Cardi B Is What Happens When Social Justice Gatekeeps Mainstream Culture

(Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Let’s cut through the crap and be honest. Cardi B’s performance at the Grammys sucked. I’ve seen similar acts at strip clubs and all Cardi B really did was add a few more flashing lights and some stage setting. Even the song W.A.P. isn’t really good. It’s just edgy, but it’s not even edgy enough to be remembered in the same vein as Eminem’s “My Name Is” back in the ’90s or even anything Madonna wrote in the ’80s.

Before I get accused of being another white male who doesn’t get it, let me cut you off and say that I probably get it better than the people who think I don’t. Cardi B is just pulling a trick I’ve seen dozens of times throughout my 37 years of life. It’s a pattern. Someone comes along with a performance of some kind meant to shock and generate buzz. The youth latch onto it because of its dynamism and it becomes one of those moments in history that people look back on as a legendary moment where the establishment was aghast while everyone else had fun.

But while Cardi B’s performance falls into the same category as the “shock and awe” performances of the past, it still manages to fall short. People don’t seem to care, even the people that are supposed to care. As I reported on Tuesday, the Grammys tanked in the ratings, especially in the 18-40 aged audience that the entertainment industry considers their key demographic.

(READ: Borderline Porn Couldn’t Save the Grammys From a Breathtaking Ratings Crash)

Even just reading the comments section of the YouTube video featuring the Grammy performance was mostly comments about how it all seemed ridiculous. Cardi B’s over-sexualized performance is just tired. It’s been done before and too many times. Society is just used to it now and the only thing the entertainment industry can think to do is turn up the sexualization even further. Soon we’re going to have performances that make the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake Super Bowl moment seem tame…and nobody will care.

We’ll shrug it off and move on, but mainstream culture won’t be able to. It’ll continue to turn up the shock factor in hopes that, at some point, it’ll be cool to be shocking again.

But this is its only course of action because agreeing that this kind of performance is over the top to the point of being boring is “racist” or “sexist,” and one thing that our mainstream culture fears most is being painted with these labels. It wasn’t that long ago that people were being called racist for their outrage over the Netflix movie “Cuties” which featured hyper-sexualized dances by underage girls.

Sam Adams at Slate made a point to say that conservatives were angry because of our “terror” of “African sexuality.”

It’s a way of winking at QAnon’s insistence that the Democratic Party is a haven for pedophiles, and it ties in neatly with the terror of Black and especially African sexuality that lurks just beneath the moral panic around Cuties. So much of the furor has centered on the sight of the girls in Amy’s mixed-race dance group twerking, emulating a style of dance linked to the African diaspora and then picked up by white artists like Miley Cyrus. In the Netflix poster that started all this, it’s the white girl in Amy’s troupe who seems most confident and defiant, while she looks at the camera with sideways, uncertain eyes.

Karen Attiah made it clear that the backlash was about nothing but racism at the Washington Post:

In many ways, the conservative outrage in the United States about “Cuties” and the sexually explicit Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion song “WAP” is a reminder that in a country where Black women and girls were once treated as property, there are few things as threatening as their ability to make choices about their own bodies.

I could go on, but you get the point. This was in defense of a movie featuring underage girls dancing about as explicitly as Cardi B was at the Grammys. If it’s racist to criticize a movie featuring hyper-sexualized children, it’s definitely racist to criticize anything Cardi B does. The industry has no choice but to say “full steam ahead” and put on performances that require minimal talent to do so they can sit back and say they’re “cultured,” or “woke,” or just be disqualified from any of the “isms” or “phobes” the social justice left likes to throw around haphazardly nowadays.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not just a racial thing. If it was Miley Cyrus doing it, they would say the blowback is an attack on women’s freedom of sexuality and the patriarchy just trying to control women more. It’s not really about racism or sexism, it’s about cultural control.

There’s actually good music being created out there right now. In my personal opinion, Lord Huron is currently the best band in the western world with The Midnight running neck and neck with it. If you haven’t heard of either of these bands despite their wild popularity, then don’t be surprised. They’re not currently running any of the necessary themes for the mainstream media to put them at the forefront of our culture. They’ll make appearances on late-night shows, but they’ll never get the attention that Cardi B gets. The conversations they generate aren’t the kind they want happening right now.

They want to talk about women’s oppression in a patriarchal world, racism in America, and even how boring fundamentalists are holding back “art.” They’ll continue to push try-hard edginess and cookie-cutter, yawn-inducing, seen-it-before performances on people (especially the youth) that are completely devoid of actual substance, emotion, or thoughtfulness, depriving people of an experience they would have been much richer for having had.

Social justice is holding our culture back and has it in a state of arrested development. Thing is, I’m not sure we need to do anything to combat it. As we’re seeing unfold before us, people are tuning out on their own. The audience is getting up and leaving, including the youth. It’s only a matter of time before this all collapses under its own weight.

The sooner the better.