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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.


Theodore Dalrymple
Puffing Puff Daddy
Beware of the elites bearing praise.
Summer 2001

Genuflection to popular culture’s worst products is today a sign both of enlightenment and of a properly generous democratic sentiment. A striking example recently appeared in the Guardian newspaper, the house journal of the British liberal intelligentsia. The article, RHYME AND REASON, proclaimed in attention-grabbing big type that "Some of America’s big minds have gathered in New York for a major summit." And who are those minds? The nation’s Nobel Prize–winning physicists or medical researchers, perhaps? Its best historians or mathematicians?

No: some of the biggest minds belong, apparently, to rap performers such as Chuck D of Public Enemy, JT Money, and Puff Daddy, who had come together at the summit to explore rap culture. In the photographs that accompany the article, the rappers appear virtually indistinguishable from street thugs, with the sullen stare of the unintelligently angry.

Could the Guardian really believe that these scions and creators of a worthless subculture, which glorifies inner-city violence and treats women with savage contempt, are powerful thinkers? Could it really believe that "[t]he obscenity is not the vulgarity coming from the mouths of the rappers but the society in which they were born and raised"? The paper invests the sordid and stupid with a kind a tragic grandeur. "If [rap’s] leading figures have been behaving as though they are leaders of troubled lands," the article suggests, "it is because they have only recently emerged from their own bloody civil war."

Does it matter that a major liberal organ should flatter rap stars in this way? Flattery is, of course, a kind of condescension: the insincerity that grants a big mind to Puff Daddy shouldn’t need pointing out. Alas, the worst effect of such flattery will be on inner-city neighborhoods, to whose most disorderly and crime-prone residents it will filter down that the liberal elite approves of their "culture." Why try to do better? Once again, liberal insincerity betrays those on whose behalf it claims to speak.

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