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Common sows the seeds of dissent

Kimberley Burkart | Wednesday, August 30, 2006

There has been some question as to whom the artist Common was referring when he shouted “[Expletive] bush” during his recent performance at The Show. A debate has sprung up between two major schools of thought: Bush as United States President, and Bush as Plant.

For my part, I am at first inclined to believe that Common was indeed referring to President Bush. You see, Common is a socially conscious hip-hop artist. You can tell which artists are socially conscious because they profane the name of Bush at intervals during their concerts. It is common knowledge that any artist who does not in some way profane the name of the president during a performance is not socially conscious and actually hates the poor and downtrodden. (Third Eye Blind is, by the way, doomed to conservative hell.) So to make rude remarks about the president would serve the dual purpose of keeping his socially conscious image and letting the poor and downtrodden know just how deeply he really does care about them.

But perhaps this line of reasoning betrays my superficiality. Common is socially conscious, after all, and he doesn’t say things simply because they rhyme, like other hip-hop artists. Anything he says could have a deeper meaning, especially when it comes to enigmatic statements like “[Expletive] bush.”

This is where the second argument becomes compelling. You see, there are those who would argue that Common was actually referring to the type of woody plant that grows outside of the Joyce Center. Common grew up in the inner city, which is built mostly of concrete; indeed, many of his songs are about how these surroundings have shaped his life and opinions. Perhaps that is why he was so angry last night – he was never exposed to foliage in his youth and is bitter that Notre Dame provides them for young people today.

But Common doesn’t seem like a bitter kind of guy. It is more probable that his concern, if he did indeed refer to plants, was purely humanitarian. He assumes that most members of the Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame communities grew up in affluent neighborhoods where bushes were plentiful, and, therefore, we do not care about the poor and downtrodden. Notre Dame must be a veritable bastion of social injustice because, after all, half of its students vote Republican.

The major hole in this Bush-as-plant argument, however, is why he chose to use that particular pejorative. Dictionary.com defines the expletive as, first, “to have sexual intercourse with,” and, second, “slang. to treat unfairly or harshly.”

The first definition fails on a purely empirical basis. Plants, as most people know, do not reproduce through sexual intercourse, but are instead aided by bumblebees and the wind in a process called fertilization.

The second definition makes a bit more sense, but if Common did intend it that way, he contradicted his entire message in a single phrase. From what I could gather from remarks during his show that I could both hear and process, he wants nothing more than to spread peace and harmony throughout the world. But maybe Common is just not a “love thy enemies” kind of guy.

Or maybe he was referring to the president, but in an affectionate way. Everyone knows that profanity in hip-hop music can be as much a friendly jibe as an insult. Despite his objections to the president’s foreign policy, he could in this instance have been extending the olive branch, as it were. Perhaps, by wishing the president the best of luck in his romantic endeavors, he was trying to be the better person – or else just relate to the president on his own level.

Whether it was Bush or the bushes, something Friday night made Common very emotional. Emotional enough to use the expletive that he did, a surprising choice given that non-violent resistance to tyranny and freedom of sexual expression are some of Common’s central messages (the latter of which was made most clear to the audience during his performance).

Whatever Common’s intended meaning, I am sorry to conclude that he was at fault. It’s bad enough that his remark was, in either case, so out of context that it’s hard to be sure what he was talking about. The President of the United States, at least, is capable of defending himself against the profanity of hip-hop artists.

But as I left the Joyce Center after the concert, I noticed that the Hibiscus syriatus looked distinctly wilted. As usual, the real victims that evening were those that had no voice.

Kimberley Burkart is a sophomore English major at Saint Mary’s College. She can be contacted at kburka01@saintmarys.edu.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.