He-men and hip-hop

Readers respond to an essay about the disappearance of the classic American man and an interview about the hip-hop generation.

By Salon Staff
Published July 12, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read "Endangered Species."]

Where else do you see a man writing a book about female identity and then a woman critiquing that book? How laughable! A woman telling us how a man should act, then a woman critic further tearing apart that image of a man. Only in America's Feminized society would this be allowable without any backlash. If a man wrote this book about a woman he would be called a SEXIST. If a man critiqued this book with its mockery of a man's characteristics she would be called a SEXIST. Double standard? Try putting on the other shoe for once.

-- Jeff Morales

Eustace Conway spent some time living near my hometown at the foot of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. Although I never met him, my brother (something of a mountain man himself) did, and he confirms Laura Miller's implied assertions: Conway is, reportedly, an admirable man and an overweening prick. Good review.

-- Wes Freeman

There's plenty of the Elizabeth Gilbert he-men left. They're just not interested in associating with the type of people who read Salon.

-- Howie Severson

If this Eustace fellow is emulating anyone -- philosophically at least -- it's Henry David Thoreau, a man who wouldn't fit anyone's definition of rugged manliness. I can't imagine that romantic ideas about returning to nature and economizin' ever crossed the minds of 19th century pioneers. Are we really expected to believe that they roughed it for the sake of roughing it? They had ambitious goals and their activities were byproducts of reaching those goals. Not at all what Eustace is about. It's fine if he wants to live that way, but he shouldn't get upset when no one else follows him into the woods to act out James Fenimore Cooper roles that never actually existed.

-- Christian Gulliksen

I'm glad to have this profile of American manhood on the record. I very much concur with the spirit of Laura Miller's analysis.

What Eustace is missing is access to his own heart, his own soul -- something that can not be found on any outward pioneer adventure. Pioneering skills can be very useful; however, if the pioneer can't move the content and the themes of the lessons learned in applying those skills to the outer world, to the inner world, such a pioneer has done a disservice to themselves.

I have nearly completed a five-year journey of untangling my own childhood trauma, caused, to a significant degree, by a father who would have rather fattened my 4-year-old lip than encourage me to have any dignity or esteem whatsoever.

I can identify strongly with Eustace's plight. One of the lessons I learned early on in my journey is that men would rather jump motorcycles over insanely huge distances, breaking every bone in their bodies twice, than examine the drive of ego that allows insanity to make perfectly immutable sense.

Abuse is abuse, regardless of the time period when it was inflicted. Eustace's physical return to a time when the pain of his family was first realized is no more than an attempt to justify and sanctify the abuse he suffered as a young boy. Children, no matter how battered and traumatized, are programmed from birth to love their parents.

Even if it means that they destroy themselves in the process.

-- Greg Mucha

[Read "Hip-Hop Nation."]

I certainly appreciate the incisive comments of Mr. Kitwana in Suzy Hansen's article. I agree with him on two points: 1) that hip-hop culture and music has had a revolutionary impact beyond musical genres, and 2) intellectuals of all colors have failed to craft a precise or fitting definition of the generation of young blacks inspired by the culture. But in general, Kitwana overstates the influence and impact of hip-hop culture.

I am a black male in my early 30s, and I am a partner in a law firm. I grew up with hip-hop: whether it's the Sugar Hill Gang, to Run DMC and LL Cool J, to Public Enemy, BDP, the Jungle Brothers and a Tribe Called Quest, to B.I.G., Common, Mos Def and the Roots -- I've loved it all. Some of the music is deeply affecting, and at times visionary and revolutionary. But I would resent anyone trying to define me or my generation by the music we listen to.

The youth of any generation are defined by their adaptation to the world created by the preceding generation and their ability to identify and meet the challenges of that new world. Those in the civil rights generation did just that, with historic results. But how often do you hear Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or Medgar Evers referred to as members of the "Motown Generation" or the "Be-Bop Generation"? Their generation is defined by their accomplishments, not their music.

The same should apply for the new generation. To be sure, hip-hop has been important in the cultural and political development of the hip-hop generation[s], but I would guess that the globalization of the economy, the dawn of the age of the Internet, and the ugly politics of race in post-Reagan America may have been factors as well.

Also, as Kitwana himself concedes, hip-hop is so riddled with such negative and decadent (even, at times, stereotypical) images that many in his purported "hip-hop" generation, like myself, want little to do with it. Were it not for Common, The Roots and Mos Def, among a few others, the genre would be utterly devoid of serious, straightforward intellectual thought. Many of the youth listening to hip-hop don't listen to the more meaningful and positive artists anymore, and many of them now consider Public Enemy and KRS-ONE "old school." I support any efforts to mobilize hip-hop artists and entrepreneurs to use their new leverage for political purposes, but I'd say that for now, the term "hip-hop generation" (like the term "Generation X") is just as unworkable as any label or definition "older" intellectuals could muster.

Many young black people in my age group have entered a variety of jobs and professions and hope to bring about changes in a variety of ways. We are appointed to boards, get elected to office, and vote. We embrace and love hip-hop, but we also love Prince, Marvin, Miles, Marley and even rock and roll. We want to be defined by what we do, not by one genre of music. Nor do we want to be labeled with a term equally applicable to the Big Tymers, Ja Rule or Lil' Bow Wow. Based on the comments in the article, I think Kitwana would be better suited to study this generation outside the context of an art form.

-- William Haynes

Salon Staff

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