The 1972 trilogy Godfather; 1992 crime and drama thriller—Reservoir Dogs; 2015 biography drama—Narcos; 1991—Boys in the Hood; 2002 Shottas; and the 1997 American thriller Gang Related—What did all these movies have in common? They all exhibited how living an illegitimate lifestyle almost always result in an entangled web of bloody reward. But also they subliminally glorified the gang culture, killings, incarceration, at times even making them seem excusable—“good guy” characters are created out of the same ones shedding blood.
Equally, the genres of hip-hop, rap and dancehall have long been associated with wine, women, and song. Throughout the years, the lyrical content of these songs continued to portray a “get rich quick or die trying” practice—exalting guns and violence.
In one of imprisoned Jamaican Dancehall artiste, Adidja “Vybz Kartel” Palmer's 2019 offerings, titled Any Weather, he makes a call to all “ghetto youth to get their money longer” through any means necessary.
Fellow Jamaican artiste Andre “Squash 6ix Boss” Whittaker, talks about “never leaving his gun” and “locking down large turfs from state to state,” in his 2018 single Ohh Lala La.
It's not an anomaly to see rappers illustrate and advertise their illegal hustles through rhymes, which afforded them lavish lifestyles. Whether these songs were inspired by true events or not, the message was already conveyed and now imprinted in the minds of young people.
After the July 2019 killing of Sea Lots reputed gang leader Akini "Dole" Adams, several videos circulated showing the extreme adoration for the deceased who lay in a coffin while his 'disciples' played his favourite dancehall songs and embellished him with his signature oversized gold chains, designer clothes and money—scattering local and foreign currency on top his body. These acts of praises were performed before the eyes of young children.
With this reality and the easy access to media, what messages are being sent to young minds? Can what they view and hear really influence their thoughts and behaviours?
Keep a close eye and ear on adolescents and teens
Psychologist Michele Carter said yes. Speaking to the Sunday Guardian, Carter, also an educator, said it must be understood that adolescents and young adults are at a stage in their lives when they're developing and internalising a lot of information that they are constantly bombarded with and, like it or not, information influences behaviour.
“We live in a contemporary world where we have social media giving young people access to all types of information and information influences us. It influences our thought processes, behaviour and decision-making process. And we cannot deny the impact of this, because the media is one of the major instruments we use to gain information in today's world,” Carter said.
Noting that the first point of socialisation of any individual starts in the home, Carter said as they grow and they mature, they are also exposed to other forms of influence in the form of behaviours learned at school, from their peers and in today's world-media, which is at their finger tips.
“At the adolescent and teenage stage, they are forming and transforming, adapting their belief systems. Whatever they consume will naturally have an impact on what they are drawn to and what appeals to them, rather than what is right or wrong,” Carter explained.
According to Carter, the information someone receives could have a positive or negative impact on them and this depended on how the information was internalised, processed and used.
Carter said there was a need for parents to keep a close eye and ear on what their adolescents and teens were listening to and watching.
“If you look at a young person you are always seeing them on their phones, they always have on their headpieces—they're always listening to music. And if they are constantly listening to music that's speaking a lot of violence, encouraging them to pick up a gun, or to engage in certain illicit behaviours, there is the 90 per cent chance, they would be influenced in some way to engage in these behaviours, especially if all their peers are listening to the same music and behaving in the same manner,” Carter explained.
“We have to remember that music and the shows today are all made in an appealing nature to young individuals because these artistes have to sell their songs and movies. The more views they get and the more their music is bought, the more money they make, so obviously they are going to fashion their songs and shows in a manner that will appeal to young people who is their target audience.”
One is responsible for the decisions and choices one makes. This is what criminologist Daurius Figueira believes. In an interview with Figueira, he said the worldview dispersed by the media does not outfit the consumer for the actual perpetration of crime. That is a personal choice made by the individual and in many cases, it is the failure to choose but simply to let her/his peers choose for them. He said, there must be an enabling environment and/or enabling person/s, the leader and the follower.
“The enabling push factors arise from cultures of criminal behaviour where persons so inclined find space, support and encouragement to carry out criminal acts for in these spaces crime is an accepted way of life and business by which you earn,” said Figueira
While Carter agreed that the final decision to engage in any behaviour lies with the individual, she said there are also driving factors that influence decisions and choices.
“We must bear in mind, when it comes to young people, again, they are now developing and finding their path in life, especially the adolescent. The adolescent is dealing with a lot of changes in their life physically. And with these physical changes come emotional and psychological changes as well and they are in fact at a stage where they are influenced by the environment around them.
“They want to look like the people they idolise. They wear the same clothes like them, talk like them and walk like them, and if something like a drink or a brand of shoe is endorsed by their idols, they want those things too. And this is not abnormal behaviour for an adolescent.”
She emphasised the stage of the individual's life must be taken into consideration. Carter said an older person with experience and a certain level of maturity would undoubtedly be able to make a more informed and intelligent decision than that of an adolescent.
Referring to German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson's psycho-social theory of the seven stages of the psycho-social development of human beings, Carter said it was found with the adolescent stage the individual is dealing with identity versus identity confusion.
She said in Erickson's notes he explained from the adolescent stage personality development is characterised by an identity crisis which he called a turning point—a crucial period of increased vulnerability and heightened potential, therefore during each crisis an individual is more susceptible to major modifications in identity, either positive or negative. And contrary to popular usage, an identity crisis is not a catastrophic event but rather an opportunity for an adaptive or mal-adaptive adjustment.