Eminem & Elton John do the Grammies
Saturday, March 10 2001, 6:06 PM
I believed twenty years ago and I believe today that mature American students and professors can engage in conversation and controversy, in the clash of ideas, with [Communists] anywhere without becoming contaminated or converted. To deny this would be to admit that in a realm of ideas, faith and conviction, the [Communist] cause, dogma and doctrine, are stronger than our own.
--Edward R. Murrow, March 1954
I've been watching the hoopla surrounding Eminem with a modicum of interest. Seems to me that this outrage is part and parcel of a world that wants hate speech declared illegal and hate crimes laws enacted. You know the world I mean, the one with the people in it who think that when the voices on the right want things declared illegal it's legislating morality and promoting censorship, but when that same desire comes from the left, it's hate crimes and hate speech, which is somehow different.
So I've been watching with interest the press releases from Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation condemning the Grammy committee for nominating Eminem for awards. And I've watched with amusement the utter failure of gay activists to generate any interest or participation in the protests of the Grammy awards themselves, followed by utter shock and disbelief that no one showed up to man the barricades. Add to this the continued questioning of musicians about their position on the matter, with Melissa Etheridge reminding everyone that free speech is for all speech, not just speech we like, as the only statement that's come close to mirroring my own position on this matter: why is Eminem so scary that he's worth censoring?
Add to this the left's insistence that Elton John's behavior in sharing the stage with Eminem is "shockingly inappropriate", a statement which quite frankly hasn't thus far been met with the kind of outrage I felt upon reading it. How dare anyone suggest that Elton John "needs to find his conscience", as though he had somehow "betrayed his people" by singing with this man. Aren't the photographs on the front pages of newspapers around the world, of Eminem, the so-called homophobe, wrapped up in a hug with the queerest man in the universe, worth it? The song they did together, the gist of which is about a fan who takes the object of his fannish obsession so seriously that he commits suicide over an imagined slight an object lesson here?
What are we all so afraid of that lyrics to songs are worth the kind of condemnation we've witnessed over the past few weeks?
I understand that it's becoming rather routine for Shakespeare Festivals to debate the appropriateness of staging The Merchant of Venice for fear that the local Jewish community will picket or otherwise protest; the same apparently holds true for productions of Othello vis a vis the African American community. I also remember, from my days teaching Shakespeare, that the classes I either attended or taught with those two plays were some of the most lively I'd ever had the honor to participate in. A circumstance that seems to me to be sorely lacking in this age of "just say no" to things with which we disagree.
Possibly, the problem isn't quite as simple as "Eminem is a homophobe" or "his lyrics are homophobic". Ask a teacher, maybe. How do we explain homophobia, or racism, to a high school student in a way that makes the damage real and material? Before The Marshall Mathers LP, and the attendant press this white boy who raps real well has garnered, teachers could talk about individual words and the ways in which words have power. After, teachers can talk about the ideas behind those words, using the lyrics their students listen to every day as a vehicle for (one hopes) animated discussion of the issues.
Is Eminem smart enough to have done this on purpose? I can't say. But I can tell you this: the movement to suppress The Marshall Mathers LP has been so effective that I can't hear him on MTV, VH1 or on local radio stations. The only way I can hear his music is to purchase the CD.
How stupid is that?
Cynthia Hoffman is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective.