The Eminem Shtick

What Makes a Bigot a Genius? Presiding Over Guilty Pleasures.

A lot of hip people are consoled by the Pet Shop Boys' funky homage to Eminem, in which he gets turned on by a gay boy and turns out to be a tender lover. In the academy, this is called appropriation—the queer corollary to those earthy essays by post-feminists who like to pig out to misogynistic ditties. Presumably they're in no danger of hooking up with a B-boy, unlike the girls learning to eroticize guys who call them bitches. I wonder how Slansky would feel about a daughter of his having such a mate. But I'm not about to argue that children should be protected from this music—or that they can be. The danger isn't the fantasies Eminem generates but the refusal to see them as anything more than that.

There is a relationship between Eminem and his time. His bigotry isn't incidental or stupid, as his progressive champions claim. It's central and knowing—and unless it's examined, it will be free to operate. Not that this music makes men rape any more than the Klan-lionizing imagery in Birth of a Nation creates racists. The real effect is less personal than systematic. Why is it considered proper to speak out against racism and anti-Semitism but not against sexism and homophobia? To me, this disparity means we haven't reached a true consensus about these last two biases. We aren't ready to let go of male supremacy. We still think something central to the universe will be lost if this arrangement changes.

What is the relationship between that anxiety and the rise of Eminem? That's a question criticism must confront. It's not enough to repudiate his sexism in passing. That's a disclaimer, not an interrogation. It skirts the crucial issue of why this stuff is so hot. And it presumes that we're drawn to rapine rap despite its sexual violence. That's the most dangerous form of denial.

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