[did they ever give wes craven an oscar? Or faster, pussycat, kill,
kill! Sure, this frames the issue well, but I have a problem with
slim shady nonetheless... oh well. We'll just keep defining deviancy
down. Thanks Bill! [C, not G] ... rohit]
THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Eminem offends people. Is it the music or the fact that he's white?
By MIM UDOVITCH
''SONG OF MYSELF''
May I have your attention please?
May I have your attention please?
Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
I repeat, will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
We're going to have a problem here.
Y'all act like you never ever seen a
white person before
Jaws all on the floor like Pam,
like Tommy just burst in the door. . . .
Yeah, I probably got a
couple of screws up in my head loose
But no worse than what's
going on in your parents' bedrooms. . . .
You think I give a damn about a Grammy?
Half of you critics can't even stomach
me, let alone stand me.
''But Slim what if you win wouldn't it be weird?''
Why? So you guys can just lie to get me here? . . .
I'm sick of you little girl and boy groups
all you do is annoy me
So I have been sent here to destroy you
And there's a million of us just like me. . . .
-- From Eminem's ''Real Slim Shady''
minem, the rapper whose "Marshall Mathers LP" is up for Album of the
Year at the Grammy Awards this week, is white. I would prefer not to
mention that at all, let alone make it my subject, because it has
little to do with the quality of his work, which is superb, as many
critics have said. But it has everything to do with why he bothers
people. On the simplest level, this is because, unlike many black
rappers whose lyrics would outrage white America, if white America
could understand them, Eminem's accent, enunciation, idiom and, to
use the term of art, flow are clearly intelligible to pundits; to
children, if they hear him; to everyone. On a less innocent level, it
is because he comes from a world that is not supposed to exist, the
world of the white underclass. On a very, very ugly level, it is
because a white suburban kid identifying with Eminem is basically, as
Eminem is regarded to have done, turning "black," thereby muddying
the pools of cultural and racial and class separation (a process that
has actually been under way in popular music, with greater and lesser
degrees of visibility and impact, for at least 50 years).
In Eminem's case, since the people who fear this possibility are also
the people who believe him to be genuinely psycopathically violent,
rather than an artist who makes it very, very clear many, many times
that he is working with personae ("I'm not a real person; I'm a ghost
trapped in a beat"), this is a truly bizarre, fun-house-mirror kind
of racism that reflects what many people still think "black" is, a
belief that, regarding Eminem, they are freer to express because of
his actual, non-quotation-marked race.
Really, if you know one single thing about Eminem, besides that he is
white, it is that he is one of those artists people fear create an
evil that will, if allowed free rein, destroy civilization and
corrupt American youth. Despite his enormous popularity ("The
Marshall Mathers LP" has sold eight million copies, and his previous
album, "The Slim Shady LP," four million), he is a figure of ill
repute, someone whose work is, or at least has been called,
worthless, exploitative and offensive. And it is offensive. It is
very offensive. It is intentionally offensive, as many great works of
art are, and have always been and -- since I like offensive art and
basically would like to see popular music provoke the class warfare
that the frightened gatekeepers of the 1960's promised me when I was
a child, damn it -- I personally hope will continue to be. That
Eminem's records are not suitable for children (especially if you
don't want them to grow up believing that, for example, the armed
overthrow of the state, not Eminem's idea, should not necessarily be
out of the question, an idea I got when I was 8 from a line in
"Revolution," by the Beatles, for mercy's sake) is, as a matter of
fact, one of the primary points made by those who object to them. And
they are not suitable for children. This is not seriously disputed by
anyone, including the artist. ("Children should not partake in the
listening of this album with laces in their shoes" states the
"public-service announcement" at the beginning of "The Slim Shady
LP.") There are many great works of art that are not suitable for
children, a fair number of which they are exposed to anyway. In fact,
the last two Eminem records begin with P.S.A.'s that in one way or
another tell you that what you are about to hear is designed to
disturb you and that your reaction to it is on you, and not on the
artist, who has warned you.
It may indeed not be clear to children that most of what Eminem says
on his records is not being said in literal sincerity by the human
being who was born with the name Marshall Mathers, raps under the
name Eminem and speaks mainly in the voice of the character Slim
Shady. And it is true that the characters that speak on Eminem's
records are full of homicidal and suicidal fantasies that are
extreme, grotesque, frightening, misogynist, homophobic, sometimes
funny and sometimes truly reprehensible.
But it is also true that there are, as he says, millions who are just
like him, who cuss like him, don't give a [expletive] like him, dress
like him, walk, talk and act like him and, based on his sales, feel
like him. That is: they feel incredible anger. They may be, as he was
before he became successful, children of welfare families, growing up
to work for minimum wages while enormous wealth accrues to the
privileged few. They may have their own reasons. But that these
millions exist, and that Eminem speaks for them, is probably what is
both truly subversive and truly threatening about his success.
Eminem, as many great artists before him have done (Elvis Presley! A
great big afterlife shout out to you!), makes a racial threat -- in
his case, the threat of a really, really furious, racially united
underclass with the support of equally angry white suburban kids --
visible. He doesn't make it real, however. I love his records on
their own terms. He deserves the Grammy. But as a matter of fact, the
threat of class war in that particular form is something that is much
more likely to be perceived by my generation than expressed by the
28-year-old Eminem's; his work is really about rebellion, not
revolution. I see the possibility only because I wish for it. And the
people who fear it, in all likelihood, see it only because they fear
In other words, what I think people really find the most offensive
about Eminem is something that, unlike the intricate and
sophisticated identity assaults that actually make up his records, he
does not intend. And that is not on him, but on his audience, as is
often the case with great art.
Mim Udovitch, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, writes
frequently about pop culture.
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