sciences...
In any case, this may absolutely be the last straw. I love hip-hop and I even like some of Three 6 Mafia's tunes (who among us can forget that Dirty South Classic, "Tear Da Club Up" ? Sigh, it brings back such memories). Still, I have to wonder about what kind of message is being sent out when a song that glorifies sexually abusing and exploiting women can be recognized by the Academy as a noteworthy piece of art? In the Academy's (no doubt heartfelt, but misguided) attempt to be broad and "diverse" could it be that they selected the song despite their better judgement? I mean, really, have we forgotten who pimps really are and what they really do? Would the song still be cute, if it was your daughter that was getting pimped? It might be hard out there for a pimp, but I'm sure it's a whole lot harder for those women who are getting pimped.
Alas, all rhetorical questions that no one at the Academy can answer. Still they're worth asking . After last night I'm starting to think that we're all getting pimped and we'd better wake up and stop rewarding people who make their living on all our backs.
We live in a culture that glorifies misogyny, hip-hop is only the most flashy culprit. Is it any surprise that this song was chosen when we consider it a compliment to call someone a pimp? Or where a video with Nelly and the St. Lunatics chasing scantily-clad strippers around a mansion can enjoy the highest circulation on BET? Second-wave feminists used to say that we live in a rape culture -- I'm inclined to disagree, at least in a rape culture we pay some attention to the people who are victimized by rape. In the pimp culture that we call home, only the perpetrators are given attention. In glorifying the pimp we are conveniently able to ignore the issue that is hidden in plain view: the systematic, normalized devaluation of women's bodies and lives. And there is nothing artistic or sexy about that.