erasing clouds

The Eminem Essay

by Matthew Webber Would the Real Slim Shady Fan Please Stand Up





Cast of Characters


Zooey, 22, loves Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, Steve Miller Band, etc.; typically votes Republican; still attends church on Sundays.


Holden,23, claims to love everything, wants to be a music critic when he grows up, is a known dork.


Holden’s Dad, 53, listens to the easy listening radio station when his son is in the car. That about sums it up.


Fred and Wes, 15, have never known a world without MTV or rap music, wear baggy jeans with patches of skateboarding logos on the knees, want to have sex with Britney Spears and Shakira at the same time.


Jane, 22, equally loves REM, Sarah McLachlan, and Mos Def; has worked for the Democratic party; uses the term “misogyny” in everyday conversations.


Janet, late twenties, teaches cultural studies at a large midwestern state university, is also a feminist, possibly knows everything.


All are as white as Snow.




He couldn’t make it as a blind man.


Pow! He tastes his own sweat and blood on the glove. Behind this glove are knuckles; in front, in the way, are his teeth. He flies into ropes, on the canvas, on his back. He’s blinded by the stars that shoot under his eyelids. He thinks he sees birdies, flapping, chirping, tweeting; red and blue Disneybirds spitting and rapping. Guess who’s back. Guess who’s back. Guess who’s back. Guess who’s back. Above him, a radio raises gloved fists. Its face is a candy cane the stripes of which are his blood. It dances and raps, its gloves still raised in victory: “I’m interesting, the best thing since wrestling, infesting in your kids ears and nesting.” Applause provides the backbeat. Screams supply the break. He blinks away plasma; platelets sting his eyes. His mouth tastes crunchy, like eating a bowl of molars. The black-and-white candy cane man counts on his fingers. “…Seven…” He lip synchs. “…Eight…” He has two mouths. “…Nine…” He fades. “…Ten.” He’s washed away by gore. The Best Thing Since Wrestling kicks him in the spleen. He chokes on his saliva. It tastes like scabs. And bile. His eyelids feel like two men kneeling in his sockets. His nose is a crater – his face’s largest pore. Two ring girls go ‘round the outside, ‘round the outside, ‘round the outside. He just got his ass kicked, “worse than them little Limp Bizkit bastards.” So call him Chris Kirkpatrick.


“Who’s Chris Kirkpatrick again?”


“He’s from ‘N Sync. Um, he used to have the poodle hair.”


 “I can’t believe you know that.”


“Justin, Chris, Joey, Lance, and J.C. I can’t believe I know that.”


“I liked this song better before I heard it a million times.”

“True, but I don’t feel like I’ve been hit over the head with it yet. It’s not like it’s ‘How You Remind Me’ or anything. I wish he’d lyrically murder Chad Kroeger.”


“A hero will save us. I’m not gonna stand in the way.”


“Is that how that goes? I can’t believe you know that.”




“I think he’s really talented.”






Card No 00270539

The Eminem Show
























Bin Laden
















Little hellions, kids feelin’ rebellious, embarrassed their parents still listen to Elvis…


“Is he really that big of a deal?”


“Well, Father, as you no doubt would have learned had you watched this entire presentation of VH1’s Ultimate Albums: The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem’s second major label release was not only an artistic breakthrough for him, but for the entire industry of rap – or ‘the game,’ if you will – as well. While his first hit, the Dr. Dre-produced ‘My Name Is,’ thrust him into the national pop consciousness; it was his ultraviolent matricidal, spousacidal, and homosexualcidal fantasies on his hit “The Real Slim Shady,” as well as on deeper album cuts from Marshall Mathers, that transfigured him from merely a potty-mouthed Pop Star into a dangerous Media Target.


“You see, Dad, for the first time since Ice-T’s ‘Cop Killer’ controversy, a rapper was able to unite a cadre of hostile factions – feminists, gay and lesbian advocates, politicians’ wives, religious leaders and other cultural conservatives – into a kind of opposition front against obscenity. The proverbial spotlight, as well as all eyes and pointed fingers, were centered on this one musician. Lyrics were quoted, concerts were picketed, rap was discussed at the university level. You probably saw his face in a supermarket magazine rack.


“Anyway, Dad, all the ensuing brouhaha did nothing to deter record sales, as Marshall Mathers debuted at Number One and quickly went multiplatinum. Possibly, probably, it aided them. Of course it did. Nor did the Federal Communication Commission’s crackdown on explicit lyrical content – specifically Eminem’s in “The Real Slim Shady” – halt radio play of subsequent popular singles, “The Way I Am” and “Stan.” Music critics, too, were unified; the album was hailed for its adroit flow, bombastic productions, and signifying of the modern age. Grammy nominations, wins, and a poignant stunt/performance with Elton John on the telecast were the drama’s by-then-inevitable denouement – all of which fueled Eminem to make his next album, this year’s The Eminem Show, even more lyrically deft, self-reflexive, and culturally relevant. Somehow, he succeeded. He even finds a word that rhymes with ‘orange’!


“Let me ask you something, Pops: How many non-Eminem rappers can you name?… Well?… I’d say your silence makes him a very ‘big deal.’ Eminem is correct when he says MTV would be so empty without him. So, too, would our lives. Few other mainstream rappers – nay, few mainstream musicians – would dare challenge our expectations of what is permissible in public discourse. Regrettably, few are as trash-mouthed as Eminem, but even more regrettably, few are singing anything that really warrants such profanity. Few would place a higher premium on their own creative impulses than on the positive economic ramifications of a timid sort of self-censorship. That Eminem has indeed prospered financially from his vituperative and vindictive speech only indicates his relevance to a large segment of the population. What people are identifying with is his expression of raw emotion; of feelings usually repressed, probably for good reasons. They’re admiring his real talent as well – the speed of his delivery; the complexity of his narratives; his varying rhyme patterns, which are just as often in the middle of his lines as at the end; and that demented yowl of a voice.


“Yes, he says offensive things. In spite of that, because of that, in our current album-as-product era, The Eminem Show is an artistic statement. 


“If you want, you can listen to it. I’ve got it in my room.”


“What else is on?”




They park their bikes on the sidewalk in front of my house. “Do you have The Eminem Show?” Fred asks me. I know that both he and his buddy Wes have it. “‘My Dad’s Gone Crazy’ is my joint.” He stands in my driveway and raps. He’s whispering so his father doesn’t hear him, who’s talking with my mother on the other side of the driveway:


“Fuck that shit bitch eat a motherfuckin’ dick chew on a prick and lick a million motherfuckin’ cocks per second.”


He and Wes giggle.


His dad is oblivious.




“I still don’t know how I feel about Eminem. Much of what he stands for is threatening to me. Most of his lyrics are in direct opposition to the things I believe in. I hear his obvious talent, but I can’t ignore the hatred that seeps into every rhyme. His misogynic, homophobic, and xenophobic worldview speaks more loudly than all of his clever wordplay. It yells.


“He’s right about his being a ‘vision of scary’; that someone can rage so persistently about murders and rapes does scare me. It’s almost unfortunate he’s so gifted with how he says things, because what he says is reprehensible. My whole life I’ve believed in the right of self-expression, a right I’ve always chosen to exercise on the side of equality and empowerment. What I want to express would condemn speech like Eminem’s; does that make me a hypocrite who can’t accept differences?  


“As oppressed as Eminem may feel he is, he skin tone and sex place him safely in a position of power to say whatever he wants. His targets haven’t always had such opportunities. What is perhaps most terrifying to me is that he seems to be rapping about a reclamation of power (although it’s a personal rather than a political power), which he feels he is at liberty to steal from everyone around him. Usually, this manifests itself in fictional violence towards women – violence which is all too commonplace and whose rapped images appear so vividly and attractively to many of Eminem’s angrier male fans; women like his ex-wife and mother, who are perhaps closest to the rapper.


“The question always arises, how would Eminem’s critical champions respond to his lyrics if he replaced the word ‘bitch’ with ‘nigger’? Don’t say it wouldn’t matter, because we both know it would. But when he slices his ex-wife’s throat on a record it’s funny?


“I love his right to say that kind of stuff. I just hate to hear it.”




“Without Me,” “White America,” “Kill You,” and everything else on The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show are also his “joints.” He continues to perform out of earshot of his father:


“…I’d rather be a pussy whipped bitch, eat pussy, and have pussy lips glued to my face with a clit ring in my nose than quit bringin’ my flows…”


While’s he’s never hit a woman, I’m not sure he’s ever kissed one either. His lips are too busy bringing his flows.




“He’s got an obvious talent.”




            splattering spectators who cover, then wipe, their eyes. somebody should stop this. you smell it in the air, this victimization – a meat locker, deer hunt, trauma ward stench. somebody should stop this. the face on the canvas maybe has ebola – it hemorrhages eyeballs and nose hairs and tonsils, puddling, oozing, gushing, congealing

            dripping from that glove of his, raining on his own head

a boy bandmate’s head

            a politician’s head

            your head

            if you’re a fifteen-year-old






in the mirror

            you don’t know who it is


or why it is you’re fighting


or who returns your blows


? this somebody should stop     




In case you didn’t know, “syringes” rhymes with oranges.




“I’m kind of ashamed to admit this, but I love his new song. The one about his mom, ‘Skeletons in the Closet’.”


“‘Cleaning Out My Closet’? Hey, you know I love Eminem. Don’t be ashamed, embrace it.”


“Yeah, but you like everything.”

“A lot of people like Eminem. Not just high school boys. He’s pretty critically acclaimed. If you can get past all of that mom-raping, he’s actually quite self-reflective.”

“‘It’ll be so empty without me’? That’s reflective?”


“When it’s true.”




“How do we deal with Eminem? If you scream for him, you love him, and we can’t be having the conversation. You’re at home, with his album, and you’re banging your fists on some table or something. So you sit there in silence, and you give him your tacit consent. You’re like, ‘Hey, Man, it’s okay to hate women. I feel you.’ And you tell him it’s cool to be all menacing and bullying. You feel him. As he is wont to tell you, he’s the ‘White ‘Pac,’ and the ‘New Ice Cube’ – so let’s, for the moment, permit his contradictions. Music as therapy. “Stan” vs. “Kim.” Catharsis through rhyming. “Cleaning Out My Closet.” I think we’ve used the phrase, ‘He’s exorcising his demons on paper,’ or maybe, ‘on the mic’ before, and it holds. We feel him. So listen to him. Ponder him. But don’t say a word. Because he’s an Artist. We give him this freedom. The freedom of expression. The inalienable right. ‘The right to say something you might not like’ – which has gotta be one of the most culturally astute rhymes ever. Maybe you ignore him, but it’s getting harder to do. With the Grammys, the Video Music Awards, major magazines… How do you pretend the biggest pop star in America simply doesn’t exist?


“Again, I ask, how does one deal with Eminem? What recourse does one have if one absolutely despises him? Do you really hate everything he stands for? Is it worth the risk of calling him out? Are you willing to be smacked and swatted on a record? Are you willing to become the mosquito in his ear? Would you rather be a Moby, whose peaceful, positive, and feminist aura so emasculates Eminem that Eminem threatens physical violence against him on a nationally televised awards show?


“It’s Eminem who poses the questions. How do we deal with Eminem? How do we confront him? When he tests you, what’s your answer? He thinks he’s being fair by giving you two choices: either he ignores you or you’re slain. Either way, he defeats you. The winner and still champion, who doesn’t allow disputes.


“I wish I could ignore him, and then he would go away, but then he’s the victor when he kills me behind my back. It’s maybe indirect, like I’m just some nameless body, but then I’m the person who doesn’t understand him. Then I’m his ‘bitch’ or his ‘pussy’ or his ‘faggot.’ I’m his First Amendment birthright. I’ve created a monster. (That’s another clever reference he makes in ‘Without Me.’)


“No matter our method of dealing, we lose. Or, maybe we don’t so much lose as we’re playing a game we can’t win. Talk about him, write about him, positively or negatively, and you give him more publicity. You help him sell more albums. You inflate him even huger than he already is. He knows this, he knows we know this, and he’s so insanely talented that he throws it all up in our faces. He blows himself up more than we do. Which might be his Achilles’ heel. He’s a brilliant lyricist, yes, but he’s also a raging temper tantrum. When I saw him at the VMAs verbally assaulting Moby, I saw an unstable man. I can support his beefs on record, but he crosses the line when he actually wants to harm people.


“Is this supposed to be endearing? Is this how we want our cultural ambassadors to behave? What do his actions reflect about us? How much more enormous can his phenomenon grow? How do we deal with ourselves, when it’s we who support him and have given him his forum? How do we deal with our liking him? Can we chalk it all up to his talent? Because it’s not just his beats we’re enjoying. Do we really need a little controversy, like he says? I love Eminem. How can I put this in any kind of satisfactory context?


“Look, we’re all critical thinkers here. So let’s think on this. How do we deal with Eminem? Maybe give me your answers tomorrow. The one answer I can come up with is for him to just pop, you feel me? That might get him out of our hair. Which also might be disastrous. Because what would we talk about then?”


E-mail me your questions, comments, and suggestions at

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