Ultimately, critical theory should take on the twin tasks of truth-telling and forcing its practitioners to be engaged scholars. Giroux's range of work in formal academic settings and also in online venues is a model of that ideal.
As such, I was not surprised by his April 2013 essay on the connections between the rapper Lil Wayne, civil rights martyr Emmit Till, neoliberalism (what should actually be called "hyper-conservatism") and commercial hip hop. It was a great piece that deserved a much bigger audience. Alas, Giroux is not someone the general public is routinely exposed to either on NPR or the cable news networks.
Henry Giroux observes in "Lil Wayne's Lyrical Fascism" how:
Lil Wayne’s allusion to Emmitt Till in his lyrics represents more than stupidity. It represents how normalized the culture of cruelty has become and how it wraps itself in a popular culture that is increasingly racist, misogynistic, and historically illiterate. This is neoliberalism’s revenge on young people in that it elevates profits over justice and the practice of moral witnessing and in doing so creates artists and other young people who mimic a racist and authoritarian politics and are completely clueless about it. Celebrity culture is the underside of the new illiteracy in America, the soft edge of fascism with its unbridled celebration of wealth, narcissism, and glamor...
It is worth repeating as a counter narrative to Lil Wayne’s complicity with the modes of lyrical fascism that now circulate in the media like a poisonous toxin.In my own work, I develop a framework which suggests that commercial hip hop is an imaginary which ironically is both a product of deindustrialization and the rise of the neoliberal order, while now in its most recent iterations, celebrates and mirrors the logic of hyper-consumerism and spectacular consumption. In all, commercial hip hop is the bastard child of system changes in political economy during the late 1960s and early 1970s while also reinforcing (and advocating for) a retreat from a healthy, inclusive, engaged type of citizenship and biopolitics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Commercial hip hop draws from a founding mythos and narrative of political "resistance" and "opposition" at the site of popular culture and its intersection with the public sphere. The riddle then becomes how does commercial hip hop's understanding of politics actually work to legitimize some very regressive--if not actually "anti-political" ways--understandings of the State, and the potential of public policy to serve the Common Good.
I am in good company as I grapple with these questions. Giroux offers needed insight and clarity here as he connects Lil Wayne with an empty celebrity culture that misrepresents excess, waste, and hyper-consumerism as civic values:
We live at a time when heroes of the civil rights generation such Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Angela Davis are now replaced by business tycoons such as Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, and Henry Paulson. The older pioneers sacrificed in order to alleviate the suffering of others, while the new “celebrity heroes” of the media drawn from corporate culture live off the suffering of others. Celebrity culture is a cesspool of greed, over paid financial looters, and spineless media pundits who reproduce the market-driven and politically paralysing sexist and racist grammars of suffering, state violence, and disposability.
Maybe Lil Wayne should read about the history of the civil rights movement before he fashions lyrics that sound as if they were written by the racists that killed this young man. Maybe the American public should go further and ask what kind of country creates people like Lil Wayne and what can be done to create a formative culture that would stop this kind of racism and sexism in its tracks, rather than reward it.The artist should be the conscience of a People. We have come a long way from Robeson, Ellison, and Wright. While the neoliberal hyper consumerist ethos of commercial hip hop may not be laudable, they remain agents of political socialization for young people, and mirrors of a broader society in a deep moral, existential, and ontological crisis.