Letters: Lumpen gangstas, Manilow's roadie and good parenting

Readers respond to recent articles about Snoop Dogg and Tom Waits. Plus: Robert W. Firestone on child rearing.

Published May 16, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

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This letter is regarding the article on the career of Snoop Dogg. I think it is sad that the series outlining the lives of brilliant careers should stoop to an essay on rap's place in society, instead of telling us where Snoop came from and what makes him tick. If there is little or nothing more to tell of his life than the few paragraphs that were written, maybe an article about him isn't warranted. I am a fan of all music, including rap, but an article on rap's place in society is hardly sufficient when a life story is what the article is supposed to describe. Save your soapbox for something else.

Also, as a fan of country as well, I think the statements you made about this genre are stereotypical and wrong. I know that rap fans are tired of hearing people complain that all rap is about "killin' and bitches" and whatnot, but these same people think that country is about "divorce and losing your tractor." I challenge you to listen to a country station and find one song that fits your extreme stereotype of song content. As far as stereotypes go, rap fits theirs much more than country does.

-- Jason Ellis

The author of this piece has a Snoop fetish and is hardly objective.

Snoop Dogg has flow, and lyrical wit. Unfortunately his consciousness is centered around survival, sex and power. Snoop offers no solution to the current "fucked up" situation. He offers no way forward. He merely places black men more strongly in place in the dominance hierarchy.

For clear conscious hip-hop I recommend an examination of KRS-One, a virtual prophet for the shift in consciousness we are in the middle of.

-- Siri Dhyan Singh

While Snoop Dogg is a very talented rapper, Stephen Lemons' profile really misses the mark. Lemons calls the music a "menace to authority" and supposes that it really constitutes some kind of meaningful rebellion against society's norms. In reality, this music is no more dangerous to society than nose piercings.

Ever since NWA hit big with songs like "F*ck the Police," there's been a big market for selling gangsta rap to white teenagers as carefully packaged rebellion. Now, that's all fine and well, and I don't begrudge Snoop Dogg his piece of the same pie that has gone to Kiss, Mötley Crüe and Limp Bizkit at various times. But to call it anything more meaningful than that is rather foolish.

-- Andrew Norris

Mighty puckering. Seems that Lemons thinks "literature" is all sputter. And that lumpen gangsta rappers are the real rebels. No rich guy ever overthrew any system in this neighborhood, no matter his color or whether his car hopped. And never will. They are rebels, bought and paid for by radio and MTV and a record company. Someone once said the "revolution won't be televised" and he was right. Rebellion, packaged and ultimately impotent. Rabelais, Bacchus and de Sade never overthrew anything ... except their lunch. Good reach though; got the story on Salon. You a real rebel! Ha!

-- Greg Gibbs

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I used to be a roadie for Barry Manilow, back in the mid '70s and, FYI, his band would always listen to Tom Waits while waiting to go onstage. It seemed to have some kind of balancing effect for them.

-- Paul Brin

Kudos on a fine Tom Waits profile -- and I feel like I've read just about every damn one ever written. I am especially delighted that we are of the same mind about his raison d'être being summed up in the "Somewhere" cover -- my mom had the same gawdawful Streisand tape when I was a kid, and I felt the same feeling of satisfaction when I finally got my mitts on "Blue Valentine" years later. I also felt a similar relief when I discovered that Bette Midler hadn't written "Shiver Me Timbers" and "Downtown Train" wasn't Stewart's; I had been having a minor identity crisis due to my fondness for these songs, and I felt like my taste had been exonerated.

I am also pleased that you are of the "Swordfishtrombones" school, but why omit the effect that Kathleen Brennan has had on his recording career? It's no coincidence that his work took that wonderfully aberrant left turn after they got hitched.

-- Nicky

I'm deeply disappointed in your character description of Mr. Waits based loosely on song lyrics and old magazine interviews. What's next, an article on Sly Stallone praising him for really kicking the Russians' behinds? Or maybe you could discuss Britney Spears' love life based on the lyrics of "(Hit Me) Baby One More Time."

As most Waits fans know, his stories can be taken with a grain of salt, and his quippy one-liners are generally rehearsed, as being a talented performer can be listed under Waits' many assets. Most disappointing is that your journalist almost had an inkling that he was writing about a performer, but managed to stray off track. All in all, I would consider the article an online equivalent of writing KISS lyrics on your spiral notebook.

-- Dan Nawara

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As a clinical psychologist who has devoted much of the past 40 years to promoting compassionate parenting, I understand too well that few subjects provoke more media distortion and parental defensiveness than exposing emotionally abusive child-rearing patterns in the nuclear family. We have as a society thankfully begun to challenge physical and sexual abuse, but emotional child abuse can be just as damaging. Only recently has the public become informed about how well-meaning parents often unintentionally harm their children emotionally by stifling their aliveness and feelings, mistaking emotional hunger for love or failing to understand or meet their need for respectful and affectionate treatment.

Even normal media caricature was exceeded, however, by this article's ridiculous claim that "parents should not be allowed to raise their own children." The truth is to the contrary. Encouraging parents to raise their own children with love and decency has been at the heart of my work and that of my colleagues at the Glendon Association, including the book "Compassionate Child-Rearing," nine videos, more than a dozen articles and a child-rearing curriculum that has been taught to thousands of parents around the country, and in Canada and Costa Rica.

It has never been my intention to participate in any form of parent bashing or blaming of parents that has been sometimes correctly and often mistakenly associated with the psychology profession. There is a great deal of difference between parental accountability and blame. First of all, as I have stressed throughout my work, "I am in no way opposed to families or familial ties; indeed, the close, harmonious, loving relationship with my wife and children is my highest value. My position is not that the nuclear family is inherently detrimental to human growth and development, but that in a large number of families in our society it has developed into a destructive institution." -- Preface, "Combating Destructive Thought Processes," 1997. My desire has always been to recognize and correct the flaws in our child-rearing patterns, not disband family values.

Secondly, my book "Compassionate Child-Rearing" (1990) was written for the express purpose of helping parents who are struggling to raise their children effectively. As I wrote in the preface, "There is no single cause of specific symptoms or mental aberrations. All psychological functions are multi-determined, and in some cases, hereditary characteristics and biological predisposition clearly outweigh environmental components in the etiology of ego weakness, maladjustment, and psychological disturbance."

However, in relation to the subject of genetic predisposition and its effects, there is little that can be done and it is far more productive to focus on negative environmental influences that are mutable. New information from neurological studies of early brain development conducted by Bruce Perry, Allan Schore, Daniel Siegel and Bessel van der Kolk show conclusively that unresolved traumatic elements in parents' own lives have adverse effects on the growth of aspects of the young child's brain, especially between birth and 3 years. Those areas have to do with the ability to regulate emotions and the capacity for empathy, crucial to the formation of a secure attachment between parent and child and to new persons later on. These findings tend to support my opinion that in most cases, the impact of the interpersonal environment on children in all probability exceeds the influence of innate predisposition. In other words, brain-imaging studies are beginning to show us how early emotional interactions impact the child's developing brain on a physiological level, and they emphasize the importance of an emotionally nurturing environment during the early years.

Our conclusion based on clinical findings and research on attachment theory reveals the fact that parents tend to reenact the destructive patterns that hurt them unless they develop insight and work through their emotional problems. Every psychologist knows that parents who beat their children were usually victims of physical abuse themselves, but it is important to realize that the same phenomenon occurs in instances of emotional abuse.

I have an understanding of Sweeney's disturbed reaction to my ideas in the Salon article. The discoveries I made about widespread damaging family practices were also disturbing to me as they opened up my own conflicts in relation to parenting. Originally, I had no intention of investigating the structure of the nuclear family. However, years of clinical experience with patients and their families have convinced me of certain unavoidable and painful truths about negative family interactions.

Despite my resistance, I had to question and break down my idealized perception of family life. As I explored the lives of my patients and the critical issues raised by parents, in a sample population of high-functioning individuals who participated in a longitudinal study of three-generations of family life, I became increasingly aware that the defenses that children form in an attempt to protect themselves against the interpersonal pain they experienced in their families were a primary causative factor in psychopathology.

In my research, there were several core issues that were found to cause children harm. Parental ambivalence and negative images of self were projected onto children and often led to excessive criticism or punishment. Emotional hunger or need on the part of immature parents led to excessive demands on the child. Personal contact with the child with an absence of appropriate feeling was particularly detrimental. The utilization of children as a way of living through them or as a defense mechanism against death anxiety required children to replicate their parents attitudes and behaviors in a manner that seriously impaired the child's autonomy. Parental role playing instead of simple human contact, failed to offer children an authentic role model.

It has always been my understanding that identifying a problem eventually leads to better solutions. We acknowledge the problems of violence, addiction, suicide, mental illness and the widespread use of dangerous drugs by our children. Why not attempt to get at the core of these concerns, seek the underlying truth, however frightening, and confront the myths of families in our society? Can't they afford to be scrutinized?

One interesting insight into family life was that we discovered that there was value in extending the isolated family unit. Many times children from dysfunctional families were spared psychological disturbance because of a positive relationship with a friend or family member who offered special love and support. Research has suggested that the extended family unit is more ideal, and the optimal number of people associated with the growing child would be anywhere between four and five adults. In communities and societies that were more social and less isolated there was a minimum of child abuse and a declination in the suicide rate. We suggest that parents sharing child rearing functions with close friends can be advantageous.

In a video documentary, "Invisible Child Abuse," broadcast on PBS television networks, 1994-1998, I described the two-fold purpose of our parenting groups: "One, for the parents to talk about their problems and behavior toward their children, a normal focus of such groups, but secondly for the parents to look into their own childhoods to see what hurt their development. Only by developing a compassionate attitude toward themselves and how they were treated were they able to improve their parenting practices." My colleagues and I see parents, as we see all human beings, as having experienced a certain amount of unnecessary suffering in their growing up. We are not pessimistic and believe that they can overcome their negative compulsions toward their children if they work through the problems of their own backgrounds.

The video ends with the following statement: "While it can be disturbing to closely examine our established child-rearing practices and their results, a more complete understanding of how these practices affect children and their future can offer valuable insight and enable us to have more compassion for ourselves. Perhaps in future generations, parents could learn to value their own lives and allow their children to preserve their human heritage rather than partially taking back the life they gave. Perhaps in future generations, parents would no longer be 'the lost children.'"

-- Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D.

By Salon Staff

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