FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
Russell Mokhiber
Save the Patients, Cut Off the Dick!
Steven M. Druker
The Deceptions of the GE Food Venture
Elliot Sperber
Clean, Green, Class War: Bill McKibben’s Shortsighted ‘War on Climate Change’
Binoy Kampmark
Claims of Exoneration: The Case of Slobodan Milošević
Walter Brasch
The Contradictions of Donald Trump
Michael Donnelly
Body Shaming Trump: Statue of Limitations
Weekend Edition
August 19, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Hillary and the War Party
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Prime Time Green
Andrew Levine
Hillary Goes With the Flow
Dave Lindorff
New York Times Shames Itself by Attacking Wikileaks’ Assange
Gary Leupp
Could a Russian-Led Coalition Defeat Hillary’s War Plans?
Conn Hallinan
Dangerous Seas: China and the USA
Joshua Frank
Richard Holbrooke and the Obama Doctrine
Margaret Kimberley
Liberal Hate for the Green Party
John Davis
Lost Peoples of the Lake
Alex Richardson-Price
The Fight for a Six Hour Workday
John Wight
Why Palestine Matters, Even on the Pitch
Brian Cloughley
Hillary Clinton’s War Policy
Patrick Cockburn
A Battle to the Death in Syria
David Rosen
The Great Fear: Miscegenation, Race “Pollution” and the 2016 Election
Ben Debney
Worthy and Unworthy Victims of Child Abuse
David Barouh
Liberal Myths: Would Al Gore Have Invaded Iraq?
Graham Peebles
Democratic Revolution Sweeps Ethiopia
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
How Parasitic Finance Capital Has Turned Iran’s Economy Into a Case of Casino Capitalism
David Swanson
The Unbearable Awesomeness of the U.S. Military
Robert Fantina
The Olympics: Nationalism at its Worst
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail