13 December 2013
Marketing Through the Margins: The Unrecognized Privilege of "Same Love."
Everything is racialized. Whether or not we realize it, race--and its culturally ingrained connotations--play a critical role in how we perceive music, film, and the world around us. In pop culture, a video or song's credibility is often contingent on the race of the person delivering the message. There are certain expectations tied to the performances of white versus ethnic entertainers, and different cultural standards always apply. This strange dichotomy has been on display in many seminal moments in pop culture in recent years, but it has never been more saliently presented than in Macklemore's 2012 hit, "Same Love." Although "Same Love" preaches an undoubtedly positive message charging for LGBTQ equality, it succeeds in effectively maintaining the status quo for marginalized communities. When we deconstruct and pull apart Macklemore and his hit song, we can see--that despite its good intentions--the song ultimately does more harm than good.
First, we need to accept that any message aimed at promoting the rights of all races and sexualities needs to be seen as a positive contribution to the cultural dialogue. That being said, we also need to understand that any message is capable of transmitting pernicious and hidden cultural messages--even if delivered with the best of intentions. The message of "Same Love" is obviously an important one, but the problem lies with society’s general inability to delineate between the message and the messenger. In a song with so many elements that mean so many things to so many people, it's vital to understand that the platform from which the song is shared is just as important as the song itself. To understand the harmful position from the which the song is projected, it's important to first understand Macklemore. Born as Benjamin Haggerty in Seattle to upper-middle class suburban parents, Macklemore was educated through college, and after graduating, pursued a career in hip hop with friend and producer, Ryan Lewis1. After several years in the industry, the duo found mainstream success in 2012, due largely in part to the digital dissemination of "Same Love."
Upon its release, the song was adored by critics. Macklemore landed multiple television appearances for the song--an unprecedented feat for an unsigned artist--and earned the unwavering support of many gay and lesbian celebrity figures. The song was embraced by reviewers, and some went as far as hailing the song as the "voice of contemporary civil rights," with several critics going as far as comparing Macklemore to a modern-day Martin Luther King Junior2. Of course, Macklemore didn't ask for such a degree of attention, and he certainly didn't ask to be labeled as the authoritative voice for uniquely gay or black issues. In its worshipping of Macklemore, society failed to separate the performance from the performer. The larger issue isn't that "Same Love" thrusted LGBTQ issues into mainstream discussion through comparisons to black civil rights. The problem is that someone who isn't gay--or black--is the one doing it. By conflating the struggles of two severely marginalized communities of Americans, Macklemore completely disregards and ignores his own straight, white male privilege, and only perpetuates the hierarchy that led to the marginalization of gay and black communities in the first place.
Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with Macklemore's position of privilege. The problem can be found in the lyrics of "Same Love," when the rapper repeatedly reminds listeners that "we are all the same," and that "there is no difference3.” There is no intrinsic flaw in the lyrics, rather, in the way in which the lyrics are delivered. When an affluent, white, straight performer is reminding listeners to discover their common humanity while also chiding them for their