A Very Short Close Reading for All the Anti-Reproductive Health Haters Out There

Tell my cousin Jerry, to wear ‘is condom,

If you don’t wear condom, you see a redrum,

Wo, oh, oh oh,  you sucka MC’s you got no flow…

– Wyclef Jean, “Gone Til November”

In nine words, Wyclef acknowledges a more nuanced portrait of reproductive health than the entire Republican party has evidenced in months of speeches, campaigning, and proposed anti-contraception and anti-choice legislation at the state level. What does Wyclef say? In the persona of a young man leaving his girl “til November,” Wyclef issues some parting wishes. (“And give a kiss to my mother.”) In one notable line, quoted above, Wyclef asks us to “tell my cousin Jerry, wear ‘is condom”–good advice for any young man seeking to avoid illness or children. But Wyclef goes on: “if you don’t wear condom, you see a redrum.” What work a quick allusion to The Shining does!

Of course, in Stanley Kubric’s 1980 film, the nonsense word “REDRUM” is written on the bathroom door by a psychic little boy (gifted, in fact, with the eponymous “shining”); viewed in the mirror, the word reveals its meaning: MURDER. (With a backwards R. Because little kids are involved. Cute, right?) So when Wyclef raps, “If you don’t wear condom, you see a redrum,” he uses the allusive power of that word to do a few things. First, most basically, to mean murder, that is, abortion. The assumption here is that Jerry is not trying to be a daddy. Well, Jerry, if you don’t wear a condom, you’ll see a murder go down. What did you expect? However, part of the power in the word “redrum,” simply “murder” backwards, is its aural evocation of “red room.” In The Shining, the whole Overlook Hotel becomes a sort of red room, a murderous space. In Wyclef’s line, it’s Jerry’s partner’s uterus that becomes a red room. So “redrum” packs the double punch not just of denoting murder (or here, abortion), but also of conjuring a red space brimming with potential tragedy.

Into this simple allusive line, Wyclef builds surprising moral accountability: if “you,” cousin Jerry, don’t use protection, “you” will be the one to “see a redrum.” That is, you hold responsibility for the tragedy of the abortion to follow. There, too, lies a subtlety missed by so much of our current discourse: that it is precisely because abortion is a tragedy–a “redrum” in all its connotations–that contraception is so essential. In our current discourse, women’s bodies are present but their agency is excluded. So, too, in Wyclef’s line, where there’s no mention of a woman except for her redrum. But while current debates propose the uterus as a site for men’s policing, Wyclef envisions the uterus as a site for male responsibility and accountability.

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