Letter: Please, Yale, don’t endorse Akon

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

Why is Akon on the latest Spring Fling survey? Yes he’s famous; maybe he’s talented. But the man is probably most famous for simulating sex onstage with a 15-year-old. He echoes his actions in his lyrics, describing women as montages of body parts serving as men’s toys.

I won’t try to convince anyone that objectifying women is bad for women, men and the rest of us. Others are making that argument better than I can, waiting to be read by any who are willing to wonder.

I will argue this: No entertainment we can experience at the sight of Akon will be worth the pain we suffer at supporting him.

Yale spent $70,000 in 2007 for Spring Fling’s headline act T.I. And now Yale is considering Akon for this year’s headline.

What’s the problem? One might argue that it’s OK for Yale to book Akon because Penn already has, for their own Spring Fling on April 17. They’ve looked past his moral controversy. Why can’t we?

Citing Penn is the problem in itself. Penn has hired Akon, giving him money and a spotlight, because he’s famous. That school is actively endorsing Akon and the message he has promoted to build his fame, essentially saying, “Sure, he promotes ideas and actions which increase suffering, but it’s OK because he’s popular.” Penn is promoting Akon’s legitimacy, becoming a reason for other people to say Akon’s OK.

Please, let’s not do the same. Let’s not let Yale invest its powerful name, biggest annual event and tens of thousands of dollars to endorse Akon and his message.

We boycott shoemakers for abusing children in sweatshops so we can enjoy our shoes and not feel guilty about the impact of our purchases. Likewise, let’s boycott Akon’s message, have a good time at Spring Fling and free ourselves from assuming guilt over supporting a prolific pedophilic misogynist. Let’s tell the Spring Fling organizers to pick a well-known, talented, exciting musician whose success and fame aren’t built on words and actions that hurt people.

Elizabeth Kim

March 4

The writer is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for posting this. I realized the error of my supporting this artist before you wrote this, but it is important for the student body to understand that Akon is not just hot beats with a mediocre voice. He makes men everywhere look bad, and his morals (from owning a diamond mine in South Africa and denying the existence of "blood diamonds" to sexually assaulting a girl on stage for a full minute before leaving her on the ground for a bouncer to pick up and walking off stage) are reprehensible and do not deserve the support of the Yale student body. If we ask him to come here, we will be paying him a large sum of money - and effectively will be endorsing him, both his music and his person.

    Yale is better than this. Let us not stoop to Penn's level simply because he has a few Billboard hits.

  • SF09

    I think Akon is on the latest survey because the best way to find out if people are ok with him coming is to… ASK THEM! To simply say, "No, I personally don't feel comfortable with this, so he shouldn't be on the survey," is essentially to say that your individual opinion should restrict others freedom to form their own opinions.

    I voted for Akon on the survey and I'm not afraid to say so. He makes good music. Period. I'm not a judge nor a law enforcement official, although I would assume that Akon has encountered many of those in his life. I let the judicial system take care of Akon's behavior, and I hope that the YSAC committee will take care of the task within it's jurisdiction - picking the best musical act.

    For the record, he was at a 21 and over club, and the girl volunteered.

  • Seriously

    Seriously. Shut up already. If you don't support him don't go, but don't try to press your opinions on the rest of the student body. Nobody calls Vladimir Nabokov a pedophile because he wrote Lolita, it's art and just because it's "black" art and not what you are comfortable with does not mean you can enforce your biases. He is talented and expresses his view through his art. His most recent song is about how he thinks a girl is beautiful and titled the song "beautiful" not slut or something offensive. People make mistakes, as clearly Akon didn't know that the girl was 15, and we have all made mistakes in our life. Please don't be so closed minded and racist people, just because a black man singing about wanting to have sex with women makes you uncomfortable, even though you have no problem with a group of white men singing about incest and rape (Aerosmith), doesn't mean he should be silenced.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to see a suggestion for a well-known, popular, talented artist who doesn't promote some message that someone out there doesn't like. The point of having multiple acts is to appeal to multiple music tastes and populations within the student body.

  • Anonymous

    Akon is the best musician remaining. He will put on the best show. Vote for him.

  • y'11

    Frankly, all I want at this point for Spring Fling is someone that I've heard of. And that's something we're not really acheiving with any of the other candidates. Choosing a Spring Fling isn't about having the "best" artist as chosen by quirky music-lovers, it's about appealing to the masses. Akon does that. The man apologized for what he did, can't we forgive him? Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think you'd be complaining if it was Jim Morrison, who exposed himself on stage, or Michael Jackson, who was accusted of child molestation, coming to Spring Fling. Why the double standard?

  • video link to scene in question
  • Anonymous
  • Really guys?

    Akon is not JUST your run-of-the-mill mysoginistic rapper. He was also arrested for assaulting a fan, allegedly has 3 wives, and IS the lead investor in a Blood Diamonds mine. I personally have no problem with Luda, TI, or any other hip-hop star, but Akon makes me sick. The only reason we can afford someone so famous is that his tarnished morals have drastically lowered his price (since most other places don't want him!)

  • Elizabeth S. Kim

    I wrote this piece. I'm actually a grad student, not a sophomore in TD.

    I agree that it's difficult to find a famous act these days that doesn't promote hurtful messages. But there have been talented, famous performers who say wonderful things, and not awful things about people: U2, Lauryn Hill (go to snopes.com). And there are more current acts: The Shins.

    I do not accuse any Yalie of being a bad person. If you feel guilt, I suspect it's self-inflicted. In my piece, my only direct addresses or references are to Akon, whom I do call a promoter of hurtful messages, and to Yalies to ask them to boycott Akon. If you want to support Akon, it saddens me, but I won't hold it against you.

    I do not seek to restrict freedom of speech. Rather, I hope that as Yalies who will likely find ourselves in positions of tremendous influence, we'll pause, and consider respecting that small voice in ourselves that says, hmm, I feel a slight twinge of guilt or concern.

    I am asking Yalies to lead. Lead ourselves, and those who notice what Yale does, to standards of less suffering, rather than resign ourselves to the widespread notion that a good show necessitates harmful messages. We are smart, resourceful people. I believe we can search a little further for an exciting performer who builds a culture of not-harmful words.

    And please don't presume to falsely state my opinions about other artists. The standard I aspire to is this: not to promote artists who spread hurtful ideas. Less good but better than Akon is this: don't promote artists who are best known for spreading hurtful ideas.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah… the incident with the 15 year old girl has been totally blown out of proportion. As someone has already mentioned, it happened at a 21-and-older club and the girl volunteered - Akon had every reason to assume she was of age. Akon did apologize afterwards for the simulated sex, but he also correctly placed the blame on the club for letting a 15 year old girl into a club for 21 year olds. So to call him a pedophile on the basis of that incident is really pretty outrageous.

    Moreover, as an artist Akon is more innovative, and no more offensive, than other rappers (including TI and Sean Kingston, who performed last year). You can complain about misogynistic rap lyrics all you want, but probably 75% of the students here are going to listen to it anyway, and nearly all the rest will be dancing to it at parties. So it would seem a little hypocritical and odd for Yale to turn around and say, no, rap artists, you can't perform here. Plus there definitely is a double standard at play, and I don't think Yale is going to find a popular artist to perform who hasn't ever sung anything offensive.

    So yeah, just find the best act, the one that students want to see, and sign them, and let's get over it already.

  • Emma S.

    I'm all for free speech and freedom of expression through art. Anyone interested in this kind of issue should read John Woolsey's opinion in the case United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses.

    However, I have to agree with the writer of this letter. By paying Akon to visit our campus, Yale is complicit in the misogynistic message his music sends. The words of this kind of music are not harmless. Nothing made this clearer to me than hearing a thirteen year old boy with a history of sexual assault sing popular songs by well-known artists that insult and degrade women. You may respond that we don't have any sexually aggressive thirteen year old boys on our campus. But what about the sophomore frat boys who have a history of using degrading language lightly? Their attitudes stem from the same root.

    No one is arguing that Akon should be barred from making his music. But just because he makes it does not mean that we at Yale have to support it. I would be grateful if this were the year YSAC chose to end the trend of inviting musicians to our campus whose music promotes violence and misogyny.

  • Anonymous

    There are no blood diamond mines in South Africa, Africa is not a conflict zone.

    He is wrong in saying conflict diamonds don't exist, but he's not running for President so I don't need him to be intelligent. Whereas "Really Guys?" should be intelligent as a Yale stident/non-convicted-felon but still thinks South Africa is in a all-out Civil War and using diamond proceeds to fund it, as is the definition of a blood diamond.

  • Anonymous

    In these economic times is Yale really going to spend almost $100,000 on an act?

  • Goldie '08

    Bring back OAR. They play classic, upbeat tunes that sound great on a sunny day while you are "kicking back, sipping beers."

    In my opinion, OAR should play every year

  • volunteered???

    To say that she volunteered is ABSURD. She thought she was entering a dance contest to win a trip to africa. Instead, she had to dance with akon, who proceeded to rape her. Are you kidding me? Volunteered?

  • in reality…

    akon is obviously a huge scumbag, but his music sucks. some of his lyrics are absurdly bad and his autotune effects are terrible. people will look back on this in 10 years and laugh like we do now at korn or limp bizkit.

  • Anonymous

    The logic in this argument is the same as the logic behind passing laws banning investment in conflict diamond mines and other socially reprehensible businesses. By paying Akon, we are effectively endorsing him, by saying "We don't care what your music promotes, we just want to give you your $X0,000 and watch you sing about it. It doesn't matter at all to us who gets hurt or what the externalities to your words and actions are."

    If anyone watched that video and is still calling it "overblown", you have a sick sense of right and wrong. He practically threw that girl around the stage, then dropped her on the floor and walked off. The bouncer had to pick her up. What kind of message is that? "I'm going to f*ck you [women] and just leave, because I can, because not only am I a man, I'm f*cking Akon, and that's all you mean to me."

    As for the song "Beautiful", look again at the lyrics. His only concern in the song is to have sex with her - that is the beauty he is singing about, the beauty of her ass in high heels, and about how he wants to get her pants off. Combine that message with the one in "Smack That!" and "I Wanna F*ck You" (yes, that is the name of the album version, not the radio version), and what do you have? A man that sees women as the proverbial "warm apple pie".

    Racism has nothing to do with this. Feminism has nothing to do with this. This is a simple case of deciding whether or not to sacrifice our collective decency for one Spring Fling show - which, if past hip-hop acts and YouTube performances of Akon should have taught us, won't be that great anyway.

  • wtf?

    I agree with the writer of this article completely. No one is trying to ban Akon from making music, but there is no need for us to endorse it.

    And to #4 -- you said this: "The point of having multiple acts is to appeal to multiple music tastes and populations within the student body."

    What if we had a singer spewing racism instead of misogyny? After all, the person is only expressing themselves through their art. Would that be cool then?

  • Give me a break

    To everyone who says it's no big deal, she volunteered:

    She may have volunteered to go on stage but I can guarantee you she did not agree to be sexually assaulted.

    Are you people seriously saying that sexually assaulting and publicly humiliating a 15 year old girl (or a woman of any age) is "no big deal."

  • Anonymous

    Dear people who are concerned about sexism in our society:

    I'm with you. Really, I am. I'm one of you. But please, PLEASE stop calling it "rape" anytime someone does something misogynistic. I have seen the video of what Akon did at the concert. It was wrong, it was utterly misogynistic, it was disgusting. It was not rape.

    Rape is not a catch-all term for conduct that demeans women. It is a specific and horrifying manifestation of misogynistic power over another human being. Using the word as a catch-all diminishes it. So please, if you want to advance women's rights and stop rape, then CUT IT THE HELL OUT!

  • Nicole

    Bravo, Eli. Thanks for taking time to stand up for this. I am refreshed by the number of comments that see Yale's support of Akon as condoning a certain message, rather than indulging in "give me my wimmin, backbeats, 'n' beer and let the world rot, who cares if he's a misogynist" rhetoric. Sure, the world is a certain way, misogynistic and exploitative; it'll stay that way unless we change it. Be the change you want to see in the world.
    BTW, on the GESO leader's op-ed thread today, commenter #12 ridiculed feminist studies. This misguided stud is just one of the reasons why we need feminist studies, as wrongheaded as it can be, done poorly.

  • Edward

    Akon makes good music… Most of you don't know what you are talking about!
    Akon makes a variety of music and, he evolves as an artist on every album! If you listen to his 3 albums instead of the trash that some of the media promote about him you will leave at LEAST respecting his talent!

  • Anonymous

    Edward (#23)-

    You missed the point.

  • Anonymous

    It would be one thing if Akon was the only choice out there for Spring Fling musical entertainment. The writer makes a very good point in her response: you kids at Yale are better than this and should be leading by example. God knows the world needs ethical leaders who are unafraid to stand up for what is good and right. Why lie in the gutter when you are capable of soaring to the heights?

  • ac

    So when a girl smatters her abortion (or does a performance art piece on that) on a canvas, it's considered thought-provoking, but when Akon sings about women in a vulgar manner, it's not performance art or thought provoking?
    Akon "allegedly" has three wives(?) There is no evidence to this. Even if it were true, which I highly doubt, talk about placing your own moral imperative on someone else's culture. This University, and particularly the college, is rife with hypocrisy.

  • Anonymous

    Excuse me. Certainly the letter's author has made good points but I do not think it is right to bash another school, particularly one as prestigious as UPenn. The following part could be found offensive:

    "Citing Penn is the problem in itself. Penn has hired Akon, giving him money and a spotlight, because he’s famous. That school is actively endorsing Akon and the message he has promoted to build his fame, essentially saying, 'Sure, he promotes ideas and actions which increase suffering, but it’s OK because he’s popular.' Penn is promoting Akon’s legitimacy, becoming a reason for other people to say Akon’s OK."

    The writer is free to bash Akon however she like, but she crosses the line when she accuses Penn of endorsing these alleged messages. Penn has a long, noble history. Calling Penn "THAT SCHOOL" which "is actively endorsing Akon and the message he has promoted" is not fact-based and wrong on very many levels. The writer does make a good arguement agaisnt Akon, but she shouldn't bring Penn into it. Penn's Spring Fling committee worked diligently to make Spring Fling as good as possible and it is inappropriate to belittle their efforts.

  • K

    Elizabeth, You are brave in your daring to speak up… whatever anyone thinks at least they are thinking. your commitment to freedom will continue to ripple out like a pebble thrown into calm water… Thankyou for remembering… thankyou for trusting yourself… You are a beacon of divine light… shine on sister… shine on…

    “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” * Lilla Watson, Australian Aboriginal woman, 2000.

  • Jay

    I met Akon once, judging by the girlfriend he brought with him, he is very much into legal adult females. Just because some men like to celebrate their sexual attraction to beautiful women in music doesn't make them horrible people. Some women are nice people, some aren't. He sings about both kinds. Be glad men have such strong sexual energy to make entire albums about it…if that wasn't the case, you might not be here. Stop trying to feminize natural male behavior. Go listen to your Bjork and Cat Power albums and maybe someday you'll give it up and be attracted to an alpha male.

  • pickle

    I think Ms. Kim is the last person who should be lecturing others on ethics… It is laughable.

  • pickle

    The previous comment was made by a relative visiting for the holidays and does not reflect my personal views. I am seeking to have it removed.