sweet as the candy, methinks
by JoELLEN COLLINS
‘Revolution’ can always be tomorrow’s Nike commercial."
RICH, The New
York Times Magazine
probably caught in a generation gap. Not only do I find offensive much
of the foul and ungrammatical language that I hear in many movies, but
also I am immune to the appeal of rap music. Oh sure, I’ve heard the
arguments: words and music merely reflect their times, parents have
always descried "evil" influences like rock and roll, I am too
fuddy-duddy a language sergeant, and so on. However, I try to keep an
open mind as I grow older to those things that attract a fresh
generation. The pursed lips, rolled eyes and closed ears of the aged bar
them from exploring new and vital art forms. My mother refused to listen
to Frank Sinatra after he took up with Ava Gardner, denying herself his
given up judging the work by the conduct of the artist. I fear I would
have little left to read or hear or view.
this context I have decided to tackle the daunting task of looking at
what makes Eminem such a hit. I understand that part of it is rebellion,
the flipping of his finger at things many "enlightened"
grownups hold sacred. When I first started teaching English, J.D.
Salinger’s "Catcher in the Rye" was banned for fear
teenagers would emulate Holden Caulfield’s anti-establishment
behavior. Today, some adults are similarly wary of the hypnotic Eminem.
his obscenities, misogyny, homophobia, and espousal of violence can
offend anyone who listens carefully to his music. I, too, hope his voice
is not a battle cry for the disenfranchised (or any) members of his
being broadly dismissive of this phenomenon, I listened to and then read
printouts of some of his lyrics. There is no denying the rhythmical
appeal of much of his work and also no denying that his lyrics, seen in
print, specially, are despicable and highly inflammatory. Because
loathsome language is so prevalent in today’s media, perhaps it is not
as bad as it seems. It is a challenge to keep reminding oneself that his
vicious diatribes against women, for example, may only be
attention-getting devices, part of a public persona.
Eminem’s own behavior with his ex-wife reinforces the conclusion that
he may truly believe his own lyrics. Maturity and his apparent devotion
to his daughter bode well for some change in attitude. Even his
homophobia seems less dramatic after Elton John’s endorsement of his
talent and their recent performance together. Nonetheless, I find his
sexual references more gross than I could have imagined and his attitude
in general pretty unhealthy.
So I went
to see "8 Mile." The dreariness of the Detroit neighborhood of
his childhood and the clearly autobiographical connections between his
character and Eminem himself do add to some understanding of his
rebellion. And, in spite of the graphic and unfortunately unprotected
sex portrayed, I wasn’t as shocked as I expected to be. (The film is
correctly R-rated.) But what surprised me most about the movie was
two-fold. First, Eminem himself comes across as a character that, in
spite of the language he uses and with which he is surrounded, seems to
be a pretty decent guy. His acting talent is plainly evident.
second revelation of "8 Mile" is that in his world of hip-hop,
victories come about through verbal accomplishment, not through physical
confrontation. The movie had violence, surely, but I was amazed at the
portrayal of masses of yelling and angry fans that could still accept
the white outsider and his victory over a black rapper. I kept expecting
them to erupt with hatred for the trailer boy. Eminem’s Rocky-like
character literally wins the battle with words. The only time we even
see a gun is when the fighters are astonished that a character has been
so stupid as to brandish one. Guns are verboten; talk is the ultimate
It is the
young rapper’s mind which offers him hope of escape from the seedy and
depressing life of factory work and dysfunctional families. Ironically,
outside of the picture, the world of rap has become notoriously
dangerous for many of its participants. But here I can at least applaud
the triumph of this very sad character, savvy enough to remind his
buddies that instant riches are futile pipe dreams at best and certainly
not automatic panaceas.
Rich, in The New York Times Magazine, points out that Mick Jagger, the
"antichrist of Altamont," has been knighted, and that Ozzie
Osbourne has transmogrified into a "lovable TV star." Rich
continues, "Yesterday’s ‘Revolution’ can always be tomorrow’s
Nike commercial." Who knows what Eminem, described on the magazine’s
cover as an American idol, will become?
still confused about Eminem. I’m sad that he is so admired in a time
when we need positive heroes. Although I applaud his rise from a
horrible childhood, admire his perseverance, acknowledge his talent, and
understand his appeal to the rebel in many people, I still loathe his
stances. I abhor his views of women as sexual objects, for example.
Perhaps if I were younger I could criticize him more effectively without
the limitations of generational attitudes. After all, how much can a
girl who grew up on Gershwin, Cole Porter and the sweet songs of stars
like Nat King Cole be expected to accept?