PRINT March 1992


Rap Hermeneutics

THE PUBLIC ENEMY T-SHIRT worn by Terminator 2’s young hero John Connor aligns him with “resistance” in some vague form, but hardly with an underground. After all, everyone knows who Public Enemy are, or their name wouldn’t be in a big-money entertainment aimed at a nation of millions. The shirt works as a Stones T-shirt might have in 1970, but not as a Sex Pistols T-shirt would have in 1980. It functions like the Guns N’ Roses song on the sound track: we’re hip, the filmmakers are saying, but accessible. (And we contain multitudes, from Axl to PE’s Chuck D.) Yet this shirt is far more richly symbolic than any rock band’s would have been. For whites in the audience, it’s suggestive of racial tolerance and political concern, but also of toughness, danger, controversy, and difference. Public Enemy’s image is heavier than any rock group’s, and goes farther to signify John Connor’s total

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