Violence, Corruption, and Wealth: The Connections Made in Today's Popular Culture Today's society is no stranger to violence and corruption. We see it in our streets, on our television and movie screens, and we hear it in music. However, as we move closer and closer to the 21st Century, a clearer connection is being made between this corruption and wealth. Our culture is beginning to associate dishonesty and criminal acts with money and material goods. Images of wealth and fame through murder and mayhem are pounded into Americans' heads through a the story-lines of Mafia movies and the lyrics of popular music idols. Producers are thriving on our two biggest cravings: money and violence.
In the novel The Great Gatsby, corruption is a main theme and is used as a gateway to wealth and fame. As the plot unfolds, the main characters get caught in a tangled web of adulterous affairs coupled with underhanded schemes and mischief which as they become richer and further their personal social status. Music reflects the times. In the 60's and 70's, musicians preached peace and empathy towards the human race. In the 80's music was a form of rebellion. Today, music has manifested itself into many different forms, one being 'hip hop' more commonly known as 'rap'.
In the early 80's, rap was about break-dancing and graffiti. Now, as we approach the year 2000, hip hop has become the most listened-to form of music nation-wide and many rap artists have adopted the new title of 'pop-artists', pop. meaning 'popular culture'. A hip hop single recently took the number 1 spot on the Billboard charts for most sales recorded. The problem here is the message many rappers are telling the world.
From the beginning, rappers have flaunted their money with the expensive cars seen in their videos and the thick gold chains they wear in public, not to mention the numerous references made to wealth in their lyrics. However, many rappers are telling tales of violence and wealth as one. In fact, there are more than 10 hip hop songs actually entitled 'Crime Pays'. In the chart topping single, 'Money, Power, Respect', Yonkers based rapper DMX raps 'hit him up / split him up / shut him up / then watch him come / get him up...
CLICK, step back like I did work', portraying a beating, then murder, the 'CLICK' being the sound made by the trigger of a gun. The chorus then goes on to proclaim 'Money, Power, Respect, that's what you need in life'. Violence is not the only thing depicted as 'beneficial' in hip hop. Many rappers including the late 'Notorious B.I. G' and '2 Pac', two very well known rappers, made innumerable references to the use and sale of drugs, along with the profit to be made, in their lyrics. In the song 'Sky's the Limit', the Notorious B.I. G raps about his school days, being a young drug dealer, rapping 'Buy a dime [of marijuana], smoke five, sell the rest for 20/ a young nigga making far too much money / I was the only 8th grader with a mobile [phone]. ' Other rappers have based their entire careers on drugs like rapper 'Redman' who is an open and proud marijuana smoker and promoter.
In an interview in 'Source' Magazine, he stated 'I spend about 18-20,000 dollars last year on [marijuana]'. He makes many references to the drug in just about every song he is featured in. While all this is going on, you can see these rappers sporting the newest clothes, the shiniest diamonds and the fastest cars. Rappers, unlike other high paid professionals, have a reputation for flaunting and bragging about their money. Music videos are the perfect stage to do this and rappers take full advantage of the opportunity with $7,000,000 + videos containing cars, special effects and in one video, a $200,000 platinum-gold tank, believe it or not. The clear message here is that power, wealth and stardom are accompanied by violence and corruption.
These few examples don't even begin to crack the surface, but are just some samples of what America is listening to. When a person listening to this music, especially the 67% of American youths who listen to it, hear violence consorting with wealth, they begin to believe that the two are one in the same. Another popular and age old forum where wealth and corruption will be eternally linked is in the Mafia. Not much unlike Rap music, the Mafia has drawn many fans. What is worse in this case is that violence and corruption do lead to wealth and respect.
Most of today's Mafia movies and television dramas are in one way or another based on a true story. They depict scenes of brutal murders and assaults, then the next scene will show the criminals splitting up all the money they made. Personally, the first time I saw a Mafia movie, I thought to myself 'I wish I could be like them', and many people think this way too. Though many Mafia movies show a downside to the life too as in many cases a double-cross leads to a characters downfall, but not after they have become excessively wealthy and highly regarded among their fellow compatriots. Mafia movies make it look so easy to get rich quick and seem to promote violence as a business venture rather than a criminal act, much like Hip Hop. The Great Gatsby details the lives of wealthy civilized folk who become corrupt and in some instances, violent.
Most all of the corrupt characters in this book who have affairs and commit crimes seem to gain respect and wealth as they go along, while the one character in the book who seems to be a man with solid morals and values, Wilson, ends up losing the most. Wilson in a way represents the way things would be if we lived in a utopia. He is a hard worker who is devoted to his wife, Myrtle, who is having an affair with a married man, Tom. Tom, who has had many affairs throughout his marriage, is married to Daisy who gets caught up in an 'accidental' hit and run murder which Myrtle is the victim of.
Jordan is a former golfer accused of cheating in a tournament. From the beginning she is deemed untrustworthy and suspicious. Gatsby is a kind of mystery who gets involved in corrupt schemes to further his wealth. Lastly, Nick is the character who right away seems like a fraud as he holds back information from the reader. Nick is quickly swept up in the corruption going on around him. In this book, nearly every character uses corruption as a tool for getting what they want and the only person who doesn't, Wilson, is left behind with nothing, as his wife who he is devoted to is struck down and killed just after he finds out she has been having an affair.
A passage from page 180 describing Tom and Daisy reads 'They were careless, Tom and Daisy, they smashed up things and creatures then retreated back into their money or vast carelessness, or whatever it is that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. ' This quote in essence describes the entire book and our culture. People will do whatever they believe is necessary to further themselves, then leave the mess for someone else to clean up, as long as they are happy. It doesn't matter what means the use to rise to the top, whether it be corruption, crime, violence, etc. Whatever means necessary. This mentality will keep spreading unless we somehow put a stop to it.
As long as violence and corruption are portrayed as building blocks to wealth and power, people will use these tactics to improve their status in society.