On the eve of the MTV Video Music Awards, the block in front of Radio City Music Hall was closed to traffic. Suddenly, about 75 young men strolled out of the artists’ entrance clad identically in blue jeans, white T-shirts and cropped, frosted blond hair. They lined up and paraded back and forth, rehearsing a musical number for the September 7 telecast. These lads looked downright Teutonic, save for their casual attire. From across Sixth Avenue, a small crowd of young women and a few young men greeted this surreal sight with screams of glee.
Of course, the hair-sprayed Aryans were doppelgangers for Eminem, the controversial and wildly popular white rap singer. One wonders, however, if any of the kids involved in this little scene ever has taken a peek at Eminem’s jaw-dropping lyrics. Warning: the following words are not for the faint-hearted.
Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee’s t**s off… My English teacher wanted to flunk me in junior high Thanks a lot, next semester I’ll be thirty-five I smacked him in his face with an eraser, chased him with a stapler and stapled his nuts to a stack of papers Owwwwwwww!
That passage is from the song “My Name Is.”
In the tune, “Kill You,” Eminem croons these words about raping and murdering his mother:
Bitch I’m a kill you! You don’t wanna f*** with me Girls leave — you ain’t nuttin’ but a slut to me Bitch I’m a kill you!
His first album includes a number where he fantasizes about dumping his real-life wife, Kim, in a lake, while his daughter tags along. In his second LP, he apparently carries out the deed in a song simply called “Kim”:
Don’t you get it bitch, no one can hear you? Now shut the f*** up and get what’s coming to you You were supposed to love me [cue sounds of a woman choking] NOW BLEED BITCH BLEED! BLEED BITCH BLEED! BLEED!
A few weeks after Eminem’s June 7 indictment for allegedly pistol-whipping a bouncer who reportedly kissed his wife, the real Mrs. Mathers slit her wrists in an unsuccessful suicide bid.
Eminem, meanwhile, seems particularly fascinated by homosexuality, a theme that repeatedly rears its head throughout his oeuvre. Consider this excerpt from the song “Marshall Mathers,” which happens to be Eminem’s real name:
New Kids on the Block suck a lot of d*** Boy-girl groups make me sick And I can’t wait till I catch you f****ts in public I’ma love it (hahaha).
And then there’s this:
Slim anus? You’re damn right, slim anus I don’t get f***ed in mine Like you two little flaming f****ts.
Perhaps in an effort not to be mistaken for a homophobe, Eminem explains in a video for the song “The Real Slim Shady”:
“If we can hump dead animals and antelopes then there’s no reason a man and another man can’t elope.”
Eminem, who loves to wag his middle fingers in front of the cameras when he’s photographed, is no underground musician. He won three MTV awards after shuffling down Radio City’s aisle followed like the Pied Piper by those scores of hair-dyed dead ringers. His latest album, “The Marshall Mathers LP” has sold at least 4 million copies, generating casks of cash for Interscope, a unit of Seagrams, Inc. MTV, a division of Viacom, has promoted Eminem heavily, at one point airing “EmTV,” an entire weekend of programming dedicated to the 27-year-old. While parents, legislators and even social critic Lynne Cheney have denounced Eminem’s swill, executives at these major corporations congratulate themselves for never underestimating the taste of the American teenager.
While Eminem deserves to be dropped from a great height for new lows in mayhem, misogyny, and homophobia, he’s not the first rapper to conquer by stooping. The sad truth is that he crouches in a crowded gutter. Alas, the Eminem craze is just another stop on America’s long slide into hell.
Even a practicing Manhattan libertarian like me recoils at the crassness and vulgarity that erupt daily from America’s stereos, TVs, and movie screens. Never mind the glass ceiling. Americans now inhabit a glass floor. As soon as our popular culture seems to have bottomed out, the glass floor shatters once again, plunging this country another story or two. How much deeper can we sink beneath quadruple-platinum songs about Oedipal matricide? That’s anyone’s guess.
Consider just a few recent examples of America’s culture of corrosion:
*Shock comedian Tom Green not long ago discussed his testicular cancer on an MTV special. While this can be a serious but treatable ailment for young men, Green decided to go for the gross-out. “Hey, kids, feel your b***s, so you don’t get cancer!” he sang in a tribute to his gonads. Viewers also were treated to a close-up of Green’s surgically-removed testicle, tumor and all.
*People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recently generated headlines for itself when it posted a billboard ad featuring New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani with a milk mustache across his upper lip, a la a “Got Milk?” spot. Instead, the copy read, “Got cancer?” and claimed that milk has been linked to prostate cancer, an illness for which Giuliani currently is being treated.
*The evening news broadcasts often include commercials for feminine moisturizers. No doubt, many women suffer from vaginal dryness and benefit from learning about products that alleviate that condition. But must we all learn about them during the NBC Nightly News at 6:40 p.m. — a time when the children are wide awake, that’s also the dinner hour for millions of working families?
Similarly, ads for Viagra avoid the term “impotence” and instead refer to “erectile dysfunction.” Rather than serve as a euphemism — or perhaps re-empower the impotent — “erectile dysfunction” uses twice as many syllables as the other term. Far worse, its graphic nature forces us to focus on precisely what it is that is on the fritz.
*boo.com, an on-line sportswear store, ran an ad not long ago in which an in-line skater looks disoriented after bouncing off the hood of a car that just smacked him. In another ad, a jogger vividly vomits into a mesh garbage can. Supposedly this helps sell sneakers and sweat shirts.
*The otherwise classy movie Space Cowboys briefly takes a trip to Planet Yuck when pilot Tommy Lee Jones takes a young man for a wild ride on a crop duster. The teenager, naturally, upchucks in living color. After they land, Jones spends precious screen time cleaning up the mess as director Clint Eastwood’s audience groans.
*CNN Headline News, a subsidiary of Time-Warner, aired an item in early September about a dog who ate the wedding ring of one of its owners. A veterinarian x-rayed the pooch, clearly revealing the ring in the dog’s stomach. So far, so cute.
The most basic taste would have led the reporter to explain that the ring was recovered after the dog passed it, and that the couple and their canine pal are living happily ever after. No such luck. In the most staggeringly stomach-turning sequence I’ve ever seen televised, viewers were treated to footage of the dog’s master rooting around in the dog’s droppings with a turkey baster. CNN even showed a close-up of the ring, on the ground, surrounded by dog waste.
I hate to imagine where America may fall should the glass floor rupture beneath that.
Thankfully, there are a few elegant rest stops on the highway to Hades. B.B. King and Eric Clapton are a two-man non-Eminem on their outstanding album, “Riding with the King”. Its wide variety of blues material ranges from mighty boot stompers like “Days of Old” to a gentle rendition of “Key to the Highway” on which the two masters devote their considerable powers to acoustic guitars.
The ever-reliable Simpsons bring their brand of brightly-colored satire back to Fox on November 5. This fall also promises the re-release of the best film so far this year: Wonder Boys, Curtis Hanson’s warm and witty walk through the imploding world of college professor Michael Douglas.
On the silver screen right now, Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous takes a delightful and autobiographical look at how love and the love of music affect a 15-year-old writer on assignment for Rolling Stone. The funny and charming movie barely suffers from an obligatory but tastefully-handled shot in which the hero gets sick to the stomach after his plane nearly crashes.
In contrast to today’s musical garbage dump, a far more memorable sequence in the film dramatically illustrates how far we’ve plunged in sound and spirit since the oft-maligned 1970s. As a fictional band called Stillwater travels in its tour bus from one gig to the next, the writer, musicians and a few cherished fans share a tender moment singing along to Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s 1971 hit, “Tiny Dancer.”
Think how many glass floors have perished as you compare Taupin’s lyrics below to any square inch of Eminem’s vocal graffiti:
Looking on She sings the songs the words she knows the tune she hums But oh how it feels so real lying here with no-one near Only you, and you can hear me, When I say softly, slowly. Hold me closer Tiny Dancer count the headlights on the highway. Lay me down in sheets of linen, you had a busy day today.
I lamented much of this cultural chaos recently with my uncle in Southern California. He’s far tamer now than in his tenure as a campus radical. While attending UCLA in the late 1960s, he kept a picture of Fidel Castro beside his desk and once warmly recalled the day a few of his friends set the campus ROTC office ablaze. He now lives in a two-story home and plays jazz CDs on the stereo that rests atop his 36-inch TV set.
“What on Earth has gone wrong?” I asked my uncle.
“Remember when we used to say, ‘Let it all hang out?’” he replied with an avuncular smile. “Well, it’s all hanging out.”