- On January 26, 2020
- America First, Capitalism, Democracy, Ethnocentrism, Facism, Globalization, Individualism, Nationalism
Here is another post I wrote for my political psychology doctoral class, where we have spirited discussions based on topics our instructor assigns. For this write-up, our professor had our class watch rap singer Leikeli47’s ‘Money’ video; we then had to break down the singer’s lyrics and identify phrases that speak to issues of identity, culture, violence, and economics.
Here’s Leikeli47’s ‘Money’ video, as assigned for analysis in my political psychology class:
My review and analysis are shared below
Several of Leikeli47’s (2006) ‘Money’ song lyrics are strikingly telling:
- “All my life, I had to grind and hustle”
- “Right now, I’m chasing Yen in Dover Street again”
If the singer has money, then why is she still “chasing Yen” and describing her journey as a lifelong “grind and hustle?”
Clearly, these lyrics shed light on Leikeli47’s continuous state of working hard for (her) money. The singer herself underscores this idea in an August 2016 (Berry, 2016) interview with the following explanation:
Another noteworthy ‘Money’ lyric is:
- “I had to work like Kobe just to shine like Russell”
Regarding this lyric, the singer juxtaposes Kobe Bryant’s legendary work ethic with Bill Russell’s amazing success on the ball court (Berry, 2016).
While Leikeli47’s ‘Money’ spotlights how hard she’s had to work (and how hard she has to continue to work) to earn her money, the lyrics also spotlight that Leikeli47 doesn’t come “from money” nor did her upbringing take place with a silver spoon in her mouth.
We understand from Leikeli47’s song that she came from “Brooklyn, home of the cutthroats” — a stark contrast from the 90210 Beverly Hills type of setting, where folks don’t normally have to sleep with “one eye open.”
Therefore, in between the lines of the lyrics, we can glean that the singer came from a lower economic environment and worked hard then (and continues to work hard now) to achieve the success she’s achieved today.
In addition to the above-shared points, the ‘Money’ lyrics also describe Leikeli47’s personal narrative, which (within the context of the song’s message) emphasizes her pursuit of self-enhancement and social mobility. Such a pursuit, and her social change or rise, has been made possible through the singer’s talent and hard work. The belief that one’s economic station in life is unlimited and/or possible to transcend is at the crux of the American dream’s underpinnings.
Upward social mobility
Tajfel and Turner (1979) highlighted the idea of “social change” by referencing a passage from Hirschman (1970), which states:
“Success — or, what amounts to the same thing, upward social mobility — has long been conceived in terms of evolutionary individualism. The successful individual who starts out at a low run of the social ladder, necessarily leaves his own group as he rises; he “passes” into, or is “accepted” by, the next higher group. [pp. 108-109].”
In other words, evolutionary individualism — which Hirschman (1970) describes as a traditional American tenet and one that holds the national imagination — is what, in large part, compels upward social mobility.Without supportive and positive beliefs toward individualism, social mobility may not be as possible.
Tajfel and Turner (1979) describe how when social groups in the society are “perceived as characterized by marked stratification” (p. 35), social mobility is nearly impossible or very difficult for individuals to achieve and are, therefore, not as able to remove themselves from unsatisfactory, underprivileged, or stigmatized group membership (p. 35).
A flexible and permeable society
Leikeli47’s social mobility, thus, is made possible in a “flexible and permeable” society, one that allows individuals, if dissatisfied with conditions imposed on their lives for whatever reason (including economics and finance), the possibility to move to another group (through hard work and talent) that better suits them (p. 35).
Such a flexible and permeable environment, where individuals are free to leave or disassociate psychologically with their current in-group (or economic station) to move from one group to another whenever they wish can only occur in a society where individualism beliefs are socially shared.
An individual’s mobility, however, is not necessarily a ubiquitous possibility in other societies throughout the world where social mobility can be far more difficult, discouraged, and at times even halted if not outright prevented.
Since 9/11, the American narrative around money has been in a state of flux because US society at large — as we understood from Bhabha’s University of California lecture (Bhabha, 2008) — is also in a state of transition. For close to 20 years, the US has been experiencing a surge of ethnocentrism and, at the time of this writing (as well as under the current administration), this ethnocentrism is resulting in a steady and gradual retreat from globalization initiatives.
As a result, the current President has been actively scaling down (and in some cases entirely withdrawing) the country from globalization-themed endeavors over the past three years, citing “America First” and “nationalist” priorities. This inward advancement away from globalization is a trend happening in Europe as well, as demonstrated by England’s withdrawal from the European Union.
The retreat from globalization, and the embrace toward ethnocentrism, results in reduced or contested monies to various US foreign alliances and historically friendly governments from readily receiving US foreign aid as they once enjoyed. Moreover, the practice of characterizing globalization as a conspiracy rather than a set of problems to be solved is rapidly becoming widely adopted by the current administration and its ardent supporters.
While these factors influence and impact American narratives about economics and the global narrative, there’s a more expensive, darker narrative underway in between all the globalization-retreats and surges of ethnocentrism; one which threatens to further exacerbate economic inequity and cycles of conflict and violence: fascism.
Ethnocentrism and mistrust of globalization — as are now occurring throughout the US — are core features of the fascism of the 1920s and 1930s (Snyder, 2019). Other features include the celebration of will and violence over reason and law, the rise of a leader with a mystical connection to his people, transitions away from public discussions and meaningful voting, and a movement towards political fiction, fake democracy, and personalist regimes (p. 16). As a US citizen, it’s difficult to ignore aspects of these core fascist features that are happening unchecked, right under our noses.
How does this all relate to the US’s economic narratives, one may ask.
The answer is rather multi-pronged.
Any shifts towards ethnocentrism and away from globalization are dangerous, fascistic slippery slopes, and in fascistic and autocratic societies, we must remember as history has repeatedly taught us, that the gap between the wealthy and underprivileged are usually enormous.
In such conditions, as history has underscored many times over, the influence of the wealthy over the disadvantaged would become insurmountably magnified.
And last but hardly least, the celebrated political and economic virtue of individualism — a key pillar of capitalism and vital to a thriving, healthy democracy — would give way to the fascistic virtue of totalitarianism (p. 15.) “We understand totalitarianism as a threat to institutions, but also to selves (p. 35).”
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Bhaba, H. [University of California Television (UCTV)]. (2008, January 31). Homi Bhabha: Writing rights and responsibilities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yER4QwiSl14.
Berry, P. (2016, August 26). Leikeli47 makes it happen on new song ‘Money.’ XXL Mag. Retrieved from https://www.xxlmag.com/rap-music/new-music/2016/08/leikeli47-new-song-money.
Hirschman, A. O. (1970). Exit, voice, and loyalty: Responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states (Vol. 25). Harvard university press.
[Leikeli47]. (2016, November 3). Money (Official Video) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/JAM_ONZgPnE.
Snyder, T. (2017). On tyranny twenty lessons from the twentieth century. London: The Bodley Head.
Snyder, T. (2019). The road to unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. London: Vintage.
Tajfel, H., Turner, J. C., Austin, W. G., & Worchel, S. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. Organizational identity: A reader, 56, 65.