As a capitalist and a moderate libertarian, I have no problem with the merchandising of Mr. Mathers’ product to the masses. It’s a free market, so have at it. I have no objection to the right of American consumers to lay down their hard-earned money to purchase the fruits of Mr. Mathers’ troubled childhood. Here is a man victimized enough to croon about doing in his mother AND his wife. Even country music hasn’t gotten quite this morose. When the Dixie Chicks did in Earl, he kinda deserved it.
What does get my attention is how many people, of various ages, intelligences and biases, seem unable to say that what Eminem and other violent rappers are talking about is wrong. You know, murder is wrong. Rape- wrong. Shooting people– wrong. Threatening homosexuals- wrong. This isn’t difficult stuff. Or at least that’s what I thought.
At first, I thought it was just the kids who listened to the music. I’d ask them what they thought about the violence and hate in Eminem’s lyrics, and they would say profound things like, “He’s just joking,” or “Nobody is going to go out and do that stuff just because he listens to a song,” or “He’s just playing a character. To which I would glibly say “OK, that may be true, but could we agree that these things are wrong? The things he’s talking about are wrong?…..right?”
They just look at me blankly, then shake their heads. No go on that wrong stuff.
Lately, I hear this from what are traditionally considered more serious adult voices. Writers for SPIN magazine. Representatives of the Academy. Music writers and critics from serious magazines. Media pundits. The academic defenders of hip-hop art and culture. They have a lot to say about the controversy that accompanies the music and the shock element inherent in the musical style. Abrasive. Non-conformist. Real. But don’t wait for someone to say murder is wrong. They won’t say it. They writhe with the tortured manner of those saying something reaaallly stupid, but they say it anyway. It’s creepy.
In what has to be a conundrum of titanic proportions, defenders of Eminem won’t even say his bigotry and violence aimed at homosexuals is wrong. If Eminem were John Ashcroft, this would really be interesting. As it is, it’s just pathetic. Gay activists have discovered that Mr. Mathers has a permanent immunity from anything he might say about our culture’s most sensitive community of perpetual victims. They protest without the support of their usually dependable liberal supporters. Very, very weird.
What we are witnessing is an extraordinary abandonment of moral basics on a level so fundamental that the logical following steps are truly beyond comprehension. Perhaps an analogy will help.
Imagine if your child’s school began abandoning the ABC’s. Students who wrote “words” with incomprehensible personal symbols or nonsense combinations of letters were not corrected or told they were wrong. The old alphabet, which makes possible the formation of words recognized by anyone who knows the symbol system, would be replaced by whatever mark the student felt best represented his own idea. Your child is having a great time, but they are also slowly losing the ability to communicate, one of the fundamental planks of civilized society.
When you go to the school to complain about what is happening, the teachers and administration listen politely, but they are firm on their new position: they will not say your child’s work is wrong. It may be controversial and shocking, but it reflects your child’s unique personality and experience. It is a response to the chaos of the modern world. They refuse to do anything differently, even when you say they are dooming children to illiteracy, poverty and confusion.
It seems to me that we’re in much the same situation. The moral ABC’s are being discarded, replaced by the incredible notion that we can’t call murder, bigotry and hatred wrong. The results of this direction cannot make anyone sleep well at night.
Our kids are buying this trashing of the moral alphabet wholesale. Eminem, ICP and other shock acts have become the medium for transferring the relativistic worldview into the hearts of a generation. They will defend these popular culture heroes unconditionally, urged onward by a commendable loyalty to free speech without the necessary tempering of common sense.
Perhaps most confusing characters of all are the many adults who play this game. It doesn’t take a doctorate in moral philosophy to know what happens when we can no longer tell Johnny it is wrong to hit Sally with a stick during recess. Or tell little Sid that it is wrong to want to cut mommy’s head off. Francis Schaefer pointed out that the problem with atheism was that you could teach it in the classroom, but you couldn’t live like it was true when you went home to your wife and kids. I’d like to see if the various apologists for this music really stick to their guns when they are raising their own children. Something tells me that these people don’t tell their children that its perfectly fine to write poetry about killing “fags,” as Mr. Mathers puts it.
Indictments of popular culture are everywhere among conservatives. Sometimes I think the vigorous defense of Eminem is just a way of telling cultural conservatives that their whining will never intimidate the arts community. For every Joe Leiberman or Bill Bennett carping at Hollywood, there will be an army of apologists and leering consumers buying this stuff for spite. It’s not that Eminiem and ICP are such gifted artists, it’s simply that these are the bad boys out there spitting on the Puritans.
I have enough personal immaturity in me to understand this impulse, and its not totally useless. Every time some babysitter of the Nanny State says I shouldn’t do something I am overwhelmed with the urge to do it publicly and with news coverage. What you’ve got to consider is an old piece of wisdom that said you shouldn’t cut off your nose to spite your face. In defending a principle, you may burn your house down. And what’s the end result of that? In this case, its worse than losing a nose or a house. We’re cursing an entire culture. And losing the moral alphabet we cannot afford to lose. Someone tell the idiots that once its gone, you won’t get it back.
I note that Eminem is having a bad time of it in the UK. If the guy is getting real heat in Tony Blair’s Britain, then maybe there is hope after all. But I doubt it. While police and the tabloids react in shock, some parent is buying the cd, explaining that it’s all just kids having fun. Undgrtt jbddss jurcssif rnngdsas.