All posts by Jack Murphy

ESKETIT: A Cultural Analysis of Lil Pump

First, I must apologize for making you read the following excerpt – do skip over most of it – but it, and its like, are the subject of this essay:

100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist, 100 on my wrist, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose.

This curious bit of vernacular is the first verse of the song “D Rose,” which was written by the rapper Lil Pump. Now, these lyrics may appear to be just an odd jumble of 3 phrases, repeated dozens of times. But they happen to be a very popular jumble of 3 phrases. In less than a year, almost 50 million people have listened to “D Rose” on Spotify, and the official music video is dangerously close to 100 million views on Youtube. And “D Rose” isn’t even Lil Pump’s most popular song. In fact, “D Rose” is only the fourth or fifth most popular track on Lil Pump’s self-titled debut album.

For some more perspective, I recently attended a bat mitzvah. At the after party, tweens gleefully danced and sung along to the usual pop hits by Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. But what excited them more than anything was the song “Gucci Gang” by Lil Pump. Images of what has been dubbed the “trap life,” i.e. selling drugs, carrying guns, fucking hoes etc. were instantly adopted by dozens of 12-year-old Jewish kids. In particular, I was surprised to see these children pretend to rip lines off of their index fingers in response to the lyric “my bitch love do cocaine.” Thus, it would seem that the popularity of Lil Pump is amazingly widespread, reaching even the most unexpected audiences. So how on Earth did all of this occur? What led to the rise of Lil Pump? Well, unlike Lil Pump’s music itself, the answer is complex. Among other factors, rebellion, mindlessness, and race all play into the equation, creating a web of representations and conformity.

Before we can begin to investigate what’s behind Lil Pump, here’s some background: Lil Pump, who’s real name is Gazzy Garcia, is a 17-year-old from Miami. He was expelled from high school for fighting, and turned to rapping. Uploading his songs to the music platform SoundCloud, Lil Pump became an underground sensation as his tracks got millions of listens. Eventually in the summer of 2017, he signed a record deal with Warner Bros. Records and Tha Lights Global, all of this before his 17th birthday. His most popular song “Gucci Gang” was ranked 3rd on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at its peak and currently, in December 2017, has over 198 million listens on Spotify and just shy of 269 million views of its official music video on Youtube.

We also need to agree that Lil Pump’s music – to put it bluntly – is uninventive and doesn’t amount to much (this may be taken as subjective, so I’ll try to objectively prove this). Not only are his songs short (the tracks in his first album average around 2:00 minutes in length), but they are extremely repetitive as well. A quick analysis (using an online unique word count calculator) shows that “D Rose” has just 60 unique words out of a total of 353, while “Gucci Gang” similarly has 106 unique words out of 361. This comes out to be 17% and 29% unique verbiage respectively. In Lil Pump’s first album as a whole, in the average song there are 61 unique words out of 431 total words, amounting to 14% uniqueness. Compare this to iconic rap songs like “If I Ruled the World” by Nas which has 43% unique words, or “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls at 48% unique. All of these numbers go to demonstrate that Lil Pump is not inventive by any measure. And it’s not just his lyrics: the beats he raps over are just your run-of-the-mill trap beat; there is no innovation. Furthermore, Lil Pump’s style is copycat. Rappers like Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti already had pioneered the simplistic and repetitive style that Lil Pump has bandwagoned, with the only change being that Lil Pump has taken the trap genre to a whole new level of mindlessness. Lil Pump amounts to a “Xanned-out teenager who doesn’t tell us anything interesting about himself or his world (Kuppermann).”

Assuming that Lil Pump’s music is not itself groundbreaking, interesting, etc. it still begs the question as to why so many millions of people listen to it. The short answer is that people listen because it’s cool, because it’s hip; more importantly, people listen because it’s rebellious. With this in mind, over 20 years ago, a cultural critic named Thomas Frank predicted the rise of someone like Lil Pump. In an essay titled “Dark Age,” Frank highlights how the culture industry seeks out the “avant-garde” and digs around for underground talent in order to continually find new products and artists to bring into the mainstream fold. This action gives the consumer the impression that they are buying something organic and fresh, not some factory-made industrial gizmo. Frank details this process further in his book The Conquest of Cool, calling it a cycle of “hip consumerism” that the culture industry uses. In particular he highlights how the hip culture of the young is turned around and used in corporate advertising. Almost to a point this describes the Lil Pump phenomenon: he started out as an underground SoundCloud rapper, and after gaining attention signed with Warner Bros. Records – a culture industry mainstay. Thus, the culture industry advertises Lil Pump as hip, cool, and rebellious. Frank goes on to answer why people want the avant-garde in the first place, and consequently how the culture industry takes advantage of this. He points out that ever since the 1950’s, America has developed a countercultural and rebellious ideal. In other words, people have an urge to resist conformity, a desire to question and break rules. They feel the need to push away the “social prescriptions” that society puts on them. And of course, the culture industry happily adopts this feeling in their promotion of products. Turn on the TV and an ad will convince you how cool you’ll be if you buy that new car, how original you’ll be if you drink that soda. It is this urge to rebel that describes Lil Pump’s appeal.

The music video of “Gucci Gang” gives us a good window into how Lil Pump’s rebellious images are consumed by viewers (not the music). First, I have to point out that I’ve watched the video a handful of times to write this essay, and each time I watch, the music grows on me; it really does seem hip and cool, and the music is so simplistic and catchy that it creeps into my mind, coaxing me to like it – to accept it and convert to it. Anyways, the video opens with Lil Pump arriving at “Gucci Gang High” in a sports car. This has a double meaning because he’s arriving at a high school, but he’s also smoking a blunt, so he himself is high. There are images of beautiful women and more fancy Range Rovers and Porsches. It then shows Lil Pump walking past lockers, accompanied by a tiger (instantly upping the coolness factor), holding huge bags of weed. There are also scenes of his classmates dancing, having fun and drinking “lean” (a drink made with codeine). An older white woman – obviously out of place – brings out the lean, and even takes some time to chug down a cup herself. She is made to look like a grandmother, and the association of a grandma bringing out cookies is played upon: instead of a tray of cookies, grandma brings out a tray of narcotic drinks. This might be the most telling scene, because it indicates that everyone should take part in hanging with and listening to Lil Pump, even old ladies who we would assume spend their time crocheting and petting cats, not partying with high schoolers. Furthermore, this normalizes the rebellious ideal of the trap life to white Americans, and, in general, to people that would never conceive of taking part in those types of actions. Cementing the rebellion even more, the classmates start a food fight, and then Lil Pump smashes a pie into the face of someone who appears to be a teacher or school administrator in front of two gorgeous women gleefully looking on. Again, this implies that partaking in breaking the rules is awesome and that rebelling against authority transforms you into a cool kid. But as we learned from Thomas Frank, this is a ploy made by the culture industry. You may think you’re being countercultural by listening to Lil Pump, but in reality you’re playing right into the hands of the corporate machine.

Now, a few other aspects of Lil Pump that influence his appeal are his race and appearance. The two important items here are his rainbow-colored dreadlocks and racial ambiguity. Because Lil Pump is unoriginal in his music, he must utilize something else to be memorable. His dreads do just that: they allow him to stand out where he otherwise would not. This couples with his status as an underground SoundCloud rapper to create the facade that he’s a new and fresh artist. Moving forward, at first glance Lil Pump seems like he could be part African American. He has the dreads. And the trap genre is almost exclusively black, with major artists like Gucci Mane, Migos, Lil Uzi Vert, and ASAP Ferg. But given his real last name Garcia, he is more likely Hispanic. Really then, his race is multi-faceted. And I would go on to assert that this has allowed him to connect with a wider audience. Lighter skinned viewers might identify more with Lil Pump than other black trap artists, so this heightened association with Lil Pump brings more racial groups into the fold. (I also would like to point out that these interpretations are not the only possibilities; they do appear to be the most poignant and telling however.)

The stardom attained by Lil Pump creates a whole host of cultural problems. Since Lil Pump’s work is under the large umbrella of hip-hop and rap, his music has the effect of trivializing the greater genre from an artform of expression to a senseless commodity. And because of Lil Pump’s popularity, his music becomes representative of the entire genre in front of its mainstream audience. Therefore, the average person is likely to hear Lil Pump, and they might come to believe that this mindlessness is indicative of hip-hop. Thus, hip-hop culture is diminished. In exactly the same way, the hood/inner-city culture is also trivialized and commodified in Lil Pump’s music. The culture is negatively appropriated in the first place by Lil Pump and then is appropriated millions of times over by his listeners who consume the culture as a novel commodity. Fallacious images of the inner-city are then obtained by people who don’t know the realities of poverty. Therefore the hood culture is not only appropriated but also grossly misrepresented. This of course culminates with privileged, white 12-year-olds pretending to snort cocaine.

One more implication of Lil Pump’s rise is the fact that his initial fame on SoundCloud was completely organic. Without the culture industry, Lil Pump’s first few releases garnered millions of listens. Now this could be a sign of poor education in this country; a sign that people are not able to discern good music, art, and culture. But also, this could mean that Americans have been conditioned by the culture industry to find new forms of mindless entertainment for them. The culture industry’s past work of pumping out remedial pop culture may well have created a mechanism whereby regular people seek out mindless entertainment. If this is the case, American culture is most certainly in distress.

Good culture teaches us something about our humanity, or about our circumstance. It may point out something about society – good or bad. It may also extol a virtue, or perhaps it could be just simply beautiful and unique. Lil Pump does none of these things, so therefore, Lil Pump (and “artists” like him) creates bad culture. But alas, Lil Pump does create a culture. It is a culture of indifference – indifference to, well, everything. His purposeless rapping creates extreme disinterest towards important social and political issues, and more generally creates disinterest towards anything that may be helpful, righteous, or good for humanity.

Works Cited

Frank, Thomas C. The Conquest of Cool. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1997.

Frank, Thomas C. “Dark Age.” The Baffler, Dec. 1994,

Kuppermann, Jacob. “‘Lil Pump’ is Not Worth Your Time.” University Wire Oct 18 2017. ProQuest. Web. 12 Dec. 2017.


‘Baskets’ of Utopia in 21st Century Popular Culture

There is no doubt that American society has become – and is still becoming – more equal. Specifically, the most progress has been made concerning issues of race, gender, and sexuality. And we can see real results of this in politics, such as the presidency of Barack Obama, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and legalization of gay marriage, respectively. But many Americans just don’t care about politics. This past week in New York City, just 22% of registered voters bothered to show up to the polls (Smith). Therefore, to better investigate the effects of changing equality and to decipher the true politics of the people, we should turn to the things that people actually like. That is, we need to look at popular culture and entertainment, for everyone enjoys doing activities such as listening to music and watching TV or movies (at least on some level).

But since mass culture is such a vast structure, for this essay I would like to focus in on one aspect of it: TV comedies. So what can TV comedies tell us about our culture? Well, right off the bat, it would appear that TV comedies have followed the increase in equality. Shows like Friends and Full House that feature exclusively white characters living joyfully in the capitalist system have become less frequent. In their place, more diverse shows have cropped up like Blackish and Modern Family. With that being said, there is another facet of America’s changing equality that I’ve neglected to point out; while social norms have improved, income equality has digressed. We often hear the term: “the rich are getting richer.” Consequently, a new populism has arisen in the form of groups like the Bernie Sanders crew. So what kind of an impact does this change have on our culture? To consider this question, let’s inspect the TV comedy Baskets.

Baskets has an oddly satisfying humor despite its frequent sadism. It stars Zach Galifianakis (who also co-created the show with Louis C.K. and Jonathan Krisel and is an executive producer) as Chip Baskets, a free-spirit who’s dream is to be a clown. Initially Chip goes to France in order to be trained as a clown. This of course goes downhill as he has little money and cannot speak French. So Chip returns to his native Bakersfield, CA, and his struggles continue. He becomes a rodeo clown at a local rodeo arena, which consists of him being gored by bulls. However at the end of Season 1 the rodeo shuts down, leaving Chip completely lost. In essence, Chip does not fit into the capitalist society. His desire to be a clown is removed enough from the norms of the system that it’s extremely difficult for him to be free. Furthermore, the consequences of Chip’s quest to be a clown generate strong Utopian elements in the show.

Now, before we jump into Baskets, I want to discuss what I take to be a fair analysis of how art and entertainment operate. The idea comes from a cultural theorist by the name of Fredric Jameson in an essay titled “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture.” Jameson does a fantastic job of assimilating the theory of Adorno, who believed that mass culture is manufactured to reproduce the ruling ideology of the capitalist system in the minds of consumers, and the theories of thinkers such as Bakhtin, who put forth that mass culture gives people an image of transcendence and brings out their yearning for a more equitable and Utopian society. He basically melds the two theories together and asserts that they both exist together, and that we must consider both aspects to get the best picture of culture: “Works of mass culture cannot be ideological without at one and the same time being implicitly or explicitly Utopian as well: they cannot manipulate unless they offer some genuine shred of content as a fantasy bribe to the public” (Reification 144). This takes on an Adornian stance as Jameson contends that the Utopian element often supports the manipulative/ideological element by fooling the audience even further by giving them hope, while actively subverting that hope as their places in society is cemented. Nevertheless, the idea that there is a continuing dialectic between the two aspects appears to be more accurate than considering a cultural item to be solely ideological, or solely Utopian. And taking this idea, I am inclined to chime in that although these two aspects coexist, there still is a spectrum wherefore every type of artwork will have one aspect more prevalent over the other (or maybe they could be in equal form). For example, Jameson thinks that art in mass culture is influenced more heavily by ideology, in fact he asserts that ideology dominates the Utopian element and puts it to use for its own purposes. But one could also think of a scenario where a work of art is characterized more strongly by its Utopian element. And such a scenario manifests itself in Baskets.

To start this analysis of Baskets, I want to consider Chip’s mom Christine Baskets, played by Louie Anderson who, to be a little blunt, is a heavy-set old man. One particularly Utopian episode is Season 2 Episode 4: “Ronald Reagan Library.” After the rodeo closes down (among other things), Chip is devastated, so he becomes a hobo and starts riding the rails. Eventually, he joins a crew of transients who end up getting arrested for trespassing. So Christine has to come and bail Chip out of jail. Okay, so, in the jail’s waiting room, she happens to hit it off with the father of one of Chip’s hobo friends. And this man, named Ken, happens to be an elderly black man. So the scene is already surprising in its embrace of freedom and equality, where we have an obese white woman (played by a man) flirting with an elderly black man. To make things more entertaining, Christine invites Ken to tour the Ronald Reagan Library, because of course Christine is a huge Reagan fan. Thus, not only are gender, age, race, and body image norms overturned, but the framework of political stance is also thrown out the window. In this instance the Utopian vision comes from the fact that it is conceivable and even normal to the audience that something like this would happen, and that it’s a good thing. It also exemplifies the shift in equality that America has experienced, for something of this nature would have been alien a few decades ago.

Often a Utopian ideal will include some aspect of anarchy; a situation where there are no rules or laws. Now, humans do not always do what is best for themselves and their communities, so anarchy can become destructive. Baskets is quick to snuff out this scenario as an element of its Utopianism. To see why, let’s dive deeper into what transpires when Chip joins the band of hobos. In short summary, Chip is initially overjoyed to have found some like-minded friends. These people turn out to share a love for performance with Chip; they each have some schtick that they perform for audiences on the street. But the joy starts to melt when Chip, along with the viewer, begins to realize that the other hobos are doing bad things. They shoplift. They trespass. This culminates when the group breaks into an empty house for a night. The members go straight to the drug cabinet and start shooting up substances and pop random pills. During this whole process, Chip is utterly frightened and the viewer gets the same feeling, the feeling of shock and stomach-dropping fear when something good turns sour. In this way, the viewer is made very uncomfortable about the idea of complete anarchy. Therefore, the Utopian aspect of Baskets is not meant to feature a dangerous sort of anarchy, but rather a type of warm freedom of equality and what we will see next as a freedom from the banality of a capitalist society.

What I want to close this study of Baskets with is an examination of how the show views our society. As I mentioned earlier, income inequality is very high here in the U.S, and while America is the land of opportunity, life isn’t fun and great for everyone. We will see that Baskets plays off of this fact. First off, there are two characters that indicate the show’s stance towards capitalism. There is Chip’s friend Martha, who has one of the most boring and trivial jobs one could conjure up: she works in the insurance division of Costco. Additionally, Martha comes across as an extremely boring person; she has a monotone voice and doesn’t do a whole lot in general. She’s just your average robotic cubicle worker. And then there is Chip’s twin brother Dale (yes Zach Galifianakis plays both roles, and yes they are named after the Disney chipmunks). Dale is the “dean” of Baskets Career College (probably not accredited) which offers classes in various disciplines such as ice cream truck management and ketchup kreation; and Dale himself actually was a student at his own college where he earned a degree in college management. So just think of it as a slightly worse Trump University. This spoofing of small businesses further parodies capitalism. Dale is also a very materialistic person, gaining pleasure from consumable goods. He also is in the middle of a divorce with his wife, and his kids are not fond of him. But the biggest break from capitalism comes in the final episode of Season 2. Christine’s mother passes away and wills all of her property, including her house, to Christine. She then proceeds to sell the house and purchase an Arby’s, because at this point Chip is working random birthday parties as a clown and Dale actually loses administrative control of his business, so both boys are in need of jobs. So she undertakes this new business operation in the hopes of bringing her family together. But she soon realizes that Chip is very depressed, for he has no opportunities to be a clown. Thus, she takes the initiative and sells the Arby’s franchise. She then proceeds to buy the old rodeo arena. In other words, Chip can finally live out his dream of being a clown on his own terms – he won’t have to be trampled by bulls or humiliated by 10-year olds any longer. On a deeper level though, Christine’s decision is a rebuke of corporatism (through the symbol of Arby’s) and the banality of that culture. Instead she chooses the happiness of her son, a happiness that could not readily be satisfied by capitalist society. These examples are all facets of Baskets’ Utopianism, for they aren’t satisfied with present condition, and want something more out of society and life. They also coincide with modern populism and disenchantment with the staggering wealth gap in America.

Generally, given the evidence, Baskets is heavily Utopian. There is of course the accompanying ideological element, for Baskets is a for-profit show produced by a firm in the culture industry and it’s setting is within the capitalist system. And surely one could argue that there are aspects of Baskets that reinforce societal norms and the power of the ruling ideology. I am of the impression however, that Baskets has enough pro-equality, anti-capitalist, and other Utopian elements to outweigh any argument to the contrary. In other words, Baskets is on the Utopian side of the spectrum, not the ideological side. Now I would like to make a bit of educated speculation: mass culture is shifting Utopian, and its creators are lessening the domineering grasp of the culture industry upon the people. Backing up this assertion is the growing equality of many societal facets, the backlash of certain populist groups against growing income inequality, and, importantly, shows like Baskets. Of course, this hypothesis must be tested upon many more cultural items to lift it out of being a speculative theory, and I do stress that it is speculative. But it’s also a logical assertion, for it holds with the evidence that has been presented. Then again, the situation is undoubtedly more complex, so more study is needed.


Works Cited

Jameson, Fredric. “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture.” Social Text, no. 1, 1979, pp. 130–148. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Smith, Greg B. “NYC’s Dwindling Voter Turnout Hits New Low.” NY Daily News, 9 Nov. 2017,


Statues and Stuff

The political climate has become dangerously nasty here in the U.S, and all of that animus came to a head in Charlottesville last August. It doesn’t need much explaining: we all heard about it; we were all outraged by the events. It definitely was a low point in our public discourse. Now, one of the immediate effects of Charlottesville was to bring the issue of statue removal out into the open. The whole Charlottesville fiasco revolved around a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and since a person was killed over that monument, statues must be a pretty big deal. And in fact, they are a big deal for our culture, because they are supposed to represent the ideals that we respect, revere, and hold dear. So naturally, when a group feels that a monument does not reflect their values, they will attempt to replace it or rid themselves of it completely. While on the other hand, people will vigorously defend a monument when they feel it’s worthy. But how exactly does a person make a decision upon the acceptability of something like a monument?

Well, the way I conceive of it, it all comes down to two different scenarios. Either a person will rely heavily upon pure ideology and emotions, or a person will rely primarily upon logical thinking based on facts. (In the context of this argument, I’m taking ideology to be the ideas and frames of thought that we fall back upon subconsciously. Essentially our inherent intellectual biases.) Now, if we look at which is the dominant method, it would be the former because social and cultural life are “governed by ideologies.” This occurs largely because in order to guide our choices, it’s convenient and comfortable for us to pick from the things we know. Especially in extremely emotional situations like Charlottesville, our instincts grab for the quickest reaction from the framework of our mind – our ideologies. Now, this becomes a problem when we consider the philosophical claim that ideologies operate by thinking about things as though they don’t have histories. For example, when we go and buy a shirt we never stop to consider its (likely) history of being made in a sweat shop in Vietnam or Honduras. It just does not cross our minds. Similarly, the statue controversy is also evidence for this claim.

To see why this is the case, consider that in the aftermath of Charlottesville, we saw a swift movement by many city councils across the country to remove Confederate monuments in their towns. One personal instance of this is my hometown in Montana, where a Confederate fountain was promptly removed following Charlottesville. But what was also promptly removed was the public debate concerning the removal of the fountain that had been going on for years prior, since the Ferguson riots. In an instant, a logical debate about the merits and drawbacks of the fountain evaporated and was replaced by a view of it as simply a racist object – no history, no facts, just racist. Similarly in Durham, North Carolina, a statue of a generic Confederate soldier was torn down by protesters. And then for good measure, the protesters took turns stomping on the bust to really teach it a lesson. Obviously these peoples’ actions were dictated solely by their ideologies. What I mean is that most would not classify stamping down on rocks as logical behavior. Really, all these people knew was that the item they were dealing with was racist and that it must go; thus, no thought was put into the history and context of the object. In effect, they only took in a portion of the statue’s qualities because their political ideologies took a front seat in their thought processes.

Now you – the reader – are probably thinking that in the case of these statues, it’s a good thing that people are acting on their ideologies because Confederate monuments really are racist and should have no place in America. Well, you would be correct….to a point. To see why, consider that if ideology does shutter us from seeing the full picture of an object, and if we are relying on ideology in our assessment of statues, we are not getting the full picture of this problem. Therefore, to illustrate how we can get a wholesome analysis of a statue or historical figure, I will outline with two examples how we can use a logical and fact-based approach to come to a more informed decision.

First we will go to Memphis, Tennessee where there’s a statue of a Confederate general named Nathan Bedford Forrest. By any standards, Forrest was a bad dude. According to, before the Civil War, he owned several plantations and many slaves. He also amassed a small fortune in the horrendous trading of slaves. During the War, Forrest became a vicious cavalry commander. In 1864, at the Battle of Fort Pillow, Forrest slaughtered hundreds of Union soldiers – many of them free blacks – after they had surrendered. After the War, Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize freedmen and ensure the survival of the Southern tradition, becoming the group’s first “Grand-wizard” ( Given this information, we can make a logically informed decision about the kind of man Forrest was, and upon whether we should accept a monument in his honor to stand in a public space. And with these facts, any fair-minded individual would deem Forrest a traitor, killer, terrorist, racist, etc. and would find it repulsive to honor him publicly in any way. Really, all one needs to consider is the scenario where an African-American from Memphis has to walk by a statue of the founder of the KKK to go to the park, and it’s obvious that the statue must go. The only conceivable place where a Forrest statue would be warranted is at a museum or historical site. For example, at the site of the Battle of Ft. Pillow, a statue of Forrest complete with ample descriptions of his life would be tolerable for the purpose of preserving history, so that the world might not suffer from another Nathan Bedford Forrest.

For the second example, let’s get back to Robert E. Lee and examine him more closely. First of all, historical documents show that Lee was very torn over the issue of slavery. Around 1856 he penned a letter to his wife that included passages such as: “In this enlightened age… slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any Country.” But also: “I think it however a greater evil to the white than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things” (Blount). So Lee exhibits the very common racist idea of the time that blacks need “instruction as a race,” but he also finds slavery to be evil and a drag on the morals of the nation. Also, in a twisted way he hoped that slavery would “prepare & lead [African-Americans] to better things.” The ambiguousness of this thought is astonishing because he seems to want blacks to have a better life, but also finds it acceptable to have them enslaved and oppressed. So it would appear based on this that Lee had a higher moral standard for his time and place, especially compared to men like Forrest. But this still does not subtract from his debased racial ideology. Turning to the Civil War, Lee was actually set to be on the Union side. Educated at West Point, Lee served in the U.S. Army for over 30 years; but when his home state of Virginia joined the Confederacy, he of course chose to side with his family roots (and the institution of slavery) over his country. This traitorous decision put him on the wrong side of history to be sure. But after surrendering to General U.S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865, Lee was a proponent of reconciliation and accepted the abolition of slavery. He did not institute a reign of terror such as Forrest did by founding the KKK; rather, he strove for a peaceful resolution. His racist ideals did not improve however, as he believed that blacks were not intelligent enough to vote after they were freed (Blount). So overall, there is more to Robert E. Lee than one might initially think. Despite his ardent racism, Lee had some honorable qualities and wanted the African race to be better off – albeit in a sick and cruel way.

Back to the statue conundrum, we are now in a better position to decide what should become of Lee monuments. This one isn’t as easy as the Forrest situation, so it should come down to context and the citizens who own the monument space. If a public square has a statue of Lee on horseback bedazzled in Confederate regalia complete with battle flags and the like, the people of that residence have all the right to say: “you know what? This Robert E. Lee was very hostile to African-Americans and we feel that this statue doesn’t represent our values.” Another possibility could be to keep a Lee statue but have a plaque describing Lee’s history and his good and bad qualities. And then maybe at a place like Washington & Lee University, they might decide that a statue of Lee might be desirable because he was president of the college and that he was an honorable man in an academic context. Truly, any course of action is sufficient as long as it’s not subject to ideological authoritarianism and is made with full knowledge of the facts.

After considering these two examples, we see that both Confederate generals were more than just racist. Forrest was a racist, but also a brutal killer and tyrant. Lee was a racist, but also exhibited noble thoughts and actions towards blacks and his Northern opponents – a moral step above most white Southerners of his time. (Remember, this is not glorifying Lee in any way; it’s simply a logical observation based upon historical evidence.) When we obtain these more holistic pictures of historical figures we are no longer relying on raw emotions and blind ideology to inform our decisions, but rather logical and factual thinking are guiding us. Some people may not agree that this approach is preferable, but hopefully will see that it does have merit in that it relies on common sense and hard evidence.

The main issue with the ideological approach to the statues, – deeming them racist – although valid, is that it’s severely insufficient to simply discredit a historical figure as a racist. For in reality, we could classify almost every white American in the 18th and 19th centuries as racist from our 21st century perspective. This includes Abe Lincoln who would have been happy to preserve slavery in order to preserve the Union (fortunately that was not the case). In other words, there are two ways we can look at this issue: (1) we can classify every person that came before us as bad, or (2) we can acknowledge that those that came before us shared a bad quality and then differentiate the kind of people they were in a different way – in the context of their time period. Because really, Americans 100 years in the future will look down upon us for things that we do. Maybe it will be for fidget spinners, or for Youtube families – maybe even for dank memes. Either way, our progeny will look down on us just as we do our forebears. Anyways, if we refuse to make distinctions about historical people and want to tear down statues simply because they’re “racist,” we can knock down every statue.

But this, in all actuality, is the threat that our country is dealing with – the threat essentially of cultural cleansing. The Confederate statue thing is just the tip of the iceberg. Although we did talk about how there are other options for the Confederate monuments, most Americans recognize that those statues represent treason and oppression and that their time is up. But those that hate this country are setting their sights higher. The Founding Fathers and even the Constitution may soon be on the chopping block, for our Founders were racist, and the Constitution contains extremely racist and oppressive language (3/5’s Compromise). Just last month, the school district of Dallas, Texas announced they will look into changing the names of schools named after figures such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. How will these people make this decision? And how far will this go- how far are we willing to let this go? We are on a slippery slope. We can either kick down our legs and stop in the right place, or slide right down to the bottom.


Citations Staff. “Nathan Bedford Forrest.”, A&E Television Networks, 2009,


Blount, Roy. “Making Sense of Robert E. Lee.”, Smithsonian Institution, 1 July 2003,