It seems like every two days the collective Twitter wokeness hive mind is big mad about a new thing. Maybe some celebrity tweeted out the wrong political opinion, or perhaps a prominent member of the platform’s intelligencia was caught being less than the paragon of virtue we all like to present ourselves as being online. Whatever the catalyst for the latest case of online outrage, it’s become pretty clear that all this woke trolling still barely moves the needle offline when the news can come down that Lil Dicky and Chris Brown’s high-concept, lowbrow comedy single “Freaky Friday” has reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot R&B Songs chart.
That’s right, the song that features lily-white, jokey rapper Lil Dicky using Chris Brown as a mouthpiece to say the “N-word” without repercussions — repeatedly — and launched a dozen thinkpieces about the inappropriateness of said gimmick is the top R&B song in the country. While we can debate all day about which of the song’s relative merits classify it as “R&B,” it’s important to note that a song featuring both smug, casual “I’m not a racist” racism and the spiritual successor of Ike Turner, one which we’ve all spent weeks decrying online, was catchy enough and popular enough to dominate the charts despite the deluge of online criticism that followed in its wake.
Which begs the question: What’s the point of all this online philosophizing and pontificating if the average listener is just going to keep rewarding performers like Dicky and Brown with accolades and more importantly, with plays on radio and streaming services that will translate into dollars in their respective bank accounts? If nothing else, it only proves we have a long way to go as a culture to truly live up to the lofty ideals of conscientious consumption we hail online. It also proves that while we can put plenty of pressure on Starbucks to force sensitivity training on its baristas and various retailers to stop supporting the NRA, our listening habits still have yet to catch up.
That isn’t to say that we should give up trying to promote those ideals, far from it. If anything, it only illustrates the need to take these discussions offline, to actually address the advertisers, streaming platforms, and family and friends who continue to support abusers like Brown or smirking invective from the likes of Dicky. It also demonstrates how much better we need to get at explaining why these situations need to be taken seriously — it’s more than just entertainment.
Entertainment doesn’t just keep our eyes, ears, and brains occupied as we passively consume the sights and sounds of music videos, television shows, movies, and the like. Over and over again, it’s been consistently proven that the imagery and stereotypes we absorb inform our worldview and our behavior. No, playing a particularly violent game of GTA doesn’t automatically induce spree shootings and carjackings from otherwise docile gamers, just like playing a song from Chris Brown won’t instantly turn every listener into a creepy scumbag who stalks his exes online and lashes out violently at any woman who happens to displease them.