Just how bizarre has the state of the youth culture become? Try
this: When basketball star Allen Iverson was indicted for busting down doors
and threatening people with guns, one ESPN radio show spent time debating
the prospect that all the negative headlines might be a boost to his image
with the kiddies.
It is bad enough thinking of poor black kids in the inner
cities aspiring to the dead ends of the "thug life." But it's worse because
it is simply inexcusable when the bad-boy worship comes from the suburbs,
where kids lack the desperation of poverty and are (relatively) free from
the culture of violence, where the major challenges are creeping obesity and
too much idle time.
Though the rap music phenomenon was born in the city and
dominated by blacks, it has captured the white suburbia market. Thus, it
came as no surprise that as soon as a plausible white rapper walked on to an
MTV screen, he would be a phenomenon, and so the star named Eminem was born.
Even he knows the score, joking on his first track that "if I was black, I
woulda sold half."
By now, this punk's outrageous scary-white-boy antics are
getting a little tired, and on his latest CD, "The Eminem Show," the addled
fans are just getting more of the same, with obscenities substituting for
talent. Eminem uses the "M" and "F" words together so often, you wonder why
he didn't call himself "Eminef."
So what's the appropriate reaction this time around?
The calculated outrageousness of an Eminem eventually can
convince the critic to keep quiet, to deny the provocateur the fun and
profit his controversy generates. No doubt Lynne Cheney dislikes this album
as much as any of the previous ones, but apparently, she's decided not to
take the bait by responding to Eminem's F-word taunts and jokes about her
husband's heart condition.
There is the hope that in time the novelty will wear out its
welcome. Madonna's albums at times looked like a catalogue of "now which
line can I cross?" But eventually, even Madonna grew tired when she ran out
of crosses to burn.
Besides, to engage Eminem in debate is like challenging the
intellectual acumen of a coconut. How does one respond to Eminem's political
analysis? For example, take this: "I am the ringleader of this circus of
worthless pawns./Sent to lead the march right up to the steps of
Congress/and piss on the lawns of the White House ... to spit liquor in the
face of this democracy of hypocrisy." Or this: "The boogie monster of rap,
yeah, the man's back/with a plan to ambush this Bush administration/moosh
the Senate's face in and push this generation/of kids to stand and fight for
the right to say something you don't like."
Like, what kind of manifesto is this? As much as he'd like to
imagine himself as some sort of latter-day hip-hop Voltaire, Eminem has
nothing to offer but bravado and profanity. I've read more momentous
graffiti on bathroom walls.
After all the raging against hypocrisy, Eminem is its very
personification. He piously tells interviewers he doesn't swear around his
young daughter, Hailey, and doesn't let her listen to his music. Isn't that
nice? And isn't it a wee bit hypocritical to shelter your own child from
your studio tantrums, but F-bomb everyone else's kids into submission?
And so we should keep silent -- except to remain silent is to
yield the court of public opinion to the so-called music critics, many of
whom can't get enough of this monstrosity. The Web site allmusic.com raves:
"Eminem is the gold standard in pop music in 2002, delivering stylish,
catchy, dense, funny, political music that rarely panders." New Musical
Express calls him "the biggest and best pop star in the world. A true
artist, no one since Kurt [Cobain, the Nirvana lead singer who killed
himself] has raged so hard and articulately."
Articulate? Only these sages could find undiscovered depth in
tastelessly incoherent lines like "How can this [expletive] be so easy?/How
can one Chandra be so Levy?" Apparently, in the land of music, a catchy beat
and some instrumental noodling make what looks like simple inanity on the
page sound like profundity in your ears.
One can only hope the millions of children who make Eminem
prosper some day will grow up undamaged by his vitriol. But it's probably
too much to hope -- now that he's almost 30 -- that Eminem will ever grow up
and realize what he's done as "ringleader of this circus of worthless