October 28, 2004

I finally got a chance to see Eminem's Mosh video. The word on the video is that it is a powerful political statement, and a chance to take anger at BushCo's policies to the voting booth. It is. "the stars and stripes / have been swiped" sings Eminem, who is angry that BushCo have claimed patriotism while pursuing policies that hurt poor, urban Americans.

But as I watched the video I was reminded of Echidne's reminder that Eminem has a long history of misogynist vocals and images, and that while he has made a piece of art whose politics the lefty blogosphere approves, this does not by itself rehabilitate him. In some ways Echidne reminds me of the (few) Republicans who praised Trent Lott for his actions as a party leader while condemning him for never renouncing his ties to white supremacist groups.

While it is unrealistic to demand total purity from one's political allies - that is the way to the small tent of the perennial loser - it does not mean that standing within the big tent protects you from all criticism. I tell my students that the study of history is a constant set of moral judgments, conscious or not, as we attempt to make sense of the people of the past, their world views and their decisions. Modern life is the same, and it is entirely consistent to praise a person for some of what they do, criticize them for other things that they do - the consistency is in the moral code you use to interpret the world, not in the relationship to any particular individual.

Watch the video - it is quite powerful. But also notice that it shows a predominantly male world - the mosh pit in the third verse is all male, most of the lead characters are male - with women appearing more as moral markers than as actors who decide their fate. I noticed three women: the soldier's wife, the single mom, and the grandmother registering voters. The first symbolizes family, and remains at home. The second does get political and appears next to Eminem as the crowd rushes to vote - but she is not one of the people who acts to clear away obstacles to voting. The third is the most obvious moral marker - the old lady sitting behind a desk as people sign their names and go to vote. She symbolizes good government, tradition, and the notion that the very old provide moral governance to the very young.

I am glad to see that Eminem has gotten political. I am fascinated at the extent to which politics has re-emerged as part of popular culture, especially youth culture. I am curious to see where that political energy goes after the election. Eminem closes his song with a warning to both candidates - Mr. President, Mr. Senator - saying that his mosh generation will insist on being heard in the future. Rather than giving a blank check to any one political party he is issuing a call for constant vigilance. But then, as both the founders and Barry Goldwater reminded us, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Posted by Red Ted at October 28, 2004 09:10 AM | TrackBack

As a commenter said on my blog, one thing that can be said is that the video actually makes voting look cool. There is something to be said for that in today's youth market.

However I did notice the invisibility of women in the video, how there were no female soldiers, for example. I believe there was one woman we might have missed out on during a brief cut in the video. Not sure, gender is fairly ambiguous in the hooded army.

The video is powerful, yes, but as you said, doesn't excuse Eminem for the rest of his portfolio. I'm most disgusted with the excuse-making on his behalf, the group of followers who say that those of us who don't like him just don't get it. I get it - and I still think his lyrical content is disgusting.

Posted by: Lauren at October 28, 2004 11:16 AM

As a huge Eminem fan, I loved this post and have a couple of things to say.

If you've followed this guy from the beginning, he has always been political. A lot of his politics are social, and cultural - fighting against those who want to censor him - Mainly because of his battles with the FCC, and with Tipper Gore and other activists (gays, women's groups, blah blah) trying to shut him down. He names them ... he calls out their names tauntingly time and time again. He does an entire song to the FCC. "Well, the FCC won't let me be, won't let me be me, they try to shut me down on MTV, but it feels so empty without me..."

Etc. He taunts them. "Yeah, try to shut me down, but you'll miss me when I'm gone!"

In terms of his political leanings - his complaint is not so much that America has fought back against terror attacks (in one song, he imagines the horror of his daughter being on one of the planes - in one of his videos he portrays Osama bin Laden hiding in a cave and then being chased by a bunch of hip-hop soldiers ) - but his complaint is, as always, the class issues involved. The lower-classes getting screwed by the government, once again. "They'll take you 'fore they take me!"

And I might add - that a lot of his ideas, his themes, swing to a more conservative or traditional stance, believe it or not. He's big on strict parenting, on discipline, on being RESPONSIBLE. Not passing the buck. He refuses to be blamed for lazy parents who can't keep track of their kids, he refuses to be blamed for influencing young children - when the primary influence SHOULD be parents ... where the hell are the parents? He did one song about Columbine (actually, he references Columbine a ton ... it's one of his themes ... "Middle-America, NOW it's a tragedy..." Again, with his class-consciousness) ... But he rails at the PARENTS of those Columbine killers, not on the influences of Marilyn Manson, or the availability of guns - he shouts like a maniac: "WHERE WERE THE PARENTS AT!!"

I love the guy. I think he's a genius. I am counting the days until the release of his next CD.

Posted by: red at October 28, 2004 02:24 PM
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