Flashback: It’s the year 2000, and Public America’s Cultural Enemy Number One is a rapper named eminem (aka Marshalll Mathers III), who has ascended from the country’s closest approximation of hell (aka his hometown, Detroit). His abundant use of the words “bitch” and “faggot” has aroused the full spectrum of PC police, left and right.
The violence in his songs is echoed by headlines of his own arrest on gun charges in two consecutive public brawls. And since he is white, he can’t be ghettoised.
His music is saturating the suburbs at a faster rate than that of black hip-hop artists. Congress, inflamed by the Columbine shootings and looking for scapegoats, rounds up the usual suspects for hearings.
Now, as the Anger Management juggernaut gears up to invade Britain, everything has changes. 8 Mile, which grossed $54 million on its first weekend, gained an Oscar for Best Song and drew rave reviews across the board, has turned Eminem into a mainstream movie star. The success of his Protégé 50 Cent has launched him as a producer and entrepreneur.
The last time Eminem was in the UK, gay lobbyists picketed him. 8 Mile contained a telling digression in which its hero rushes to the rescue of a fellow metal-plant worker who had been mocked for being gay. Jimmy’s intervention takes the form of a rap pointedly denigrating the bigoted bully, rather than the ridiculed gay man, as a ‘faggot‘. The sequence was clearly designed to buttress Mathers’ argument that when “faggot” appears in his songs it is either:
a) spoken in the voice of Eminem’s nasty hip-hop alter ego, Slim Shady or
b) being used as an all-purpose insult “not meant to be literal”.
Eminem says now that has never been a homophobe. “It’s really none of my business. I don’t give a fuck what you sexual preferences are. As long as you’re cool with me, I’m cool with you”.
Thanks to such smooth maneuver, these days Eminem’s audiences range from babes in arms to middle-aged men (“from 5 to 55”, he says). Though in ‘White America’ he brags about being “in trouble with the government”, neither the song nor the video has aroused any new protests from Washington.
“It’s something that we’ve blatantly noticed,” says Mathers, who is known to his associates as either Marshall or Em, when asked about this unexpected truce.