The savage attack at Valleyfair on the night of July 4 horrified Minnesotans. A father was beaten and kicked unconscious as he tried to protect his 12-year-old daughter from being sexually groped by two men.After the father intervened, the men used a cell phone to summon six others to "get these bitches," according to a complaint filed in Scott County District Court. Eight males assaulted the father as his wife and daughters strove frantically to help him.
"We see assaults, but that's brutal," one police officer said.
Did these monsters descend out of nowhere on Valleyfair, a place we associate with wholesome family fun? Hardly. The attitudes they acted out in extreme fashion are part of a culture that is all around us and flourishes with our blessing.Take for example, Pharrell Williams, an icon of the youth culture, who visited Minneapolis last month. A rapper/producer on the entertainment world's highest plane, Williams won a 2007 Grammy Award for "Money Maker," a song he performed with Ludacris. The lyrics, saturated with sex -- which celebrate the adventures of "a bedroom gangster" -- are so vulgar and degraded that this newspaper cannot print them.
Or take "Drop It Like It's Hot," a 2005 Grammy nominee that Williams performed with thug rapper Snoop Dogg:
I'm a Bad Boy, wit a lotta ho's
Drive my own cars, and wear my own clothes ...
Oh you got a gun so you wanna pop back? ...
Cement shoes, now I'm on the move
Your family's crying, now you on the news
They can't find you, and now they miss you
Must I remind you I'm only here to twist you
Pistol whip you, dip you then flip you.
When Williams visited Minnesota last month, he was embraced -- not shunned -- by mainstream Minneapolis for songs like these. At the Uptown store where he showed up to promote his luxury Billionaire Boys Club clothing line, nearly 200 fans from across the Twin Cities -- including boys as young as 9 -- waited eagerly to greet him. Many sported his high-end baseball caps and T-shirts, and mobbed him for autographs.
Is Williams just a passing youthful fantasy who offers kids a touch of danger? Adults are swooning too.
Williams is lionized by our tastemakers, opinion leaders, media and entertainment moguls. In 2005, Esquire magazine named him "best-dressed man in the world." Louis Vuitton has signed a deal with him for a jewelry line. In August, Williams' band, N*E*R*D, will appear in connection with the Democratic National Convention in Denver, according to www.rollingstone.com.
Williams is just one of many rappers who celebrate a lifestyle of hedonism. Turn your radio dial, for example, to Beat 96 (96.3 FM). You'll hear a host of gangsta artists whose music bears three hallmarks.
The first is sexual degradation of women -- "bitches" or "ho's." Females who get out of line can be slapped back into place. Rapper Ludacris captures the attitude with lyrics like "Move bitch, get out the way." Lil' Jon orders "bitches" to "crawl."
Gangsta rap's second hallmark is violence -- reveling in it, using it to get what you want, and adopting it as manhood's defining quality.
The third hallmark is crass materialism, on display in a music video that depicts a rapper swiping a credit card in a woman's buttocks.
Where do the Valleyfair monsters come from? At least in part, they come from a philosophy of life that Pharrell Williams has articulated.
During his visit to our fair city, Williams summed up his worldview. "We do what we want," he told the Star Tribune. "We encourage everyone to do the same. That's called being an individual."
This idea -- that life is about doing, and getting, what we want -- is widespread today. The narcissistic belief that our personal desires trump both social norms and duties to others fuels problems that range from family breakdown to drug abuse to corporate corruption.
Why do we find it easy to glorify Williams and his ilk? Because as a society, we've largely embraced the idea that powers their music.
Most of Williams' fans don't turn his narcissistic philosophy into action. For them, presumably, striving to look like rap stars is primarily about theatrics.
But some in our society will take the idea to its logical conclusion. When other voices of authority -- parents, teachers, opinionmakers -- are faint, or faint-hearted, rap's high-decibel worldview may fill the void. Young men who lack restraints may act on it, using violence to take what they want.
The Valleyfair attackers are not from another planet. Every day we signal, in a variety of ways, that a youth culture that glorifies narcissism and violence is welcome in our communities. Shame on us.
Katherine Kersten • firstname.lastname@example.org Join the conversation at my blog, www.startribune.com/thinkagain.