Saturday, March 13, 2010

What We've Learned from Lil Wayne

Elton John had the best selling album of 1974. If Elton John had been sentenced to prison in early 1976 for any reason at all, I believe that it would have been a really huge deal. Michael Jackson had the best selling album of 1983. If he had been sentenced to prison in 1985, it would have been a world-shattering event. Heck, he was a commercial has-been by the time he had his legal problems over ten years after that, and it was still a huge deal. Bruce Springsteen had the best selling album of 1985. I can't even begin to imagine the media storm that a Springsteen prison sentence would have generated in 1987. As recently as 2002, Eminem was the best selling artist, and I have got to think that an Eminem prison sentence in 2004 would still have been a major story.

This week, Lil Wayne, the artist who sold more albums than any other artist in 2008, was sentenced to prison on gun possession charges. And the media attention has been about 2% of what Paris Hilton received when she spent less than a week in the slammer a couple years ago.

Or perhaps the more apt comparison may be to Plaxico Burress. Burress was a fairly good NFL receiver over the course of his nine-year career, but he never led the league in any receiving category once. Yet his 2008 arrest on gun possession charges and subsequent trial and imprisonment have been afforded far more public discourse and dissection than "Weezie"'s. (The same could be said for Gilbert Arenas, an NBA player currently embroiled in a gun-possession investigation).

The website Pro Football Reference lists Louis Lipps as an NFL player with a very similar statistical career to Burress's. I do remember Lipps playing for Pittsburgh (Burress's original team) about 20 years ago. But in contrast to Bruce Springsteen, if Louis Lipps had been tossed into prison for owning a gun in the late 1980s, I can assure you that nobody outside of Pennsylvania that was not related to Louis Lipps would have invested two seconds thinking about it.

So what has changed between then and now? While most entertainment mediums have fragmented and condensed (Lil Wayne's 2008 album has sold less than three million copies; the Titanic soundtrack, the best selling album of 1998, has sold over 30 million), the sports market has done the opposite. The rise of a monopolistic national sports network and the increasing prevalence of fantasy leagues have created a new breed of sports fan, interested in not just the local teams, but the entire national landscape.

So when ESPN hypes their "sports nation" on-line polls, they are not engaged in hyperbole. Our interest in organized games is one of the few things that truly still unites this nation. And we don't necessarily need to compare gun arrests to realize this. When viewership for this year's Super Bowl finally eclipsed that of the last episode of MASH, a symbolic torch was passed, with the pop culture world ceding its influence to the sports world.

And as for Lil Wayne, what are his prospects once his prison sentence is up? Perhaps that depends on whether ESPN lets him resume his sports blogging.


Blogger krausehouse08 said...

as a fan of certain pieces of lil wayne's music i do find it somewhat odd that his imprisonment hasnt been big news to me. I guess we were all expecting it

9:01 PM  
Blogger Sandii_Mina said...

I could never understand his rap, although it rhymes. But my older sister is in love with Lil' Wayne.

9:56 AM  
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