Thanks to Three 6 Mafia's Oscar-winning song from the Memphis-made movie Hustle & Flow, the whole world now knows how hard it is out there for a pimp.
And it seems to be equally hard out there to get a handle on the reaction to the song. It's like a musical Rorschach test. Pundits and critics have used the tune to make any number of socio-economic and artistic points. Liberal columnist Robert Schlesinger, for example, complained that the song urged sympathy for a profession that shouldn't get any. "Try a little tweaking," he wrote. "Suppose the song had been called 'It's Hard Out Here for a Wife Beater'?"
Others, such as MSNBC columnist Helen A.S. Popkin, lavishly praised the tune. "'It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp' is pure crunk, a growing rap genre from the South that often features gritty lyrics and danceable beats," she wrote. "It's a nomination that truly deserves to take home the prize."
Locally, Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer celebrated the song's win as a triumph for his hometown and likened it to Isaac Hayes' Oscar win for "Shaft" more than 30 years ago.
Commercial Appeal columnist Wendi Thomas, on the other hand, was appalled at the song's misogyny and embarrassed by the image of Memphis that its lyrics and performers presented to the world. She even wrote that she hoped the song wouldn't win.
But win it did. On Monday morning, the front page of The Commercial Appeal featured a large photo of Three 6 Mafia at the Oscars ceremony, decked out in formal tuxes and grills. (Whether that photo appeared on the front page of any of the other four daily papers now being published around town, I can't say. But that's a socio-economic subject for another day.)
What the win means, if anything, for Memphis in the long run is also difficult to predict. But if you reread the quotes I cited above, you'll see that it's actually possible for all of them to be right. Which surely proves something -- or nothing -- except maybe that it's also hard out there for a critic.
Bruce VanWyngarden, Editor