Eminem Ascending

    On Wednesday, Marshall Mathers, the rap artist known as Eminem, won three prestigious Grammys for his music. But even as he accepted the awards, some feminist and gay groups were protesting his violent lyrics outside the theater. When Eminem released his recording, "The Marshall Mathers LP," last summer, it was a commercial and critical smash. It sold 1.76 million copies in the first week -- the second-highest total of all time. And by the end of 2000, it had sold more than 8 million copies. The album enjoyed critical raves, as well. Rolling Stone magazine called it "loud, wild, dangerous, grotesque, unsettling . . . [and] impossible to pull your ears away from." Salon Internet magazine called it an "airtight masterpiece of rhyme." And Newsweek called Eminem "arguably the most compelling figure in all of pop music." But, as the quote from Rolling Stone suggests, the lyrics and imagery on the album are vulgar and shockingly violent. Mathers speaks about killing his mother and his wife, as well as homosexuals. But, for many critics, it seems, that's part of the appeal. As Rolling Stone suggested, what made Eminem the pre-eminent hip-hop artist was that he was "twice as ill" as the competition. But others weren't so sanguine. Later, Rolling Stone, almost as an act of penance, ran a cover story called "Eminem's Hate Rhymes." And as the same Salon that called the album a "masterpiece" asked, "why are critics giving [Eminem] a pass?" No other artists, you see, has criticized Eminem. Elton John, who is gay, even appeared with him and performed with him. Why the approval? Well, Eminen's lyrics about violence to women and homosexuals have put the critics and the music industry in a bind. You see, these groups believe the purpose of art is to offend what they see as complacent, self-satisfied, middle-class morality. Artists like Eminem are supposed to obliterate the boundaries of what is acceptable -- all in the name of finding a "higher truth." But, most artists and performers see themselves also as "progressive" and are sympathetic to feminist and homosexual causes. So, Mathers' lyrics have created a real dilemma: Can they be true to their visions of art and of politics at the same time? Well, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave us the answer with their Grammys. What you do is create an exception for those you consider "artists." You let them get away with far worse rhetoric than you would, say, a person of faith. Remember when the gay student Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming, NBC's Katie Couric suggested that people like Dr. James Dobson, who regard homosexual behavior as sin, were responsible for Shepard's death -- an outrageous suggestion! But now comes an artist who said we should kill homosexuals, and where's the outrage? There is none. What a dreadful double-standard! Well, I for one do denounce Eminem and the Academy for condoning and even rewarding these kinds of hateful and degrading lyrics. And I'm going to call the attitude that condones this what it really is -- rank hypocrisy. For further reference: "Eminem Hate Rhymes." Rolling Stones, Issue 845. "Invisible Man." Salon, 7 June 2000. "Marshall Mathers LP." Rolling Stones, Issue 844. "Slim Shady Sounds Off." Newsweek, 29 May 2000.


Chuck Colson


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