Ethics Observations On A Suddenly Ubiquitous Meme

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This thing is everywhere, particularly on conservative websites. It was even quoted on Ethics Alarms.

Observations:

1. It’s not true. Try not to embarrass yourself by quoting it, for “Wet Ass Pussy” was not, in fact, the “Song of the Year.” At last year’s Grammys, which gives out the annual “Song of the Year” awards, “Wet Ass Pussy” by female rapper Cardi B was not even nominated in the category. The nominees were…

  • Natalie Hemby, Lady Gaga, Hillary Lindsey & Lori McKenna for “Always Remember Us This Way” performed by Lady Gaga
  • Billie Eilish O’Connell and Finneas O’Connell for “Bad Guy” performed by Billie Eilish
  • Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth & Tanya Tucker for “Bring My Flowers Now” performed by Tanya Tucker
  • Ruby Amanfu, Sam Ashworth, D. Arcelious Harris, H.E.R. & Rodney Jerkins for “Hard Place” performed by H.E.R.
  • Taylor Swift for “Lover” performed by Taylor Swift
  • Jack Antonoff & Lana Del Rey for “Norman Fucking Rockwell” performed by Lana Del Rey
  • Tom Barnes, Lewis Capaldi, Pete Kelleher, Benjamin Kohn & Sam Roman “Someone You Loved” performed by Lewis Capaldi
  • Steven Cheung, Eric Frederic, Melissa Jefferson & Jesse Saint John for “Truth Hurts” performed by Lizzo

The winner was “Bad Guy.”

This year’s Grammys have not yet been awarded, so “Wet Ass Pussy” can be called the “Song of the Year” by any measure.

2. Therefore the irony, the dripping contempt for contemporary culture, and the implication of corrupted societal values are only effective if one is ignorant of the topic. Nice.

3. This is why I detest memes, with political cartoons only a few laps behind in the race for my contempt. They are almost always intellectually dishonest. They are used as cheap, short-cut arguments by those who are usually incapable of making a legitimate one.

4. Of course, there are always exceptions. For example, I might well want this meme on my gravestone…

Huge Manatee

However, that one has no political content whatsoever.

5. Now, “Wet Ass Pussy” was unquestionably the most argued about and controversial song of the year. It has a huge Wikipedia entry, larger than almost any single song title on the web. It is typically referred to by its initials, even by Cardi B. (This seems strange to me.) Essentially the song, like a lot of rap and hip-hop, is vocal porn, which is protected speech. and the fact that adults get all huffy is one of the things that make kids want to listen to it. It is essentially the same phenomenon as the uproar over Elvis Presley, rock and roll, and before that, comic books and dime novels.

6. Conservatives went bonkers over the song and its predictably provocative video. The Federalist’s Libby Emmons gave the song a negative review—why would The Federalist review such a song at all? Who reads The Federalist who would buy or listen to “Wet Ass Pussy”? Did The Federalist review “Yummy Yummy”? Those who review art should never be individuals biased against the art form. Move reviewers who hate slasher films shouldn’t review slasher films. Someone who finds men in drag disgusting should not be a judge in a drag beauty pageant.

Other critiques from the Right just made conservatives look silly, male, and old. James P. Bradley, a Republican running for a California congressional seat, tweeted that the song “is what happens when children are raised without God and without a strong father figure.” Conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro sneered, “This is what feminism fought for,” in a video that includes him giving a dead pan reading of the song’s lyrics. Of course, you can do the same stunt with hundreds of hip-hop songs. Yes, conservatives don’t get hip-hop and rap. Who cares? Certainly not rap and hip-hop fans.

On Fox News, Tucker Carlson also attacked the song, saying that “it’s aimed at young American girls—maybe your girls, your granddaughters and what is it doing to them? Can you imagine what it’s doing to them?…The people pushing it clearly are trying to hurt your children.” I bet research would show that somewhere a critic of Elvis in the Fifties said exactly the same thing, possibly using the same words. Viewed today, those critics look ridiculous, and Tucker will look similarly ridiculous in a decade or so. In fact, his paranoid claims sound ridiculous now, because it is ridiculous.

7. And this is the ethical problem with the meme. What it implies is that banning art that someone else is offended by is an offense to free speech and common sense, while banning art that conservatives find offensive is defensible. Meanwhile, the song and the children’s books are not equivalent, so the irony doesn’t work. If public schools were promoting “Wet Ass Pussy” to elementary school students, the meme might be justified, but they aren’t, and there’s no reason to think they ever will.

8. The meme’s real value is to show how our schools fail to train students in critical thinking and logical analysis, so they grow up to make memes that mislead and confuse.

26 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On A Suddenly Ubiquitous Meme

  1. The W.A.P. controversy aside, in terms of musical merit, “Bad Guy” makes “Horse With No Name” look like Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”. It has virtually no melody, and the vocals sound like somebody muttering in their sleep.

  2. 3. This is why I detest memes, with political cartoons only a few laps behind in the race for my contempt. They are almost always intellectually dishonest. They are used as cheap, short-cut arguments by those who are usually incapable of making a legitimate one.

  3. That was me, and I am well rebuked – I didn’t fact check that one, and I should have. I freely admit that modern music is a gaping hole in my pop culture encyclopedia, and I’m pretty ok with that.

    I posted the meme less out of clutching my pearls that such a song exists than I did stubborn outrage in defence of dr Seuss and the muppet show. Not that Cardi B should be banned or canceled, but that the others ought not be. No one is promoting the song in elementary schools, it’s true. However, we do live in a society where, once those same children go home, they will see the song defended against those who disapprove of the vulgarity, and then be warned about the hideous danger of watching the muppet show (classic Disney movies, looney tunes, Tom and Jerry, classic musicals, take your pick.) This uneven pressure will promote growth in only one direction.

    Chastened, I have now gone and listened to the damn song. I admit, hip hop is not my scene, although there are some I enjoy. But the song is not vulgar – it’s pornographic. Literally – you could pull the sound tracks, moans and all, from a number of porn videos which would be less pornographic than that song. Let those who enjoy it, do so – I’ll be sitting down to watch the muppet show with my kids instead of sharing the new song with them.

      • You’re kind, because I did bite that one hook, line, and sinker. Bleargh, that song was distasteful, though. Like biting into a rotten apple. Gotta fire up some Kansas to get the bad taste out of my head.

  4. I never viewed memes as truth, but as parody. Of course, I keep getting surprised when the meme is NOT parody. The meme with the White House Press Secretary answering the question “What will the Biden Administration do for my small business” with “We have nominated a woman as the Secretary of Commerce.” I thought it was funny. Days later, when I saw the video, I was flabbergasted. There have been several such memes that I laughed at as obvious parody later to find out they were true, but I still will view memes as parody, not news because that is what they are. Sometimes reality is actual parody of reasonable behavior.

  5. #6 last paragraph is the great old Jeremiad argument.

    Every generation complains that this generation is worse than the previous ones and that’s just an age old fallacy. Except that sometimes it’s true.

    Kids are acculturated from multiple sources – parents, teachers, media, natural impulses, institutions, etc. They get their ideas on life and behavior from somewhere. To pretend that pop culture entertainment icons aren’t part of that mix is facile.

    When you say that in 20 years Tucker Carlson’s jeremiad will look silly just as the jeremiads of the 50’s look silly now, then you are admitting that there is some sort of a slip and you are expecting it to slip more.

    Yes all individuals get to make decisions about the pop culture they consume, but to think it doesn’t have positive or negative affects on the culture itself seems silly.

    The out of wedlock pregnancy crisis didn’t come out of nowhere. Cultural forces advancing unhinged promiscuity in competition with cultural forces advancing inherited values of chastity and responsibility eventually began winning out.

    The over-sexed youth of the 60s, 70s and 80s who were so burned out by cheapening sex they don’t even form lasting emotionally connected families is a crisis. This effect in society didn’t come from nowhere. It came from cultural forces undermining traditional values which were already never perfectly practiced but were at least in the forefront of individual objectives.

    Sometimes the complaint is real.

    While WAP, by itself, won’t destroy any individual’s life, it is simultaneously a symptom of the previous waves of undermining ethics AND will be part of the larger effort undermining ethics to come.

    • I forgot to mention videogames. And Tipper Gore.

      Carlson’s argument that dirty rap songs are intended to harm our youth is so retro it’s amazing he could say it with a straight face.

    • Michael is correct on all points.

      As for Tipper and the Mothers of Prevention, their action, good liberals as they were/are, was intended to censor music and lyrics they thought were offensive. They bludgeoned the recording industry to put warning labels on records, only to have those warning label do exactly the opposite of the intent. Recording execs laughed all the way to the bank, and Frank Zappa issued one of the most blistering attacks on Tipper Gore and her friends ever uttered in a Senate sub-committee hearing. I could see Al Gore’s head exploding. It was delicious.

      jvb

    • 1. Since when is NPR any kind of authority on rap songs? Or any songs? If Ethics Alarms names The Platters’ “Only You” the best song of all time (and it might), does that make it any more what I decreed than If NPR chooses, say, Barney’s theme?

      2. NPR doesn’t even call its #1 “best song” the song of the year! That makes the meme even more dishonest!

      3. All it takes for the meme to be less than entirely wrong is for SOMEONE to like it? I reject the defense.

      4. But I knew someone would make it, and I’m glad it was you.

    • I was just about to post the same thing. The meme is in reference to NPR naming WAP as the song of 2020. Which is worse than if the song had won a Grammy. Everyone knows that the Grammys are not about artistic merit or cultural significance.

      • Doesn’t everyone also know that NPR is a left-biased wate of taxpayer money that deserves neither trust or respect? NPR’s #1 choice of the “best” songs of 2020 doesn’t make it the “Song of the Year”. That’s actually a Grammy category. If NPR said “Mike Trout, as usual, was the best American League player in 2020, would it be correct to say he was “The Most Valuable Player”? Because that official award was voted to another player in the award competition.

        • I dunno. NPR’s reporter/reviewer stated this:

          “To no one’s surprise, a pair of women honoring their own ladyparts and the pleasures they dish out and expect returned in spades drew the ire of the insecure, of zealots and moral grandstanders. The backlash, however inseparable from the song’s cultural narrative, only bolsters the argument for its politics of pleasure. At its core, “WAP” is Cardi and Meg’s assertion that their expression, both artistic and sexual, belongs to them and them alone. Such a filthy bit of joy may be born of entertainment, but it persists as necessity — fake prudishness be damned.”

          NPR may be irrelevant and stupid, but for some reason they think they are at the forefront of burgeoning culture.

          jvb

          • NPR has nothing to do with Seuss. The books are being banned by a wide ranging coalition: schools, social media, commerce. One song sold a lot of records in a certain demographic. I doubt that most of the people behind banning Dr. Seuss have ever heard “WAP” or could pick Cardi B out of a line-up. The meme is an incoherent non-sequitur.

            • The meme is incoherent, as are most memes. But, that doesn’t mean that NPR – a taxpayer funded news source – doesn’t consider itself to be at the cutting edge of cultural shifts. I suspect they had a set of criteria to make a master list, and then synthesized the selections down to the Top 100.

              So, I took a look at the top 100 songs of 2020, according to the NPR cultural watchdogs. True to form, the Top 100 songs heavily feature rap and hip hop and along with a few Latin crossover tunes to show solidarity with Black and Brown (Latinx??) communities, with a few edgy mainstream artists thrown in to keep it objective. I didn’t recognize 80% of the artists and I dare say that the people who compiled the list from the pre-approved selections didn’t know a damn thing about a vast majority, either. The gave Cardi B and her friend top billing. Cool. And then, they wrote a cool, edgy snippet about the song, concentrating on the video, the imagery, and the (naughty) words. Cooler still.

              jvb

  6. It was or has been #1 on Spotify, which, while not labeled as the #1 song of the year by some authoritative body, is still wildly significant.

    A meme may or may not present undisputed fact, but certainly they all make a point.

    “And this is the ethical problem with the meme. What it implies is that banning art that someone else is offended by is an offense to free speech and common sense, while banning art that conservatives find offensive is defensible.”

    I don’t know if you intend that statement to be ironic, but it is. The point of the meme is to show that most or many of the same people who think that CardiB’s song is great stuff think that Dr. Seuss should be banned.
    “EBay will delist ‘banned’ Dr. Seuss books being resold for thousands of dollars
    Published: March 4, 2021 at 5:14 p.m. ET
    By Nicole Lyn Pesce”

    Looks like they’re still available on Amazon, not sure if that’s a bellwether, they delisted Parler.

    Apparently conservatives aren’t the only ones who want things banned, though certainly they’re the least successful in achieving it – and in what used to be our freer society, not a bad thing.

    Then there are Michael West’s points – cultural impacts are a thing. The song is culturally significant, at over 700 million listens on Spotify. I didn’t even see what it has on YouTube, where people who have things with millions of views are termed “influencers”. I don’t think that’s terribly incorrect.

    I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, while we’re all free to listen to/read whatever we want, Dr. Seuss has a better cultural impact than Cardi B.

    I don’t think the meme has to be “journalistically accurate” – hahahahaha – to point to a much larger truth or idea.

    That’s a real accurate meme, in my opinion.

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