OPINION: Rapper Macklemore's message promotes good health: video

OF the hundreds of thousands of public health practitioners and academics around the world, my award for the rising star of public health would go to Professor Macklemore from Seattle.

While his health promotion work is saving, and improving, the lives of millions globally, he is virtually unrecognised in academic circles. Preferring now to go just by "Macklemore", he is being received by venues full of adoring fans in his current tour of Australia (including tonight in Newcastle).

Macklemore highlights important public health issues such as marriage equality. The high rate of suicide among young gay men who feel there is no place for them in a homophobic world is a tragedy.

Sexual minority youth have four times the rate of suicide attempts of non-minority groups and the effect of bullying can increase the risk of suicide attempts by 20 times.

There is strong evidence that the stigmatisation of gays, lesbians and transgender people leads to suicidal ideation and suicide, and that denial of marriage equality contributes to this stigma.

Equal right to marriage is an important public health initiative that can redress stigmatisation.

The words and images in his music video Same Love, about marriage equality, are raw and honest as we watch a young gay couple meet, fall in love, marry, live a life and suffer loss.

I am grateful to my teenage sons for introducing me to Ben Haggerty, the rapper who took the name Professor Macklemore, and now just Macklemore.

He even challenges fellow hip-hop artists (and therefore audiences) to question their use of the words "gay" as "synonymous with the lesser" in their genre.

Another public health threat on Macklemore's radar is the alienating impact of consumerism in Western society - producing "stuff" that destroys the global environment and confounds our understanding of what it is to simply be in the world.

It's not just that material consumption doesn't make us happy, it probably makes us unhappy.

Thrift Shop is a fun take on buying cheap, recycled clothes and "not getting tricked by business" into paying $50 for a T-shirt. He ups the ante in Wings, in which he shares his childhood obsession with Nike baseball shoes and competition with his friends, and how material consumption provoked through advertising exploits youth looking for an identity.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis fronted the 56th Grammy Awards this year, performing Same Love as a prelude to a mass marriage of 33 diverse couples for an audience of 28 million viewers.

Macklemore may not call himself professor any more but his Youtube clips have been viewed hundreds of millions of times - more than any professor of public health could hope for. His messages cut through because they are authentic, lived stories. We could learn a lot from Professor Macklemore.

If I could, I would award him an honorary degree but he would probably tell me "it's just another piece of paper".

Dr Craig Dalton is a conjoint senior lecturer in the University of Newcastle’s school of medicine and public health.

Same Love

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