Journalists and media watchdogs from all corners of the web rightly criticized XXL’s decision last week to publish a video interview with rapper Too Short where he gave “fatherly advice” to young boys. The rapper, who has made a 30-year career out of raunchy lyrics, offered lewd and highly inappropriate suggestions such as pushing a girl up against a wall and inserting a saliva-moistened finger “into her underwear.”
It took a few days, but the video was eventually taken down and both Too Short and Vanessa Satten issued apologies. Too Short’s apology was essentially, “My bad.” Satten put all the blame squarely on the lap of another XXL staffer while noting that she did not see the video before it was published. She also said the magazine would be implementing new internal policies to prevent something like this from happening again.
The recent apologies just might be more disturbing than the controversial video in question. The problem with both apologies is that there is no acknowledgment of the dangers in normalizing sexual aggression/violence against girls. I’m not sure if young boys would actually listen to Too Short or even know who he is (though he is reminding us just in time for his new album release), but the fact that XXL would give such irresponsible advice a platform is troubling to say the least.
Satten’s apology reeks of “it wasn’t me” as opposed to a more thoughtful response that addresses the larger issues of responsibility in journalism and how we all must do our part to contribute to safe, intelligent conversation on difficult topics. We (journalists/bloggers/rappers/singers/other media types) are not in those cramped closets, abandoned stairwells and unchaperoned visits to the movies where a lot of young people make their first sexual explorations of another person’s body, but our words and actions are in their heads. What we say matters.
Adolescents are interested in sexuality, they explore it in different ways and some actually have sex. If you’re going to throw your hat into the ring to add to the national conversation about teen sex/sexuality, you either take it seriously or stay on the sidelines. Too Short’s video essentially advised boys to turn view young girls’ bodies as a game or a prize. That’s dangerous and it’s also ludicrous that a major publication would give that type of content the green light.
Writer and activist Joan Morgan is championing a petition to have Satten removed from her position. The hope is to get 1,000 signatures. I don’t think Satten should lose her job, but I do think she should do more than issue that non-apology. XXL and other media outlets should take a step back and make sure that sexual aggression of any sort is not implicitly or explicitly condoned in its content. Hip-hop is notoriously misogynistic. Publications that cover hip hop should be especially vigilant about accurate and responsible journalism when it comes to those issues.
As for Too Short, he needs to find another way to promote his new album (that I won’t be buying). Do like the other rappers and stay relevant by getting into a highly manufactured beef with another rapper. Just leave young people out of it.
Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope