Eminem, aka Marshall Bruce Mathers III, is white, male and famous. The hip hop “artist” from Detroit sings about raping his mother, brutally murdering women and terrorising gays and lesbians. Sarah Jones is black, female and a little-known underground artist. She raps against sexism, using her talents as a powerful wordsmith to answer all misogynists of the hip hop genre.
Master of misogyny. Eminem is very rich. His latest album, titled The Marshall Mathers LP, sold 7.9 million copies in the U.S. alone last year — 1.76 million in just its first week. It was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys. He was the top selling artist last year in Canada. The tickets for his U.K. tour in February sold out in under an hour.
Eminem has appeared on the front cover of Rolling Stone. He hit the world headlines when he preformed a closing duet at the Grammy Awards this year with ultra-opportunist gay singer, Sir Elton John. And now an Australian university even plans to offer a cultural studies lecture series about him!
Mistress on a mission. Sarah Jones has not made it onto the Australian academic curriculum. Nor has she made millions. Jones was not invited to perform at the Grammy Awards. But she has featured on the cover of MS Magazine. Her song, Your Revolution, is popular among young feminists:
“Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
The real revolution ain’t about bootie size
The Versaces you buy, or the Lexus you drives…
“…Your revolution ain’t gonna knock me up without no ring, And produce little future M.C.’s
Because that revolution will not happen between my thighs, Your revolution will not find me in the back seat of a jeep…
“…Your revolution will not be you sending me for no drip drip VD shot, Your revolution will not involve me or feeling your nature rise, Or having you fantasize
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs”
On October 20, 1999 Deena Barnwell, an urban music DJ at community radio station KBOO in Portland Oregon, played Your Revolution on her hip hop music program, Soundbox. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled the song indecent and fined the not-for-profit, volunteer station $7,000 for playing it! The ruling against KBOO in effect censors Your Revolution from the airwaves.
This appalling decision has provoked a spirited fightback. Feminists, determined to popularise Jones’ musically satisfying, defiant and independent message, are shouting out in the song’s defence.
Just a joke? Eminem has his defenders too, even among the Left. Gay, socialist academic, Graham Willett, argued in The Age newspaper that depicting hatred and violence is not the same as approving of it. He claims Eminem is critiquing the violence of his character, Slim Shady, and is really protesting against a decaying society. Says Willett, “Eminem’s critics want to shoot the messenger — mostly without even listening to the message. They would be better off shutting up and listening.”
Willett is someone I respect, so I decided to take his advice and listen for myself. But before grabbing the headphones, I checked out what Eminem, the man himself, had to say on this question. Back in 1999 he said, “Anybody with a sense of humour is going to put on my album and laugh from beginning to end.”
Well, excuse me, I must be one of those humourless feminists! The opening track on The Marshall Mathers LP is called “Kill You”:
“Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore
til the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more…
“…Shut up slut, you’re causin too much chaos
Just bend over and take it slut, okay Ma?
Oh, now he’s raping his own mother, abusing a whore,
snorting coke, and we gave him the Rolling Stone cover?
You goddamn right bitch, and now it’s too late I’m triple platinum…
“… Bitch I’ma kill you! You don’t wanna fuck with me
Girls leave — you ain’t nuttin but a slut to me…
“…You ain’t nuttin but a girl to me
I said you don’t, wanna fuck with Shady
Cause Shady, will fuckin kill you…
“…Okay, I’m ready to go play
I got the machete from O.J.
I’m ready to make everyone’s throats ache
You faggots keep eggin me in till I have you at knife point”
The rapper’s personal life has received extensive media coverage. Reports suggest his real-life attitudes are every bit as patriarchal as his character Shady. A biography by Eminem’s former bodyguard blew the whistle on the rapper’s regular sexual liaisons and his pistol whipping of a man he saw his wife (Kim) kiss. In a vile number dedicated to Kim, he celebrates domestic violence. After her throat is cut, Eminem moans “bleed bitch, bleed.” If this is a tribute to Kim, I’m not surprised by media reports of her attempted suicide.
A powerful critique of capitalism? Parody? Something to laugh at? If this is a joke, the punch line is simply not funny. The closing words of “Kill You” are: “Hahaha, I’m just playing, ladies, you know I love you.”
Well this lady ain’t playing back! I’m with Sarah Jones and all the other radical rappers who sing about unity and diversity and mount a challenge to sexism and homophobia.
Eminem down under. In July Eminem visited Australia. In a re-run of a debate which raged before a gig in Canada last year, local rightwing family values folks, led by Queensland Liberal MP, Peter Slipper, called for the tour to be stopped and demanded that the government refuse Eminem a visa. In the lead-up to Eminem’s tour of England earlier this year, gay leftist Peter Tatchell from the group Outrage, backed a similar appeal to the British Government.
While Eminem’s music has the effect of normalising homophobia and violence against women, supporting rightwing appeals to the government to censor him or use laws to prevent the tour would have been a serious mistake. The FCC ban on broadcasting Your Revolution highlights why censorship by the Capitalist State is not the way to eliminate material that perpetuates oppression.
Media discussion in the lead-up to the Eminem tour, including an hour of debate on ABC radio’s Australia Talks Back, suggests that the majority of Australians oppose the idea of a Big Brother Government deciding for us. Sure, I agree with everyone who argues that Eminem has a right to free speech. But feminist and queer activists who challenge his profiteering at our expense, have a right to free speech, too.
What’s required is a strong grassroots movement utilising a variety of tactics, including protests like those outside the Grammy Awards, which aim to drown out his message with our own. Let’s also promote radical hip hop performers and help make sexist and homophobic music plain uncool.
From decay to revolution. In The Age Willett argues, “Eminem is reporting from the underbelly of a decaying society. These reports are bound to get ugly…If it is violent and disturbing, all that does is tell us what kind of world we have created in the last 50 years.” I agree with Willett that both the misogyny of Eminem and the counter-protest of Sarah Jones are products of late capitalism. That’s why I choose to channel the seething rage I felt when listening to Eminem and hearing about the censorship of Your Revolution into fighting for a world where capitalism — the source of both sexism and homophobia — no longer exists. I want a world where CDs which peddle sexism and homophobia can’t even be shifted at a heavily discounted price at remainder sales and sluggish ticket sales result in concert cancellations.
Sarah Jones tells us how we’re gonna get there:
“Your revolution makes me wonder,
Where could we go
If we could drop the empty pursuit of props and the ego
We’d revolt back to our roots
Use a little common sense on a quest to make love
De la soul, no pretense, but
Your revolution will not be you flexing your little sex and status
To express what you feel
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not be you shaking
And me, [sigh] faking between these thighs
Because the real revolution
That’s right, I said the real revolution
You know, I’m talking about the revolution
When it comes,
It’s gonna be real
When it finally comes
It’s gonna be real”