Music & Film

American Dreamin'

The rap music that empowers entrepreneurship


The scapegoat for many social commentators, rap music unfortunately faces much political unpopularity. Even many avid listeners and fans, like John McWhorter, see the art form as a net harm to society. Few mainstream intellectuals would be caught dead defending its value except as the inevitable byproducts of a free society.

As we've written elsewhere, we are avid defenders of this brilliant genre at the Prometheus Institute.

Personally, I see the greatest social benefit from hip-hop being its inspiring entrepreneurial ambition. Anyone stuck in the grind or trying to make it can identify with rappers in their struggles. Hip-hop can be a source of emotional fuel or a cleansing outlet.

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, like millions of athletes around the world, listens to rap before he smashes his competition. Millions of more people you've never met listen to rap to gain confidence before business meetings or school tests. As the University of Miami football team will tell you, swagger just enhances performance.

Moreover, hip-hop offers lyrical inspiration as well. These messages help stoke the fires of entrepreneurial ambition, and to demonstrate what I'm talking about, here is my evolving list of the most Entrepreneurially Inspirational Hip-Hop Lines of All Time.

You can dream a little dream
Or you can live it
'Cause dreamers always chase but never get it
- Aesop Rock, "No Regrets"

I never asked for nothin I don't demand of myself
Honesty, loyalty, friends and then wealth
Death before dishonor and I tell you what else
I tighten my belt before I beg for help
- Jay-Z, "Justify my Thug"

No joke, 'cause growin up dirty, hungry and broke
Don't mean I gotta be dirty, hungry and broke
Dude I made a way out a no way, and y'all can too
'Cause it's a whole lotta legal shit that y'all can do
- DJ Quik, "Change Da Game"

You see, if you ever wanted to ever be anything
There'd always be somebody that shoot down any dream
There'll always be haters, that's the way it is
Hater niggaz marry hater bitches and have hater kids
But they're gonna have to take my life 'fore they take my drive
'cause when I was barely living, that's what kept me alive
Just the thought that maybe it could be better than what we at at this time
Make it out of this grind, 'fore I'm out of my mind
- Kanye West, "Bring Me Down"

It's a cold world and I can never go numb
Look fear in the eyes, say I'm never gon' run
Sooner than later, I know the cheddar gon' come
For now I write the world letters to better the young
- Common, "Forever Begins"

Anything you want, anything you need
You gotta get it, go get it
Ain't comin' to you, you gotta put in your dues
Show the world that you can do it
Don't let nobody hold you back
So you betta get your hustle on
- Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, "Get Up and Get It"

Live in the moment, sit on the throne and just take a look from the top
It’s a whole other perspective to see the good that you got
Now, if it’s an omen, quit with the moaning! Don’t let it push you to flop
That’s like being spooked at the doc since you was a baby, still shook from the shot
Don’t imagine a tragic end to the book, when there’s not
You gotta try to rewrite in spite of how crooked the plot.
- Tonedeff, "Optimist"

Straight up with the force to keep fighting
Samson, Atlas, Colossus, Titan
In the dark night the torch steady lightens
I'm strong, cast iron heart of the lion
A mighty foundation to a tower of power
With the energy needed to turn the seed into a flower
- Dilated Peoples (Rakaa Iriscience), "No Surrender, No Retreat"

A President is No Dark Knight

I have to make a confession:  I am obsessed with the movie The Dark Knight.  I think I’ve watched the DVD about forty times - and it only came out two months ago.  The film has even leapfrogged Dr. Strangelove, Braveheart, and The Big Lebowski, and is firmly ensconced behind Godfathers I & II on my list of favorite movies.  The movie combines a realism that gives it a human quality not seen in many comic book adaptations, yet never lets you forget that it is, after all is said and done, a comic book.  

Andrew Klavan, though, writing for the Wall Street Journal about a week after the film’s release in July, believes that the film is an homage to now-former President George W. Bush - even going so far as to claim the “Bat Signal” used by Commissioner Gordon bares a close resemblance to a “W”.

Klavan avers The Dark Knight,

“ at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand.”

This is, of course, absolute nonsense more suited to a child than anyone who can refer to themselves as a “grown up” and keep a straight face.  Klavan goes on to compare the movie favorably to other big budget hits like 300 and Lord of the Rings (movies I also love) - while ignoring the fact that 300 champions militarism, eugenics, and a monarchical system - bemoaning the fact that “conservative” views of moral clarity are relegated to the world of fantasy.  This, of course, is only possible because the idea that the world is merely split between opposing camps of good and evil is a fantasy unto itself.

Klavan tells us, “And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction.”  This, though, blurs the line between fantasy and reality once again.  Al Qaeda is not the Joker and George W. Bush (or Barack Obama, George Washington, or any president) is not Batman.  Batman can make judgements that eschew moral equivalency because Batman lives in a world that does not exist.  Al Qaeda is not a nihilistic organization.  Though undoubtedly willing to employ violence, destruction, and murder, Al Qaeda does have a purpose, and one does not have to agree with that purpose to be cognizant of it.  

Should the American people put there faith in a hope that President Bush - or Barack Obama - would have the moral fortitude that Bruce Wayne possesses?  Are we to expect any person to not allow the type of power a president can wield to corrupt them?  This would require Americans to suspend, not only their disbelief, but their system of government that keeps that type of power in check even in the face of evil.  No adult should be naive enough to think that a president can be as incorruptible as Batman.

Klavan destroys his own argument in his third paragraph when he suggests that “Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.”  This certainty about reestablishing the civil liberties of the American people is perfectly fine when it has long been argued by former President Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and others in both the former and current administrations, that the threat from terrorism will never end.  Therefore, the emergency Klavan describes will never be over - and, more importantly, the civil liberties decimated in the name of stopping evil will never be restored.

That, of course, is the ultimate tragedy hidden in the absurdity that Klavan proposes.

So, to paraphrase Lloyd Benson’s famous admonishment from the 1988 vice presidential debate, “I know the Dark Knight, I have seen the Dark Knight, and Mr. Klavan....George Bush is no Dark Knight.”

Testing Economic Theory with Music

Today we're going to do an economic experiment with music.

Everyone Will Finally Be Equal

I am looking forward to this film like few in recent memory. Based on the short story Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, 2081 "depicts a dystopian future in which, thanks to the 212th Amendment to the Constitution and the unceasing vigilance of the United States Handicapper General, everyone is finally equal..."

Team America: World Police

Team America: World Police

The greatest single, cinematic critique of U.S. foreign policy ever
By: Matt Fay

Sure, purists will tell you that Dr. Strangelove and M*A*S*H were better satirical critiques of foreign policy, but with Hollywood’s latest offerings to a large antiwar market coming across as self-righteous and preachy, Matt Stone and Trey Parker (creators of South Park, so you can see where this is going) were there to pick up the mantle left behind by Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman. 2004’s Team America: World Police may seem like a silly or trivial movie with a theme song called America, F*** Yeah and a faux-Broadway performance of a song with a chorus that goes, “Everyone has AIDS!....AIDS! AIDS! AIDS!” And, there is no doubt that there are some more prudish types out there who may find one of the longest and most graphic sex scenes ever, performed by puppets, as somewhat distasteful. It is obvious, though, that this movie was meant to be a deep, insightful, and thought-provoking look at the problems with American foreign policy, and Stone and Parker may someday be looked upon as international relations scholars for the work they did (but probably not).

Parker and Stone – the foul-mouthed purveyors of what my grandmother would have referred to as “toilet humor” – where made famous by Comedy Central’s animated series South Park, as well as subsequent movies like Baseketball and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. But Team America is, undoubtedly, their most poignant work to date. It is a film that demonstrates the consequences of an interventionist foreign policy in a way that the mainstream media and political elites constantly ignore – and, again, they do it with puppets.

Operating out of a secret base inside Mt. Rushmore, the “Team” is led by a Charlton Heston-like figure named Spottswoode, and informed by a supercomputer called “I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E.” who is blamed by Spottswoode for leading the Team to attack terrorists in the wrong country – “Bad, I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E…..that is very bad INTELLIGENCE,” to which the computer could only respond with a hang-dog look and an “I’m sorry” (Which is one more “I’m sorry” than the Bush administration has given for invading Iraq).

The movie takes place in a black-and-white world. Team America represents the good and the nebulously-defined “terrorists” represent the bad. It opens in France where the Team tracked the terrorists and their WMDs. In the process of stopping the terrorists from destroying Paris, Team America manages to destroy half the city themselves – including taking out one of the legs of the Eiffel Tower with an RPG. With INTELLIGENCE pointing to a large “terrorist gathering” in Cairo the Team jets off with new member Gary Johnston, an actor, set to infiltrate the terrorists (and deliver the classic line “I’ll put a jihad on you too”). Once again, Team America stops the terrorists and captures the WMDs, but in the process, destroys the Sphinx – earning a rebuke from the Film Actors Guild (FAG) consisting of Sean Penn, Janeane Garofalo, etc and led by Alec Baldwin. In another part of the world Kim Jong Il is revealed to be evil mastermind behind the world’s terrorists – reminiscent of the theories propagated by former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith about Saddam Hussein in the lead-up to the Iraq War – hell-bent on using Weapons of Mass Destruction to reduce every country in the world to Third World status. Of course, the United Nations attempts to get involved, leading Kim Jong Il to implore Hans Blix to stop “…breakin’ my balls here, Hans, you’re breaking my balls” before dropping the former Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq into his shark tank. The eventual blowback from Team America’s operation in Cairo comes in the form of an attack by terrorists from Derkaderkastan on the Panama Canal and leads to the capture of Team America, the destruction of their base by a suicide bomber in the form of a hot dog double-fisting Michael Moore, and an alliance between the liberal-Hollywood FAG and Kim Jong Il. In the end, Gary rises to the occasion and saves Team America and the world from Kim Jong Il’s WMDs by “out-acting” Alec Baldwin and his liberal-elitist, anti-American sensibilities.

As ludicrous as the plot, dialogue, and puppet-sex are, it is just as ridiculous to look at the world as black-and-white, good versus evil. Looking at the threat posed by terrorists to the United States as a monolithic force in the form of “Islamofacism” only makes Americans less safe. Conflating al Qaeda with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and in particular with Iran (like it did previously with Saddam Hussein), completely misrepresents the enemy. In fact, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second-in-command, has recently said that he hopes the United States goes to war with Iran to basically kill two birds with one stone. Those who want to downplay the threat, like the members of FAG, are dead wrong too, but to take a multi-faceted threat like terrorism – with its many different motivations – and trying to make it seem like a cut-and-dry case of good versus evil is irresponsible, misleading, and dangerous.

A naïve and arrogant foreign policy – like the one pursued by Team America – is counterproductive in stopping al Qaeda. Believing that America’s “inherent goodness” and American good intentions, coupled with American military power, will stop terrorism is a dangerous way to look at the world, and will only cause more problems in the future. While it is only a caricature of the real world, Team America: World Police should be required viewing in the White House of any president (democrat or republican) who believes the United States must be the world’s “policeman,” to expose them to the silliness of their good versus evil, morally bankrupt, imperialist foreign policies. Who knows, they may actually enjoy it (I have a personal hunch that Dick Cheney might get a chuckle out of it, and God knows he needs it).