Frank Kogan, The Village Voice, Pazz & Jop 2000 Supplement, February 14-20, 2001
I think gays genuinely give Eminem the creeps, but I also note that in the oft-quoted song where he seems to be saying that he kills fags and lezzes, the oft-quoters leave out the beginning, where he makes clear that he's not killing anyone, or believing in killing anyone: "A lot of people ask me stupid fucking questions. A lot of people think... that if I say that I want to kill somebody that I'm actually going to do it or that I believe in it. Well, shit, if you believe that, then I'll kill you." According to the lyrics, it's just his words that are like a dagger with a jagged edge, that'll stab you in the head whether you're a fag or a lez. And in the same song he kills Dre and a bank teller, neither of whom represents people he's prejudiced against. But Eminem likes to have things both ways, and his lyrics have trapdoors and escape hatches all through them – but then again the escape hatches have trapdoors too, which means that he ends up escaping back into the trap and so continually does end up implicating Marshall Mathers and not just Slim Shady. Listen to the joy with which he says "I'll kill you." He genuinely doesn't know whether Slim is a guy who's standing tough against the jerks or is an out-of-control asshole who will hurt his own loved ones. And he doesn't know how much of Slim's pathology is or isn't his own potential pathology. And he's got us not knowing either, which absolutely increases the power of his art.
I don't think he's at all settled in his own mind whether his words can kill or not, or whether he wants them to. He actually hopes that his message of sympathy will reach psycho Stan – potential Stans, real Stans – in time, before the Stans hurt themselves. Hey, Slim, that's called codependence, to think that your words can change a psychopath, that you can either set him off or save him. But anyway, Eminem also wants to tell you that he doesn't give a damn, that you can sue or shoot and he doesn't give a fuck – since he himself doesn't know whether he gives a fuck, since he wishes he didn't give a fuck, since he says that he's proud to be out of his mind and out of control.
Em isn't challenging his primary audience all that much in "The Real Slim Shady." But "Stan" and the two songs where he kills his wife, Kim, might challenge them more, since he's drawing a picture that his primary audience may not want to identify with. Actually, I'm not even sure what I mean by "primary audience" – when you've gotten as big as Eminem you're not like the Dixie Chicks, who can be ignored outside their genre, you're a pop phenomenon, everyone's your audience, everyone's got an opinion, even people who've never heard you. But what I'm thinking of as his primal primary audience is (1) hip-hop guys who dream of living crazy and not just living large and (2) trailer-trash guys and middle-class trailer wannabes. If you put "Shady" together with his non-"Shady" songs he does challenge those guys, in that when he urges them to be proud to be out of their minds and out of control, he then goes on to depict a really OUT out-of-his-mind drunk-and-jealous Em killing his wife, and an out-of-control psycho Stan killing wife and baby.
And when you get down to it, Eminem is his own prime audience; profound contradictions dog him and dig into him and spill out of him. For instance, he's probably really old-fashioned in his sense of normality – his weirdest line goes, "no worse than what's going on in your parents' bedrooms." Wait, Em, what's wrong with what goes on in bedrooms? Yet he seems to believe that the heterosexual nuclear family that he never had as a kid and barely had as an adult is normality, and is warmth and love and daddy playing with baby. And as I said he really seems creeped out by gay sex, which he thinks of as dirty and weird, not just as sex, and maybe he thinks all sex is dirty. I mean, he considers girls in makeup provocative! Adultery and gay sex are pretty much the only explicit sex that appears on his records, unless you want to count Carson and Fred getting head from Christina. So it's like anything that deviates from this nonexistent norm is weird. Yet his lyrics wallow in deviance, because the deviance itself, the breakdown of the heterosexual nuclear-family norm, is the precondition of his freedom. It's what allows him to cuss and go out of control and yell Fuck Him And Fuck You Too. Complicated guy.
The Real Slim Shady
This entry was originally posted at https://koganbot.dreamwidth.org/381409.html. Comments still welcome here, there, and anywhere.