Imagination Under Arrest

I listen to a lot of music that a lot of people would consider vile. For that matter, I read and watch a lot of vile things, too. If what they say is true that we are what we consume, does this make me a vile person, or, as I believe to be the case, someone with a fascination for the darker aspects of life? If I were to write down a fraction of the darker thoughts and images that pass through my mind, or worse yet, sublimate these thoughts and images into a work of fiction or extended exercise of the imagination, would that make me in any way guilty of a crime? What if that work happened to inspire someone else to commit a crime that I would be incapable of committing myself? This is actually an extremely troubling development that is happening in the hip hop community, where certain rappers are being charged with murder on the basis of lyrics depicting the gang violence that comes part and parcel with the War on Drugs and life in the inner city. It’s one thing to commit a crime and then recount that incident in explicit detail in lyrics written for a song, which amounts to a confession, but quite another to depict realistically the various aspects of crime and violence that are an everyday fact of life on the streets in our inner cities. It’s not enough that our institutional racism and increasing income inequality in America tends to perpetuate and worsen these conditions, but convicting rappers for their lyrics is the equivalent of killing the messenger, which does nothing to solve the underlying problem. Such convictions demonstrate how scarily prescient sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick was when he envisioned a future where a person could be arrested for merely thinking of a crime before actually committing it.

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