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Crimes of Public Enemy



To the editors:

I'm not sure which I found more distressing, Bill Wyman's account of the homophobia and anti-Semitism that have characterized Public Enemy's career, or his blase attitude toward these views ["Bringing the noise: Public Enemy on the front lines," August 31]. Mr. Wyman proposes that because the group's former "minister of information," Professor Griff, has been the recipient of racist oppression, his bigotry should be taken less seriously. Because Germany after WWI was the victim of economic oppression, should the Nazis' anti- Semitism arouse less disdain? It is important to understand the sources of racism and bigotry, but it is equally crucial to reject them in every form.

Mr. Wyman evidently does not consider all forms of hate-speech a serious problem. He spends about a third of his article examining the group's anti-Semitism, concluding that the band seems to have moved beyond it, although he presents no retractions of those views. On homophobia, however, which he mentions only in passing, Mr. Wyman is content to believe that this hatred will soon be "beaten out" of the group's leader, Chuck D., "by critics and anyone who's a friend." Where Mr. Wyman gets this assurance from, I'm not sure. As the recent brouhaha in the city council over the Gran Fury poster demonstrates, homophobia is alive and well in our society and has few outspoken detractors outside the gay community. Mr. Wyman acknowledges that one cut on Fear of a Black Planet is "rather homophobic," but this is to be excused because "Chuck probably thought (it) was an anti-AIDS song." Either Mr. Wyman is unaware that the past decade has seen an explosion in violence committed against gays that has been justified by fear of AIDS, or he just doesn't consider that violence to be particularly important.

Public Enemy may be, as Mr. Wyman claims, "the best rock 'n' roll band in the world." There are limits, however, to what talent excuses. When we knowingly choose to turn our money and our attention over to bigots, whether they are Public Enemy, Guns N' Roses, or Sam Kinison, we have invested a share of ourselves in their culpability.

Stephen Paffrath

W. Arlington

Bill Wyman replies:

I welcome Mr. Paffrath's opinion, but regarding two such sensitive subjects feel compelled to respond.

I don't think that calling Professor Griff an "anti-Semitic dickhead" qualifies as being "blase"; and I didn't make only a passing mention of the band's homophobia: I said Chuck was an idiot on the subject and called the song "Meet the G That Killed Me" ugly. And saying that anti-Semitism has "characterized Public Enemy's career" is the sort of irresponsible inflation of the band's crimes that has rendered so many of the band's critics untrustworthy.

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