Just how bizarre has the state of the youth culture become? Try this. When basketball star Allen Iverson was indicted for busting down doors and threatening people with guns, one ESPN radio show spent time debating the prospect that all the negative headlines might be a boost to his image with the kiddies.
It is bad enough thinking of poor black kids in the inner cities aspiring to the dead ends of the "thug life." But it's worse because it is simply inexcusable, when the bad-boy worship comes from the suburbs where kids lack the desperation of poverty and are (relatively) free from the culture of violence, where the major challenges are creeping obesity and too much idle time.
Though the rap music phenomenon was born in the city and dominated by blacks, it has captured the white suburbia market. Thus it came as no surprise that as soon as a plausible white rapper walked onto an MTV screen, he would be a phenomenon, and so the star named Eminem was born. Even he knows the score, joking on his first track that "if I was black, I woulda sold half."
By now this punk's outrageous-scary-white-boy antics are getting a little tired, and on his latest CD, "The Eminem Show," the addled fans are just getting more of the same, with obscenities substituting for talent. Eminem uses the "M" and "F" words together so often, you wonder why he didn't call himself "Eminef."
So what's the appropriate reaction this time around?
The calculated outrageousness of an Eminem eventually can convince the critic to keep quiet, to deny the provocateur the fun and profit his controversy generates. No doubt Lynne Cheney dislikes this album as much as any of the previous ones, but apparently she's decided not to take the bait by responding to Eminem's F-word taunts and jokes about her husband's heart condition.
There is the hope that in time the novelty will wear out its welcome. Madonna's albums at times looked like a catalogue of "now which line can I cross?" But eventually even Madonna grew tired when she ran out of crosses to burn.
Besides, to engage Eminem in debate is like challenging the intellectual acumen of a coconut. How does one respond to Eminem's political analysis? For example, take this: "I am the ringleader of this circus of worthless pawns / Sent to lead the march right up to the steps of Congress/ and piss on the lawns of the White House...to spit liquor in the face of this democracy of hypocrisy." Or this: "The boogie monster of rap, yeah the man's back / with a plan to ambush this Bush administration / moosh the Senate's face in and push this generation / of kids to stand and fight for the right to say something you don't like."
Like, what kind of manifesto is this? As much as he'd like to imagine himself as some sort of latter-day hip-hop Voltaire, Eminem has nothing to offer but bravado and profanity. I've read more momentous graffiti on bathroom walls.
After all the raging against hypocrisy, Eminem is its very personification. He piously tells interviewers he doesn't swear around his young daughter, Hailey, and doesn't let her listen to his music. Isn't that nice? And isn't it a wee bit hypocritical to shelter your own child from your studio tantrums, but F-bomb everyone else's kids into submission?
And so we should keep silent-except to remain silent is to yield the court of public opinion to the so-called music critics many of whom can't get enough of this monstrosity. The Web site allmusic.com raves: "Eminem is the gold standard in pop music in 2002, delivering stylish, catchy, dense, funny, political music that rarely panders." New Musical Express calls him "the biggest and best pop star in the world. A true artist, no one since Kurt [Cobain, the Nirvana lead singer who killed himself] has raged so hard and articulately."
Articulate? Only these sages could find undiscovered depth in tastelessly incoherent lines like "how can this [expletive] be so easy / how can one Chandra be so Levy?" Apparently in the land of music a catchy beat and some instrumental noodling make what looks like simple inanity on the page sound like profundity in your ears.
One can only hope the millions of children who make Eminem prosper some day will grow up undamaged by his vitriol. But it's probably too much to hope - now that he's almost 30 -that Eminem will ever grow up and realize what he's done as "ringleader of this circus of worthless pawns."