Today I learned that somewhere out there is an entertainer named Action Bronson. As much as I like music, somehow his name never blipped on my radar, and I think I would have remembered a name like that. I know very few Actions. Actually, none.
Action Bronson is a rapper, and since I’ve never been an aficionado of that particular genre, names have probably passed me by. I know Snoop and Drake and Fitty, Eminem and Jay Z and even someone whose parents for some reason named him A$AP Rocky. But Action Bronson—he was new to me; in fact had not Hartford’s Trinity College disinvited him from some sort of spring festival, I would still face that hole in my education. Apparently Action Bronson’s songs say lots of bad things and use lots of bad words and espouse lots of bad behaviors, so Mr. Bronson will not be performing on the grounds of the hallowed academia we call Trinity College.
Just who is Action Bronson? He’s a respected chef, born of Albanian and Jewish parents in Queens—he was raised a Muslim—he quit the kitchen to devote all his time to rap—he has released a number of albums and made countless appearances all over the world. I wouldn’t say he cuts a dashing figure—he’s a big guy—but neither is he particularly fearsome looking. His lyrics are, in the main, crass and vulgar, but every once in a while there’s some self-effacement and humor: you have to respect anyone who, in 2016, can work Studebaker into a song. I read a lot of these lyrics—it wasn’t easy—but when I was finished I was not a misogynist or a racist or a drug user or anything else I wasn’t ten minutes before. The particularly offensive “Consensual Rape” is nothing more than a barrage of obscenities spewed out by a drug- or sex-addled brain; however, is the rapper an adopted persona speaking as a rapist might in order to illustrate to us how vial these perpetrators can be? Do we take it as a harsh learning experience or do we call Mr. Bronson bad names and send him home before he arrives?
I don’t know the answer, but I’m not sure a petition signed by 1000 students is enough to abrogate a free exchange of ideas on a college campus. If I were a Trinity student and I knew Action Bronson’s schtick, or if I were a rape victim or any victim of violence against women, men, the LGBT community—anyone, I would welcome the opportunity—as a mature adult—to refuse to attend. Or (and this is really radical in a world where we’re trying so very hard not to offend anyone) maybe attend and engage in a rational discussion afterwards with other attendees and maybe the performer himself. He’s a fairly literate person whose stage show may not reflect his beliefs at all—but if they do, we can take the opportunity to refute them.
Which brings me, by a laboriously circuitous route, to Prince. In the mid-eighties Al Gore’s wife Tipper heard her daughter singing a fairly explicit Prince tune and decided to do something about such behavior. There followed a Senate sub-committee session on “porn rock” (come on, you can laugh—it is funny) followed by warning labels on albums and CDs. Even so, I can respect Tipper Gore’s intentions—she had a pre-teen daughter and wanted to shelter her as long as possible. The students at Trinity are not pre-teens; in fact, at least a quarter of them are a month away from being alumni and stepping into a world where they will have to decide for themselves whether to spend their concert money on Action Bronson or Bruce Springsteen, Eminem or the Hartford Symphony.
When we lost Prince yesterday, we lost one of the most remarkable musical influences of the past fifty years, but he had to struggle for his art. And yes, including Prince in the same article as Action Bronson is almost sacrilegious, but it’s hard to ignore the irony of those two events occurring on the same day.