Once perfectly described by Jon Stewart as ‘the mayor of Bullshit Mountain’, Fox News host Bill O’ Reilly is in a huff once more and this time has Beyonce in his cross-hairs.
In a recent feature on his Fox News show ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, the host took aim at Beyonce, accusing the singer on being an irresponsible role model for young girls, due the sexual content of her recent output. Describing videos like the one accompanying ‘Partition’ as “libertine” and “harmful to children”, O’Reilly took issue with Beyonce’s place in TIME’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people; rubbishing the notion that singer empowers women.
Using figures generated from an analysis of the US’ 2013 census, O’ Reilly stated that not only was Beyonce aware of the high levels of teenager pregnancy within ethnic communities, but her music acted as a catalyst to the problem, by corrupting impressionable young minds. Let’s discuss.
Firstly, to accuse Beyonce of knowingly creating music that encourages teen pregnancies is a laughably desperate and reductive assertion. Though the singer’s last album was arguably her most explicit in terms of its sexual content, the material needs to be viewed in its proper context; namely, that Beyonce has been happily married for 6 years, to a man she’s been with for over a decade.
Yes songs like ‘Drunk in Love’, ‘Partition’, ‘Blow’ and ‘Rocket’ are explicit in terms of their lyrical content, but as the singer has already stated, her choice of subject matter is meant to empower women to embrace their sexuality, within a loving relationship. In fact, this is an area where Beyonce has been remarkably consistent over the past few years, her previous album 4 featuring songs like ‘Love on Top’, ‘Best thing I never had’ and ‘Till the end of time’, all of which are as close as you’ll get to conservative exaltations of marriage within modern day RnB.
Alongside her more obvious battle cry for strong young women to rule in a world in which gender inequality still persists, those who’ve followed her career to date will tell you that Beyonce has been harping on about happy families now for a good number of years. Yet, whilst she may be perceived to have a fairly traditional view of marriage and family, her promotion of female sexuality following the acquisition of such conservative ideals, is a thoroughly modern concept and one that irks right-wingers such as O’Reilly.
Whilst tunnel vision tirades are among O’Reilly’s list of specialties, his decision to go after Beyonce seemed especially dubious to me and I wondered whether the host’s real frustration wasn’t the one he was professing on air. When taking a closer look at O’Reilly’s accusation, it’s clear that his comments ignore context and fail to take into account facts that clearly contradict his own line of argument. In other words – he has an agenda and he’s sticking to it; hardly a surprising notion considering the network he works for.
Teenage pregnancy, while undoubtedly a problem, is in decline in the US – the number has actually fallen by 51% for black teenagers over the past two decades; these statistics are merely an excuse to target high profile members of a thriving music culture.
For those of us who’ve purchased an album in the last 10 years, sexual content and narratives of promiscuity have been so monotonous in their commonality; it’s almost a surprise when they don’t appear. There are plenty of artists whom O’Reilly could’ve rightfully targeted and plenty more who should be made to feel uncomfortable for their role in the glamorization of gang culture and misogyny; the culture is far from innocent. Yet I’d argue that what O’Reilly is actually uncomfortable about is the prevalence of black stars in today’s culture and the seal of tacit approval the likes of Beyonce and Jay Z have received from their participation in White House circles.
Since their marriage in 2008, Beyonce and Jay Z have superseded ‘Brangelina’ to become the most powerful celebrity couple in the world; a black power couple, with a formidable influence over how popular culture develops. Attending the inaugural neighbourhood ball the evening Obama was sworn in, Jay Z stood in a tux watching Beyonce sing a rendition of Etta James’ ‘At Last’, as another black power couple slowly danced across the floor.
A drug dealer, turned rapper, turned entrepreneur, Jay Z ‘s life is an alternative take on the American dream and one that’s bound to have made many in the right wing media uncomfortable. Just as his wife was included in TIME’s 2014 list, Jay Z made the publication’s 2013 register; alone their influence is considerable, together it’s unparalleled and their potential to enact change, very real. O’Reilly’s isn’t alone in his discomfort, he’s merely echoing the opinions of many who watch his show, whether they acknowledge it or not, their fear stems from a deep seated racial prejudice, a balance of power that’s slowly being drawn level. Hip-hop’s greatest power couple are merely an infuriatingly public symbol of that progress.
Moving on from all this theorising, we shouldn’t assume that Beyonce’s position should make her immune to criticism; the singer is still yet to justify the reference (“eat the cake Anna Mae”) to domestic violence in ‘Drunk in Love’ and has faced accusations of hypocrisy over doctoring Instagram posts of herself, whilst pushing a single about not conforming to stereotypes of what’s deemed to be ‘pretty’. With great power comes great responsibility etc, etc.
What is for certain is that we should expect more of such targeted campaigns from media figures such as the ‘mayor of Bullshit Mountain’, power and influence frighten and Beyonce’s potential to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives shouldn’t be underestimated.