Should 50 Cent be barred from Canada? Well, I don't know Mr. Cent. If I did, I could call him Fiddy. That's what his friends and other rap star/moguls call him. So my view on whether he should or should not be allowed into the country doesn't have any trace of the personal.
He's due to hold a few concerts here in December, and Dan McTeague, the Liberal Party's music critic, is urging that the gangsta rapper not be admitted. His argument, if we may embroider Mr. McTeague's press-eager ruminations with that term, is that Mr. Cent is a bad example. His rap songs are violent. His past is criminal. He's a poster boy for violence and guns. With the shocking number of homicides in Toronto this year, the presence of this entertainer is a bad idea.
This line of thought could apply to the whole genre of rap music - a highly stylized, slickly marketed, ingeniously promoted subset of pop music. Its most successful products are every bit as polished as any Madonna video, and some of them almost as painful to watch. It is, like almost all pop music, pure product. It's designed to sell. And if profanity, violence, sex, and confected rage will move the product - and very evidently this combination does - rap music has the combination down pat. Some of it is clever. Some of it is a put-on. A whole lot of it is hyped attitude laced with lazy rhymes, flash and inexhaustible crudity.
50 Cent differs from other luminaries in rap's unstable galaxy in that, in contrast to, say, Eminem, he doesn't appear to have a sense of humour; unlike the foppish P. Diddy, he's unlikely to take up clothes design or date Jennifer Lopez. Plus he's been shot at, at one time taking nine (count 'em) bullets, and been a crack dealer. Gangsta rap loves the "authentic," and all art, like good marketing, is autobiography.
All that said, rap is hugely popular. It makes billions for the music industry. But if rap music is socially toxic, and it is hard to see that it is not, then the circle of responsibility for it goes from industry to performer and all those eager people who buy the product. The rap audience can't claim moral superiority over its thuggish heroes.
If Mr. McTeague is trying to make the point that a couple of concert appearances by 50 Cent will worsen the situation in a few Toronto neighbourhoods, I think he has a very small dog on a very long leash. I can buy the point that the entire phenomenon of rap music contributes to, or is a symptom of, a degraded and vulgar culture. But to lay any individual responsibility on the menacing doorstep of Curtis Jackson (for that is the rapper's real name, and you can see why he changed it since Curtis does not ooze gangsta' cred) for any of Toronto's deadly crime wave is purely opportunistic.
Toronto called in the Rolling Stones, I recall, when it wanted to mount a world publicity campaign in the wake of the SARS scare. The Stones were the hard boys of pop music once, just like 50 Cent is now. They hired Hells Angels to "police" a concert in 1969 at Altamont Speedway in California, at which one concert-goer was killed by a member of the motorcycle gang. I don't remember much talk of role models when former Liberal MP Dennis Mills was pushing for those once-hard Stones lads to come to Toronto for the SARS concert.
Does Mr. McTeague know that Destiny's Child once worked with 50 Cent? Will he ban them for the association? Is Beyonce a threat to peace, order and good government? The notion is silly. At best, it's but this aging generation's replay of the music scares of every previous generation. Ed Sullivan famously gave orders at one of Elvis's appearances on his television show in the '50s that Elvis be shot above the hips - lest carnal chaos engulf middle America at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night. The prophylactic camera work did not save the country from rock 'n' roll. Teenagers intuited Elvis had a crotch, even if Ed refused them broadcast black-and-white proof of it.
There's another problem with Mr. McTeague's suggestion. Should we start a trade war on entertainers, the Americans may retaliate. They could send Celine Dion back. Let us not be hasty here.
It is the election, I suspect, not any morbid fear of 50 Cent's numinous powers as a negative role model, that stirred Mr. McTeague in the first place. It's going to be a hard contest to earn a headline now that the election is all but in gear. A call to bar 50 Cent from the country will make news, here and abroad, even on the busiest of days.
There's another bonus. A pseudo-debate over gangsta rap beats another visit to the Gomery report any day. It's a blessing for the Liberals the good judge didn't rhyme, and the music for the sad saga of Adscam has yet to be written.
Rex Murphy is a commentator with CBC-TV's The National and host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup.