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Loving To Hate Eminem Is the Right Kind Of Wrong

Eminem Marshall Mathers Slim Shady As I eagerly await the release of Eminem's new album, Recovery, on June 22nd, I gave myself  the task of grappling with a question. Why is Eminem, a rapper who delivers enough offensive content to offend everyone in some form or another, the best selling artist of the last decade? We're constantly being taught that we're supposed to be nice. We're supposed to be progressing toward some collective enlightened nice world where everyone's nice. So how did Eminem sell 32.2 million albums in the 2000s?

Let's kick this off with a list of his offenses. These are just off the top of my head so the list is definitely not comprehensive.

1). He raps about beating up, raping, and killing women. He hits all the bases here with words like bitch and ho and slut and cunt, etc.

2). He raps openly about hating homosexuals - beating them up and the like.

3). He raps explicitly about grisly murders and has an interest in serial killers.

4). He raps about using drugs.

5). He calls a lot of people out by name but his mockery of Christopher Reeves, even after his death, probably represents his low point.

6). He says all the bad swears and says culturally banned words like faggot and retard.

7). He says a lot of mean things about his Mom. I love my Mom.

8). He's just not very nice. What did I miss? 

9). Oh, of course. He just don't give a fuck.

Eminem2 Marshall Mathers giving the finger

And yet, in spite of all the strikes against him, Eminem isn't merely a big deal in popular music. He's the BIGGEST deal in popular music. What gives?

One answer that springs to mind is that Eminem is so popular because he represents popular opinion. Maybe most people hate women and homosexuals so we bought up 32.2 million albums because Eminem expressed what we all think and believe. Let's go beat up a faggot and slap a ho. No? Doesn't sound right, does it? Oh certainly, the world has its share of misogyny and homophobia and of course there's a nice chunk of people who hear Eminem and think "You're god damn right!" but I think it's safe to say that Eminem's popular music doesn't express popular collective values.

Even if you disagree, at least WE don't hate women and homosexuals, right? Right. Of course. A lot of good upstanding citizens who have all the right views dig on Marshall Mathers. In fact, with 32.2 million albums sold in a decade, odds are that a lot of women and homosexuals dig on Marshall Mathers too. Why would the objects of his scorn disregard that scorn and fill his pockets with money?

Let's just say it straight. The shit Eminem says is heinous. He's wrong. Why do we love him anyway?

It's at this point where some people jump in to give him the genius pass. Eminem has an uncanny command of the language. He's brilliant. If we overlook what he's saying, if we could somehow strip the meaning off what he says, what he does with sound is without parallel. It's otherworldly. His verbal bridges connect chunks of language in ways only he has mined and explored. That, and he does it fast as hell too. Listening to Eminem is to be in awe of what can be done with a voice and a tongue.

But it's language. We can't separate what he says from its meaning and he's saying it at a time when homosexual rights are struggling toward marriage and the fight for equal rights for women is far from over. Both groups are battered and it's not funny, even if you're a genius. It's no joke. So why then is Eminem the world's number one selling musical artist? 

Though my personal view damn near permits artists the right to do whatever they want, I still think there's more to our collective infatuation with Eminem than the fact that he's brilliant. I think it has a lot to do with those middle fingers. This is a fine line to walk. But I don't believe that to love Eminem is to support what he says. However, no matter what kind of craziness he's spewing, no matter where we stand in terms of agreeing with it or not agreeing with it, the source of our kinship with this mouthy little punk from Detroit is that hidden part of ourselves (hidden, even to ourselves?) that doesn't give a fuck.

All the things that you know in your heart to be good and right and true - they all cast a shadow that just don't give a fuck. It's there. And the gooder and righter you try to be, the bigger it gets - the more explosive it gets. Until the most virtuous people burst into the worst. All the priestly secrets currently quaking the foundations of the Catholic Church is a case in point. Being good is an illness. When will we recover from being so right?

With no cure in sight, we can at least find temporary relief via Eminem's middle fingers and his reckless rhymes. He's a release valve for the constant every day pressure to be so fucking nice and good. Of course the best of you will never acknowledge the need to be bad as a function of health. But can you really argue with 32.2 million in album sales? Oh, have it your way then. At least Eminem will keep on not giving a fuck until the rest of us can give less of one.

Recovery hits the streets June 22.

. . . . .
B Hockey J is whatever you say I am. If I wasn't, then why would I say I am?

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Life of a Doctor's Wife

I love love love this post. SO WELL SAID.

I hate the things Eminem says. But I love how connected he is to his feelings. And I love that he expresses them in such an unbelievably lyrical way - that he can combine rhythm and sound the way he does. I guess when it comes down to it, I'm just in awe of how powerful his emotions are and how he can translate them - in all their raw vulgarity - so clearly into music. There's something beautiful and magical and sublime about that.

But I also agree there's something to your idea that we connect with something in his attitude. I'm a middle-class former cheerleader with a master's degree who STILL listens to her parents and obeys all traffic laws... and there's some aspect of rebellion involved in listening to Eminem spin his vicious rhymes.


Awesome post. I think Eminem is the antithesis of the overly politically correct world we find ourselves in today. We live in a world where we have to watch everything we say and do in order to be the least offensive as possible, his music could possibly be the breath of fresh air to many. The guilty pleasure you can download from iTunes in the middle of the night and sing to in the car when no one is around. Because maybe sometimes everyone just wants to "fuck it" even if it’s in a context that they are supposed to care about.


I don't dispute that he's extremely talented. But I can't help but think that, no matter what your beliefs, hearing repetition of hateful sentiments ultimately poisons the mind. Maybe I'm just a delicate flower, but I don't want my thoughts trending in the direction his songs take, so I don't listen to his music, even when it's catchy. (He has a couple of songs with poignant messages that make me hope he is not as sour and angry as he projects.)

It may be his job to fully express himself, but I feel it's my job to guard what I consume. I worry about folks who are not as thoughtful as those on Mamapop and may internalize everything that hits their ears.


So well said, & so, so interesting. I often struggle with reconciling my love of Eminem & others of his ilk & my feminist values. I'm not sure that this post entirely covers my reasons (not that it should), but it sure as hell starts a conversation about it. I'm going to send my political studies students to have a read, because, DAMN!!


That second to last paragraph? "All the things that you know in your heart..." Perfect.


Incognito already said what I wanted to say. High Five, Incognito!


I never really liked Eminem until 8 Mile. I have to say that I was extremely impressed not just by the movie and the story it told, but the incredible way that his brand of music played a part in that life. Knowing that it was at least partially autobiographic really changed my respect level for him.

Ultimately, though, I still don't listen to his music, I still don't buy his records because, I agree with Incognito. It's not okay to say those things, and I think that for me and mine, at least, it's not okay to listen to those things on high repeat. And (again, for me) it's not okay to fund the hate.

It's difficult for me, but I have to draw a line in my personal philosophy. I respect his ability and I respect him as an artist. I do believe that he expresses a cultural rage and simultaneous antipathy and that there is a place for that. But, I just can't financially support what I regard as hate speech.


people love him for the same reasons they love terribly subject matter films and the like. Nasty horror flicks, filled with murder, cannibalism, torture, etc.. The proverbial "Rubber Necking" when there is an accident on the highway.
It's the same in my opinion for music and its artists as well. Anything gore-people can't stop looking or listening-even if they are still passive and don't want to do what they see or hear. That's why people are buying up his tracks and lining his pockets-cuz he's damn good at telling a story in a way that 32.2 million people enjoy.


Hmmm. I don't give a fuck, AND i can't stand Eminem. So I'm not sure how I fit. Or don't fit.

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