Term Paper: Eminem Safe? An Examination of a Folk

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¶ … Eminem Safe? An Examination of a Folk Devil and Moral Panics

Today's pop culture is more heavily based on music than ever before in history. The advent of music videos and the Internet has made music one of the most prevalent features in society. Today's youth are especially affected by the "fast-paced-MTV-sound-byte-information-glutted age that is at the center of the increasingly homogenized post-modernization process" (Halifu). One of the most omnipresent genres of music today is hip hop.

No longer simply an underground form of urban music, hip hop today is utterly pervasive, in the global youth community. What began as a means of expression for the disenfranchised Blacks of the South Bronx area has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry that influences every thing from prime time television to fashion (Taylor) to the way an entire subculture thinks, speaks and feels. No matter what corner of the globe, if music videos are played and CDs are sold, hip hop has had an impact on that society (George 206). The question then becomes, has that impact been positive or negative?

This paper will explore one of the most successful hip hop artists, Eminem, in an attempt to answer this question. A brief historical synopsis, of hip hop, will be given as well as an overview of Eminem. From there, the media's take on Eminem will be explored, along with his effect on today's youth. Finally, other hip hop artists will be presented and how they too have affected an entire generation of global youth.

Hip Hop History:

To fully understand hip hop's influence on the youth of the world, and to determine whether or not the moral panic that has arisen as a result is justified, one must first understand how this powerful genre of music began. Although some may think that hip hop music was developed over the last few decades, it actually comes from the ancient societies of Egypt, as a rich, Black tradition of admiration for rhetoric in both written and spoken form. It is part of the Black rhetorical continuum, as it borrows from and expands a tradition of creative use of language styles and strategies. It was created as rhetoric of resistance primarily to racial discrimination and oppression (Kopano).

In addition, to these ancient traditions, hip hop can find its roots in the griots of West Africa, from more than two hundred years ago. The griots were, and in some rural areas still are, storytellers, poets and traveling singers who played an important role in ancient African societies. They used poetry and rhythm to teach the people about their history, as written language was rarely used ("Griot").

From these historic traditions, social and political factors would be the ultimate catalyst that developed what is now known as hip hop, in America. In 1959, the Cross-Bronx Expressway was built right through the very heart of the Bronx. The Expressway displaced many of the middle-class white communities, causing stores and factories to close, and widespread unemployment ensued, especially among the Black population. To compound the urban area's problem, the 15,000+-apartment Co-op City, was built in 1968, on the northern edge of the Bronx, sending the last of the middle-class citizens fleeing to suburbs. and, by 1970, poverty in the community was rampant as Black and Latino gangs began to grow in power ("Hip Hop Music").

As the Bronx was succumbing to social and economic decline, other urban areas across America found themselves in similar situations. Many of America's manufacturers began to leave the cities to reestablish themselves in locations where land and labor was cheaper. African-American youth unemployment skyrocketed to 40%. To make the situation worse, middle-class Blacks left the inner cities, and headed for the suburbs (Wilson).

This out-migration had several effects. First, with the leaving of the middle-class Blacks, the youth that remained no longer had successful role models to look up to and emulate. Second, the out-migration reduced the tax revenues of the local governments, which led to a decline in public services. In addition, a conservative government, at both the state and federal levels, reduced school and welfare funding, causing further destitution in the ghetto (Wilson). Third, economic opportunities for bettering themselves, in these urban areas, were slim to none at best. This disenfranchisement gave hip hop the social angst it needed to derive its commentary from.

Hip hop and its interwoven cultural facets quickly spread from the Bronx to uptown Manhattan (most notably Harlem), Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Long Island, across the river to northern New Jersey (Waite), and eventually around the globe. However, the art form that originally began as an outlet for expression against atrocities such as: oppression, poverty and discrimination, began to change. By the 1990s, hip hop began to cater to the youth market's baser instincts and began to realize mainstream commercial success (Waite). During this time, one of hip hop's most popular artists emerged on the scene, Eminem.

Eminem - a Hip Hop Phenomenon:

Eminem was born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, on October 17, 1972, in Saint Joseph, Michigan. He is known for being the most critically acclaimed and one of a very few successful White rappers in the hip hop industry ("Eminem"). However, it is his caustic lyrics that perhaps has drawn the most attention.

Growing up in both Saint Joseph and Detroit, a young Mathers began performing rap at the age of fourteen. Eminem released his first independent album, Infinite, in 1995. Two years later, the Slim Shady EP was released. His popularity in the hip hop subculture began to grow due to his lyrical style and the fact that he was White ("Eminem").

Dr. Dre had discovered a demo tape of Eminem's on the floor of the Interscope label chief, Jimmy Iovine. However, it wasn't until Eminem won second place against Otherwize at the 1997 Rap Olympics MC Battle, that Dr. Dre decided to finally sign him ("Eminem"). It was these two events that would lead to his becoming one of the most successful hip hop artists, in the industry.

In 1999, Interscope released Eminem's album, the Slim Shady LP, which quickly gained popularity, going triple platinum. However, there was controversy, almost immediately, about the lyrical content. In the song, "97 Bonnie and Clyde," "Eminem describes a trip with his infant daughter, disposing of the bodies of his wife, her lover and his son. Another song, "Guilty Conscience" ends with Eminem and Dr. Dre encouraging a man to murder his wife and her lover" ("Eminem").

In the year 2000, Eminem's album, the Marshall Mathers LP, was the most popular hip hop album in the United States, going platinum nine times. No other rapper had ever achieved such success. ("Hip Hop Music"). However, with it came more controversy, especially as the album was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. The misogyny, violence, and gay-bashing which prevailed in the lyrics did not sit well with the media and Eminem is still found at the center of controversy in the media with his newer albums as well.

The Media's Take on Eminem:

The media have been split when it comes to whether or not Eminem is a folk devil or an innocuous entertainer. For some, there is a moral panic. For others, Eminem is merely expressing the strife and turmoil all those who have experienced life in the ghetto have to face.

McCrillis and the like, see Eminem as merely a lightning rod for the debate over free speech. These supporters acknowledge the violent and abrasive content of Eminem's songs, but defend him by stating that Eminem, and not even hip hop in general, is the only purveyor of viciousness in the music industry. and, in fact, his lyrics are more inline with a political speech, and should be respected as such.

Supporters, like World and I's McCrillis defend even the most violent of Eminem lyrics. They believe that simply by relating a first-person narrative that this in no way, shape or form demonstrates what Eminem's true intentions are or what he advocates. Although McCrillis acknowledges that Eminem's lyrics are offensive, he continues to defends lyrics such as "I'm sorry; there must be a mix-up / You want me to fix up lyrics while the President gets his dick sucked? / ***** that, take drugs, rape sluts / Make fun of gay clubs, men who wear make-up" as merely an example of him being a clever lyricist.

It was Aristotle who first put forth the idea, too that by expressing oneself through art that it could help quell the manifestations of the physical acts described in that art. Yet, Socrates felt that humans actually learned through imitation of artwork, and therefore such negative expression could have a detrimental effect on society. and, as McCrillis notes, it was Aristotle who countered with the idea that "poetry is a higher thing than history because poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular," clearly trying to draw a connection between Eminem's violent rantings and poetry.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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