Child abuse has always been at the forefront of government priority. Yet, it is estimated that 50 percent of child abuse cases don’t even get reported. This is because most abusers are closely related to the victim. The situation is harder when it is the parents or guardians that are abusing them because they are left with no one to run to. Those who manage to speak up don’t always get the help they need. Those who become aware that they are being abused don’t always have the courage to speak up when they are already of age because of shame or because they don’t simply don’t see the point of doing so.
Many popular media personalities have started becoming more open about their abuse which has encouraged more celebrities to come out with their stories. Oprah, Terri Hatcher, Maya Angelou, Axl Rose and others have been at the forefront of this drive to encourage more people to speak up knowing that speaking up will help catch more abusers and save more children.
Music and Child Abuse
The music industry has not shied away from it too. More importantly, music has been instrumental in tackling other forms of child abuse. Perhaps one of the most popular musicians to speak about the abuse he has experienced as a child is Michael Jackson. In several interviews, he openly discussed how he was robbed off his childhood because he was forced to work as soon as he could sing. Jacson’s (1995) song, Childhood, was an ode to that childhood that he lost.
Coolio, et al (1995) released one of the most popular rap songs in history, Gangsta’s Paradise. Often interpreted as a song against racism, the song actually talks about the violent environment that children from the less fortunate communities grow up in. Crosby and Bentley (2002) wrote Concrete Angel to tell a story about a child who was beaten to death by her mother.
Two contemporary artists who wrote and sung about child abuse are Linkin Park (2001) and Eminem (2002). Crawling was a song about getting beaten up by parents and Cleaning Out My Closet talked about being neglected and being physically abused by a drug addicted mother.
The Music and the Musician
Authenticity is one of the most debated issues in music. Many pop artists are frowned upon because they don’t write their own songs. Such a practice positions music as a commodity rather than a shared art. When this is meshed with a highly personal issue such as abuse, the problem becomes compounded. It is difficult to relate a personal experience to a commodity. This is what sets the five songs that were chosen apart from other songs.
All of the songs are on a first person perspective which gives the song a more personal feel. Except for one, each of the songwriters admitted being abused as a child. It provides the song a certain level of authenticity. Cleaning Out My Closet, for example, was Eminem’s personal experience as a child with his drug addicted mother.
Crawling (Linkin Park, 2001) on the other hand was a surprising revelation which formed part of the appeal of the song. Linkin Park is known to be a very private band. Never the kind to extensively discuss their personal lives, the lead vocalist, Chester Bennington, revealed that he was abused as a child by an older friend.
Jackson’s (1995) Childhood was the only song he has ever written about the childhood he lost after being put to work by his father as part of the Jackson 5 as early 5 years old. Coolio (1995) experienced discrimination and neglect as a child African American and poor.
There are many songs that have been written about child abuse but what makes these five songs unique is the perspective by which the issue is tackled. It does not talk about the emotion that prevails during the abuse or the act of being abuse. All of the songs talked about the effects of the abuse. Childhood (Jackson, 1995) credited his eccentricities and childish behaviour to being forced to work at a time when he should have been playing and studying like ordinary children.
Crawling (Linkin Park, 2001) spoke of how abuse can result to insecurity and self-destructive behaviour while Gangsta’s Paradise (Coolio et al, 1995) talks about the cycle of violence that children are forced to live because violence is the only way they know to survive.
Production and Emotion
The songs’ tempo is consistent with the messages it communicate. Childhood (Jackson, 1995) was a ballad and highly melodic. This strengthens the song’s message of how an adult desires to live a childlike life. Cleaning Out My Closet (Eminem & Bass, 2002) and Crawling (2001) are both angry and intense which call for strong and quick guitar rift and loud bass.
There are two articles that talked about two of the songs on this list and both are interesting. Hester-William (2007) related Cleaning Out My Closet to masculinity and Eminem talked about being violent towards his mother. However, Hester-William chose to analyse the song for how it could encourage fans to be violent towards their parents. The article totally missed out on how the song talks about how neglect and physical abuse could prompt children to grow up to become violent.
Quinn (2008) was more accurate in interpreting Gangsta’s Paradise’s message. It credited the song for how accurate it portrays the possible effects abuse children might experience when they grow up poor and in a violent community.
These two sources are perfect examples of how the media itself may be prone to biases that could distort the message of the songs. Hester-William’s aversion to what Eminem represents affected how the song analysis turned out to be a commentary about the artist.
Radform (2003) talked about how media fail to provide an accurate perspective on how serious child abuse is in the U.S. Media zeroes in on controversial child abuse cases. Exposure is given to stories of abduction or extreme physical abuse that leads to death but choose to miss out on more cases. Pulling out statistics of abuse and comparing them with the time and effort that different media agencies put on abuse cases, Radform is able to provide the readers an idea on how distorted media’s portrayal is on the real situation of child abuse in the U.S.
The songs chosen are important in shedding light to the natural tendency of the media and market to associate the art with the artist. Since the songs were performed and written by the artists who also experienced abuse, it became more powerful and effective. Abuse, being a highly personal experience requires for a highly personal approach if it is ever to be dealt with. The songs reviewed are potentially more effective frameworks to encourage more people to talk about the abuse they experienced part because of the quality of the song and in part because of the musicians who sung them.
Whether this is the right way of interpreting art is not the issue. What is significant is the understanding that for the greater part of the popular market, the art and artist is one the same. This insight is an important building block in understanding how popular culture is formed and nurtured.