Swift, Twain, Browning? Nah, It’s Eminem

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Swift, Twain, Browning? Nah, It’s Eminem

“My little sister’s birthday, she’ll remember me
For a gift I had ten of my boys take her virginity (“Mmm-mm-mmm!”)
And bitches know me as a horny-ass freak
Their mother wasn’t raped, I ate her pussy while she was ‘sleep
Pissy-drunk, throwin’ up in the urinal
(“You fuckin’ homo!”)
That’s what I said at my dad’s funeral”
from the song “Amityville”

Back in the mid-Eighties when metal rocker Blackie Lawless was acting out his rape fantasies on stage with a circular saw as part of a codpiece (the prototype for Eminem’s current act featuring a chainsaw?), one of the arguments that some used in his defense was that no one actually listened to the likes of Blackie Lawless, so Tipper Gore and her footsoldiers in the Prude Brigade really had nothing to worry about.

The same can’t be said for Eminem, since he sells millions of CDs and gets plenty of free airtime on MTV and radio and-much to his fury-Napster. So a more elaborate–though not necessarily more sophisticated defense has had to be deployed. It goes thus: Eminem is a creature of his environment. He is the authentic voice of the poor, white working class. White trailer trash. He is what American capitalism has made him. His angst is real, his anger legit-though misdirected at women and gays because of malign social forces. Like Elvis. Or Bill Clinton. One critic called him “our” Johnny Rotten. But where the Sex Pistols attacked the Queen, Eminem bashes queens. One’s political, the other’s not. And that’s all the difference in the world.

But then on top of this a second defense is layered: namely, that Eminem is a master satirist; that his lyrics-which some demented writer in The London Guardian declared as being the equal of, and in some ways superior to Robert Browning’s – are really an ironic expose of our own homophobia, mysogyny, class bias. He’s our Swift, Twain, Ishmael Reed.

Then realizing there might be a potential conflict between defense A and defense B, a third one is proffered: namely, that the genius of Eminem is to be found in the “ambiguity” of his lyrics-which would, we guess, allow for him to be both “authentic” and “satirical”. It’s like there’s an unreliable narrator at work, say the narrative voice in Henry James or Alain Robbe-Grillet.

But all of these are merely self-congratulatory rationalizations of critics and they are undermined by what Eminem himself has to say about what he’s doing-which is that the lyrics are a “gimmick”, that “they don’t mean what they say”, and “aren’t worth a grain of salt”. In other words, it’s all a put on, not for some satirical purpose, but merely because he and his label know that these kinds of exploitative lyrics appeal to pre-teens who share many of the same phobias/fantasies.

In other words, it’s not about making music, expressing the condition of the alienated working class in Detroit, but about making money. Eminem said this precisely in his attack on Napster. He’s marketing hate to kids for money. It’s that simple and not that different in kind from tobacco advertising-which could be defended on artistic and 1st amendment grounds as well, and indeed has been by the tobacco industry’s hired guns.

Eminem’s lyrics are a kind of premeditated infantilism, but not a healthy regression toward the polymorphous perverse, but a summons to the thanatic impulse, a call for division, repression, an invocation of the very forces that have divided the working class for decades. He serves the interests of the State. The idea that Eminem might be “censored” is a ruse, and a tired one, and an insult to those who have truly been censored. Cross the powerful, question the System and you risk censorship, lawsuits, SLAPP suits, beatings, harassment or worse. As long as Eminem remains a whore for the corporations, he will continue to accumulate wealth and be shielded from the censors of the state. And he is a corporate mercenary, whether it’s flacking for Nike or for the music industy’s trade association, the Recording Industry Association of America.

Unlike the censors at GLAAD and other groups, we have no desire to amputate Eminem’s right to self expression. Let him rap by all means. To our minds, here at CounterPunch, he’s a hired gun from the poor part of town who preys on the powerless, extorts money from the poor, and celebrates a thuggish brand of gangster capitalism. His defenders and apologists in the critical world are just another arm of the very same industry.
The more instructive analogy with Eminem would have been with Browning’s original idol, Percy Shelley-the most irascible English poet since Kit Marlowe. Shelley was an adulterer, an atheist, an abortionist, drove his first wife to suicide, a victim of censorship who was driven from England, and in turmoil with his own homosexual longings. The all-round infant terrible of English poetry, who had the honor of being savaged by the crypto-fascist Matthew Arnold.

Forget Shelley’s ability with the language and look only at the sensibility of the two. Both have blood lust. But Shelley longs to see the powerful pay, the deposition of tyrants; he was an unrepentant Jacobin. Eminem is the neighborhood bully, preying on the weak, the defenseless, the marginalized, singing the virtues of accumulation and consumption, never once taking on the powerful-a would-be tyrant, himself.

It’s one thing to defend Eminem against censorship-quite another to promote, as Chaucer would say, “the sentence” or message of his lyrics. Remember the lines by Shelley, dashed off in a hour of rage following the Peterloo Massacre–the WTO protest of its day, where 40,000 protesters and laborers were trampled by English police on horseback. Try to find any similar sentiments in Eminem. Here are two stanzas:

The seed ye sow, another reaps;
the wealth ye find, another keeps;
the robes ye weave, another wears;
the arms ye forge, another bears.
Sow seed-but let no tyrant reap;
Find wealth-let no imposter heap:
Weave robes-let not the idle wear;
Forge arms-in your defence to bear. CP

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?