Sunday, May 8, 2011

why "Decent, Christian Talk" is a Big Cow Stinky

It may sound a bit far-fetched to put some of the blame for the difficulties that helped lead to the failure of my marriage on a cheesy nineties rap song, but it's the truth. When I was in high school and firmly ensconced in the bizarre world of North American Protestant Evangelical (NAPE) subculture, I listened to a "rap" group called DC Talk. While I will admit that there are still some things in their music that I find catchy and just plain fun, there is also something else at work there that I think is pretty insidious... something perhaps most clearly evidenced in the song, "That Kind of Girl."

Art is powerful, and music especially. It has the power to embed lyric poetry so deeply into the memory and subconscious that it becomes a part of who you are as a person, and that song had a lot to do with screwing up the way I think about sexuality and intimate relationships.

Granted, I listened to it in a broader context. It was a reflection of the values and mores of the NAPE culture in general, but it conveyed those values through a medium that to my incredibly narrow musical experience seemed cool and interesting. So I listened to that music and that song. A lot. And later in life, when it came time to make decisions about sexuality and relationships, I ended up being largely influenced by it.

I think it would be worthwhile, then, to take a moment to unpack the lyrics - to explore how it might have turned me into the stifled, confused, judgmental and somewhat hateful person I came to be.

That Kind of Girl - by DC TALK
The other night I met a girl and she looked to be so nice / I asked her for her digits and she didn't think twice / A couple of days later called her up and asked her out / She said,"with you?" I said, "with me," and then she said, "without a doubt" 
This is the part, I guess, where they hooked me. This rapper famous enough to make an album is just walking up to girls and asking them out on dates. SO COOL. When I was in high school, I would talk to girls and even ask them to go out, but I was terrified when I did it. This guy seemed to really have it together.


I took her to the Garden where I guess they grow the Olives 
Okay... so that's just terrible songwriting.


She wore a tighter skirt than any I had seen in college / She said, "I love to smoke and drink" while cursing like a sailor.
And this is where it starts to get troubling. I went into it in my post Why "Fireproof" is Immoral, but the gist of the problem is this: it's dishonest. It lies, by painting people who are not a part of the NAPE subculture as two-dimensional caricatures. In reality, it is extremely unlikely that a woman is going to say the words, "I love to smoke and drink" on a first date, unless she's been needled into it by a sanctimonious dirtbag-of-a-guy (which, I suppose, is likely in this context). I understand it's just a lyric (albeit a bad one), but that's no excuse.
 
I asked her where she got her mouth and if she had a tailor 

If you had any doubt about the contempt the author of this song holds for this woman, this lyric puts the question to rest. On a first date with a woman, he discovers she doesn't share his values. What does he do? What any good, Christian boy would do, I suppose... he insults her language and her clothing! 


It's possible, if it had only been her language he'd attacked, that you could argue he was only joking around with her - but he insults the way she dresses, which is stupid and wrong in so many ways. Setting aside the fact that the way a woman dresses is primarily a cultural thing, what kind of an inconsiderate poop-stain insults a woman's clothing on a first date?!?
Finally I walked her to the door to say goodnight / she said, "I am an apple, would you care to take a bite?" 
Again, this guy's making this girl out to be a caricature... possibly one gleaned from a porn flick he watched at a friend's house (for which he will hate himself forever and ever).
Politely I refused and said, "I'm looking for a lady" so she slapped me in my face and said, "Boy, you must be crazy"
This girl is right. The rapper is crazy. Insanity is characterized by an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and this guy has obviously lost his grip. A girl has offered herself to him (which, however ill-advised, poorly-timed, and un-wise it may be is always, in some ways, an act of kindness and of vulnerability), and his response is to insult her again, this time very blatantly disparaging her moral character. If that's not nuts, I don't know what is.   


CHORUS:
Different from the ones before / Different from the ones before, she's that kinda girl / Different from the ones before, cause I know she loves the Lord / She's that kinda girl, virtuous in every way / The kinda girl that makes you say, / "I hope she comes my way" 

Although it isn't exactly stated explicitly here, the subtext I think is that there is something about a Christian girl that is qualitatively different that a girl who doesn't share the faith. There is no real sense of common humanity - that it isn't ever the actions of a person that heals their brokenness, but the grace and love of God (which is what the Christian message really is). 


It is also fairly disconcerting that he (the rapper) is attempting to paint a picture of a girl who is morally perfect ("virtuous in every way," as he says), which creates a false ideal that men can't find and women can't live up to. I find this to be disingenuous and sexist as well, because there is no chance that the rapper is himself unaware that he is not morally perfect. We are screw-ups, all of us. There is no one righteous (no, not one).

Well I'm lookin' for a girl who is virtuous, cause God laid it on my heart to search for this / So I open up the Word to the book of Proverbs / The 31st chapter tells me all about her / charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, a woman who fears the Lord, she ain't playin' / Hear what I'm sayin', cause I'm sayin' it clearly / She's the kinda girl I gots to have near me

This is an elaboration on the aforementioned trend. Although he quotes some beautiful wisdom literature here, in which the original author meditates on the nature of beauty and yearns for a woman who cares more for spiritual truth than frippery, in this context it ends up seeming almost like another insult. 
CHORUS

Well I'm lookin' into hookin' with a lady and not a girly of the worl'y that's shady / but the kinda girl you meet 
behind the doors of a church

I think that as easy as it would be to read our present-day use of the term "hooking up" onto his phrase "hookin' with a lady," it would probably be better to assume that as a NAPE subculturalist, the rapper is probably just blissfully unaware here. So instead, I would like to point a derisive finger at the implied (and un-Christian) idea that a church is a building, and at the idea that the buildings normally known as "churches" are the places where you are most likely to find "ladies." This presents us with the idea that women who don't go to church are "shady" (and, let's face it, undoubtedly sexually promiscuous). This is not only hateful, it's also woefully ill-informed.


Ya see, God will bring her to me so I don't have to search / Too hard I've been scarred by the ones of the past, so put an APB out on the one that will last a little longer than a roll in the hay for sure but a bona fide lady's what I'm prayin' for. 
This little bit of determinism is almost too laughable to comment on. In this verse, the rapper is basically saying that he's been hurt by women he's slept with before (a nice, token bit of honesty... but the sort necessary in a NAPE context to give a conversion story some real impact), and that now he wants God to do the work and drop a morally virtuous woman in his lap (no pun intended).

While I believe it is a very good idea to be humble enough to trust God to guide your mate-selection process, it seems to me that buried in this prayer is more of the sort of warped "Christian" romanticism I've been talking about. In this way of thinking, "God loves you and has a plan for your life, and if you stay on the right path and never misstep, God's gonna give you a soul-mate and it'll be just so easy." A pleasant, if utterly un-realistic thought. Why would you want to run your life based on a mash-up of Victorian sexuality and fourteenth century French romanticism?

Another subtext here is the idea that moral virtue in women is best evidenced by an unwillingness to have casual sex with men. While it is easy to argue that casual sex is not good for anybody, this conflation of sexual purity in particular with virtue as a whole is yet another bit of evidence for the perverse sexual obsession of the NAPE subculture.*

CHORUS II

When I finally meet her, I'll know how to treat her by fulfilling all her needs Love her and respect her, cherish her forever She's the kinda girl for me 
I know I've focused a bit here on the sexism inherent in these lyrics and how it victimizes women, but the truth is that these lyrics victimize men, too. NEWSFLASH, GENTLEMEN: You cannot fulfill all her needs. You cannot be a perfect husband for her. Love her the best you can, but don't expect to be everything to her... you are not God... you're just a schlub. 


CHORUS

Heaven help me, hear my plea / I know there's one who's perfect for me

And in case you doubt that he is actually talking about "perfection," there it is... right at the end of the song, "one who's perfect for me."
 
CHORUS II

CHORUS (2X)



I could explain, point-by-point, how each of those lines got embedded in my brain and contributed to making it very difficult for me to have a healthy, adult relationship with a woman, but I think that's one dead horse that has been sufficiently beaten. 


I should finish by saying that there were a number of good lessons to be found in DC Talk lyrics, and quite a few places where they did in fact say something beautifully and well as they went on from this album to have an insanely profitable career. I still think their cover of Larry Norman's "Wish We'd All Been Ready," is gorgeous - perhaps better than the original - and the self-revelation of the song "What if I Stumble" is lovely, hinting as it does at an understanding that if they as musicians were to "fail" morally, their oh-so-righteous "Christian" audience would tear them to shreds. 


Just like me, they were products of the NAPE environment... and just like me, they were in many ways its victims. But that doesn't change the fact that their words and music helped teach me to chase a sexual and relational pipe-dream, ultimately contributing to the creation of one more broken home.


----
*I've been thinking about this concept a lot lately, as I've been reading Dr. Richard Beck's book, "Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality." Dr. Beck is a psychology professor at Abilene University and a blogger of some repute. If you're interested in these sorts of things, I highly recommend rolling around in his brain for a while.

3 comments:

  1. Josh, good analysis of that DC Talk song. I heard a song the other day by the same writer and realized it's about the same topic, just 20 years later. It's "Start Somewhere" by TobyMac. Here's a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRmZ2LNrwx4. I would love to hear your thoughts on the recent one or a comparison of the two.

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  2. Oh, Nathan. Nathan, Nathan, Nathan... you've done a cruel thing. See, posts like this one are more a Swan Song to a "culture" I am quickly (and gratefully) leaving behind, and here you've gone and made me listen to another one of their offerings.

    Now please, let me leave this garbage behind. There are so many beautiful songs out there and so little time to waste on drivel. Here's a link to a much, much better song by a friend of mine, which I think you may like: http://vimeo.com/16197810

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  3. Interesting analysis, particularly so in light of the fact that one of the members acknowledged committing adultery many times. I'm not the type to cast stones, and in fact I think that he (Kevin Max) is the only one who has done anything artistically interesting since they broke up. I at least liked "The Imposter" album, which acknowledges his personal frailty quite openly (if that wasn't clear from the title).

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