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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Normal & Healthy
As promised... this week's Post column.

The shock hopper: Prejudiced? Immature? Or is it just that 50 Cent 'ain't into' homosexuality
Aaron Wherry - National Post
Monday, March 15, 2004

So powerful and complete is hip hop's dominance over American culture that the genre's biggest star and the country's most powerful politician now find themselves in agreement over one of the more divisive issues of the day -- homosexuality.

Its presence, it seems, makes both men uncomfortable. President George W. Bush, at least, is in a position to do something about it. So it was two weeks ago that he proposed a constitutional amendment to bar the increasingly uppity homosexual community from degrading that sacred institution of marriage.

50 Cent is left to air his grievances where we all go to with our innermost insecurities -- Playboy. In the interests of fair play, his comments in full context:

Playboy: Did your grandmother tell you how your mom died?

50 Cent: I got what happened later. My grandmother was uncomfortable even saying that my mother liked girls.

Playboy: She didn't like the word lesbian?

50 Cent: Well, not lesbian. I don't know what you call it -- bisexual? I'm here, so it had to be bi. [laughs] But I think that's why I don't pass judgment on people. I ain't into faggots. I don't like gay people around me, because I'm not comfortable with what their thoughts are. I'm not prejudiced. I just don't go with gay people and kick it -- we don't have that much in common. I'd rather hang out with a straight dude. But women who like women, that's cool. I could actually get into that, having a woman who likes women too. We might have more in common.

Playboy: You use the word faggot in your songs, too. Can you refer to gay men as faggots and also say that you're not prejudiced?

50 Cent: It's OK to write that I'm prejudiced. This is as honest as I could possibly be with you. When people become celebrities, they change the way they speak. But my conversation with you is exactly the way I would have a conversation on the street. We refer to gay people as faggots, as homos. It could be disrespectful, but that's the facts.

- - -

Take note of the many contradictions. He doesn't "pass judgment on people." But he "ain't into faggots." He's "not prejudiced." But, then again, "it's OK to write" that he is. And of course, while the idea of two men together is too much to bear, the thought of two women sharing a bed is, well, hot.

This is a confused young man, to say the least. And, oddly enough, that's something he freely admits, having claimed in previous interviews that, "emotionally," he's about 13.

Which seems about right. If you're a straight man you may remember sharing many of his concerns about the "thoughts" of gay men when you were around 13 too. The idea being that if there was a gay man in your midst, he might be checking you out in the showers after gym class or waiting for the opportune moment to jump your bones -- our gay peers apparently seeing something in us that countless females must have missed.

Most of us shook this ignorance (if not arrogance) with age. Not so, apparently, for 50.

This is, generally, where society comes in -- full of outrage and intent on correcting 50's erroneous thinking. And, in a time when Janet Jackson's nipple is enough to launch a federal inquiry, and accusations of wrongdoing on the part of her brother are enough to get his music pulled off the radio, it seemed safe to assume a stinging rebuke was sure to come, letting 50 know that his homophobia was, simply, not acceptable. Until it never came.

Indeed there was mostly silence last week. And when Reebok, one of 50's sponsors, did speak up, it was to defend the rapper. Speaking the same week the shoe company announced the winners of its annual Reebok Human Rights Awards (what strange days we find ourselves in when shoe companies are handing out human rights awards), a spokeswoman for the company defended 50's right to free expression but only when asked about his other controversy of the week -- his involvement in an upcoming porn film.

"Our support of human rights actually does match up against our support of 50 Cent's right to express himself," she said.

Her defence came in response to what is becoming an almost cliched plot twist in every hip hop controversy -- the moral outrage of Bill O'Reilly.

"Reebok should be ashamed of themselves," O'Reilly told the Boston Herald after citing 50's porn connection on his all-too-popular Fox talk show/shouting match. "They're embracing a guy who's hurting children."

So, as it stands, you're either with 50 or you're with O'Reilly (see also: you're either with Bush or you're with the terrorists). And in the middle lies a great number of people who have simply tuned both out.

Which might explain why there was so little reaction to the Playboy interview. It could very well be that his comments simply confirmed everything we'd already assumed about 50 and rap in general. As the interviewer, Rob Tannenbaum, noted, homophobic slurs are nothing new to 50. And such prejudices in hip hop have been hotly debated for years -- peaking in the mainstream with the slurs of Eminem (until, of course, he cozied up to Elton John). So maybe 50's comments aren't all that shocking.

There is also the somewhat sinister connotation that has come to be associated with anyone who too loudly condemns rap and hip hop. In much the same way that Bush's disciples have tried to paint criticism of their leader as anti-American, hip hop's loyal throngs often see criticism of their community as simple racism.

Certainly there was a time when that was true. And certainly it may still be true in the case of some critics. And certainly it doesn't help that hip hop's most vocal and visible critic is Bill O'Reilly, an angry, white, conservative man. But refuting all criticism of hip hop as, even subconsciously, racist, is clearly as short-sighted and oppressive as rejecting all U.S. political dissent as anti-American.

And, as if there hasn't been enough to debate about the continued success and higher meaning of 50 Cent, here's still more that seems ready for discussion. Born to a bisexual mother, he now claims to simply be voicing the prejudices of his surroundings.

That's less than a hop, skip and jump away from the oft-whispered theory that homophobia is in fact a major force in the African-American male population. By pure coincidence it seems, on Friday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editorial board, citing another study of the issue, revived the debate with an editorial blaming homophobia and the taboo of AIDS for rising HIV rates in young black men.

Could it be then, that just as Bush was pandering to his audience, so too is 50 Cent? Suddenly we've got a fairly serious debate about pop music, hip hop, homophobia, race, AIDS and America. All thanks to Playboy.

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