Certain corners of the internet are agog over the news that Abel Ferrara is working on a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Forest Whitaker as the good Doctor and 50 Cent – yes, that one – as his alter ego.
I find it somewhat distressing, or at least questionable. The idea of casting Fiddy as a monster isn’t such a problem, what with his career-making turn as Frankenstein, but I’m concerned about the cultural baggage that goes along with this particular monster. The whole point of Hyde is that he’s the id personified. Not just evil: irrational, set in opposition to civilization and even to conscious thought. There’s something unpleasant about casting a rapper in this part.
Ask yourself: what’s the difference between a rapper and a poet? If you answered “nothing,” good for you. But I think most people, if they’re honest with themselves, and not thinking about it too hard, think that poetry is intellectual and involves skill, while rap is “emotional” (i.e. instinctual), and involves some kind of inborn talent. Rappers, after all, have to be “real,” while poets—at least these days—just have to be “good.” And while this is to a certain degree true of all pop music, the dichotomy is… not without racial undertones.
On the other hand, maybe it’s only appropriate. It’s not like rappers don’t shape their own images as irrational geniuses, and why shouldn’t movies reflect the images they present? If I had a nickel for every rapper who boasted about being “born to the game” or something similar, I’d be rich, and if I had a dime for every one that made a big point about being craaaaaazy, I’d be a richer. This kind of thing may provide fodder for the advocates of censorship, but it would be short-sighted not to recognize its progressive tendencies. It actually comes from a rather distinguished tradition within African-American pop music: Funkadelic’s great “message” album One Nation Under a Groove has a startling song called “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo-Doo Chasers)” which is about id in a much more specific way than Jekyll and Hyde could ever hope to be. (Lines such as “Constipated nineteen now-nows emerge from the hiney of your head” are typical.) George Clinton’s point is not to juxtapose the scatalogical and the political, but rather to claim that scatology is politics.
Tom Stoppard gets into this a little in Rock and Roll:
“The policeman isn’t fightened by dissidents! Why should he be? Policemen love dissidents, like the Inquisition loved heretics. Heretics give meaning to the defenders of the faith. Nobody cares more than a heretic. You friend [Vaclav] Havel cares so much he writes a long letter to [Gustáv] Husák. It makes no odds whether it’s a love letter or a protest letter. It means they’re playing on the same board. So Husák can relax, he’s made the rules, it’s his game. The population plays the other way, by agreeing to be bribed by places at university, or an easy ride at work … they care enough to keep their thoughts to themselves, their haircuts give nothing away. But the Plastics [an underground Czech rock band] don’t care at all. They’re unbribable. They’re coming from somewhere else, from where the Muses come from. They’re not heretics. They’re pagans.”
It’s a little odd applying this idea to 50 Cent, since he’s so committed to financial success. Maybe gangster rappers are more analagous to Stoppard’s “heretics,” in that they try to seem dangerous to society, but actually glorify the same things that society glorifies (i.e. cash, money, millionaires, etc). Dirt McGirt, on the other hand, was a pagan… and so to an extent are all rappers – all musicians – just as long as their talents are thought to come “from where the Muses come from,” “from the hiney of your head.”