IT IS one of the more ubiquitous and more powerful images in pop culture: The rapper as thug, with menacing posture, threatening look, all bling and bad language.
When life imitates art, that image takes on an added dimension.
And such is the case with the rapper 50 Cent.
His real name is Curtis Jackson III, and he has been involved in the drug trade and been shot nine times. But he also has risen from the streets to become a top-selling music star. His debut album sold 10 million copies, and this year's The Massacre has sold almost 7 million.
Much of that passed uneventfully other than the buzz he created among music fans. But his new movie Get Rich Or Die Tryin' has put the rapper front and center of a debate on whether art - in this case a movie - can incite the violence it portrays on the screen.
That scenario may have taken place recently near Pittsburgh, where a 30-year-old man was shot and killed during an altercation with three other men after he had seen the movie. The theater subsequently pulled the film.
Violence is what worried Toledo police when they asked that the National Amusements theater chain not show the movie here in the wake of the neo-Nazi march. The company decided to screen the movie but not to put on midnight showings.
Police have been present during film screenings, and National Amusements say there have been no problems.
While the request by police is perfectly understandable and shows the department taking a pro-active approach, it has disturbing implications.
It impinges on free speech rights - a performance is cancelled not because it has been proven to incite violence but because it might - and formalizes the notion that a movie (or for that matter a compact disc or a video game or a book) can of itself cause a violent reaction in viewers (listeners, players, readers).
In a recent interview 50 Cent responded to that concern by saying that a young person who is influenced by a song or a video is already messed up.
He's probably right. And his point, made in the same interview, that someone should have taken that child in hand long before, speaks to the issue of responsible parenting.
But he and his fellow artists must recognize that the depiction of violence on screens, in video games, and in song lyrics, particularly when directed against women and police officers, is offensive. They also have to understand that with the eternal desire of young people to look up to and respect their heroes in the music or movie worlds, the concern that such respect may turn to emulation of violent acts is real. It is frankly depressing that a police presence is required in theaters to keep order.
On balance, while Toledo police officials are to be commended for looking to forestall any potential incidents, free-speech rights mandate that the movie can be made, distributed, and seen by audiences if they choose to waste their dollars on a film The Blade's critic rated as worth only two stars.
Without those rights, what's next? Banning a movie because authorities don't agree with its message? Or because someone doesn't like the story line?