Eminem is the spokesperson of our generation. The voice of the people (youth, mostly white suburbanites so far) for better or worse, of a million-plus followers, who dress like him, act like him and talk like him. Eminem is Generation X-tasy.
Because, like all pundits of poetry, prose or song lyrics that made a dent by way of pop culture in their respective societies before him, Eminem is brutally honest, uncannily witty and has his nicotine-stained fingers firmly placed on the pulse of a huge sector of today’s youngsters.
The fact that today’s youth are not responsible for a so-called worthy movement – their M.O., arguably, is to simply defy authority rather than subvert it like their flower power parents did as a means to a better end – does not diminish the fact that Eminem is the most emblematic pop culture figure of his generation.
When Eminem raps about eating purple pills and acid, like it or not, the collective minds of many suburban 20-year-olds hark back to the days of high school, or perhaps, just last weekend, when they engaged in the same self-destructive, mind twisting behavior.
Many of these individuals are already gainfully employed with B.A.’s and M.A.’s under their belts, while others are in lock down because their parents just Baker Acted them. Some are from the ghetto, but most designer-drug users come from affluent families and in 10 or 20 years these same individuals will be molding a new generation of minds, passing laws and holding positions as elected officials.
Bill Clinton got by with saying he didn’t inhale, and even George W. Bush has a D.U.I. hanging on his wall of shame. It’s also been highly rumored that both snorted their share of snow before taking up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue. So it’s not far-fetched to fathom a presidential candidate running several dozen years from now staring out at the masses via satellite, saying, “Why yes, I experienced the rave drug ecstasy that was so popular at the turn of the century, but I admonish today’s youth from making the same poor choice.”
In some songs, Eminem glorifies drugs, in others, he warns of ending up with a contorted spinal cord because of their undesirable effects. When Eminem raps about doing blow, X, smoking dope and huffing hippie crack, many of today’s youth are pulled in rather than repelled. They, the millions of today’s young folk who have eaten a purple pill or two-hundred, relate to his honest depiction of the experience.
More often than not, Eminem piques the listener’s curiosity simply because he is rapping about what they would only talk about in the privacy of their living rooms over a couple cases of beer and several bong rips. The fact that Eminem opines with enough wit to make Dennis Miller a little jealous appeals to the twenty-four year old professionals, already past their druggy haze halcyon daze, just as much as his blatant disregard for authority appeals to partying high schoolers.
When Eminem slings rhymes about the school bully, in the song “Brain Damage” (as Slim Shady), giving young Marshall Mathers a thorough beat down in the bathroom and yelling, “now you’re gonna die, honky” a million awkward 14-year-old white boys sympathize while college grads across the country immediately recall a similar experience.
So when Eminem describes pulverizing the domineering aggressor to within inches of his life, there’s an army of fans nodding their heads, wishing they’d had the balls to do the same – or at least the skills to offer a similar discourse in rhyme.
Do today’s youth, 16-25 year-olds, relate to most of what Eminem is yammering about? Hell yeah. And when Eminem carps about his un-loving, pill-popping mother some thank their Creator that they had a mom that showered theme with love.
Nobody in pop music bashes Mother. For God’s sake, if a country performer did it Johnny Cash would probably shoot the bastard, and with Billy Graham’s blessing, too. But, that doesn’t mean there’s not a million, or maybe a thousand (hopefully less), kids out there who have as strained a relationship with their maternal figure as Eminem does with his. Perhaps hearing Eminem vent brings them peace in knowing that they’re not alone.
When Eminem raps about offing his wife, well, that’s a sentiment that’s been showing up in music since long before the term “rock n’ roll” was anything more than a black euphemism for sex. Ever since (and actually before) Robert Johnson scored a regional hit with a record about cutting his old lady in two with a shotgun in the 1930s, killing one’s wife has been a common theme in popular music (probe The Oracle archives online for “Hey Eminem, Where Are You Going With That Pen in Your Hand?”).
For today’s youth who have never dabbled in drugs and were able to avoid McDonald’s parking lot scuffles and peer abuse, Eminem is a guilty pleasure on par with the water cooler joke that begins “I’m not a racist, but have you heard the one about theWetback, The Himey and the Wop?”
For seventeen-year-olds entering the jungle of the public school system five days a week, Eminem is an artist they can proudly blast on their car stereos – “windows down/system up” – as a device for pissing off their parents. That’s why baby boomers dug rock music wasn’t it?
To quote another generational spokesperson, Bob Dylan, a man who is mistakenly credited with molding the minds of his contemporaries, when really he was just riding the tide of what was coffeehouse chic at the time to gain prominence as a singer and who quickly betrayed “the movement” as soon as he had built the clout to do so, “the times they are a-changin’.” Dylan has said himself that in his early protest years he was simply reflecting in song the world around him rather than trying to actually promote change like the 20th Century prophet many tried to paint him as. And isn’t that exactly what Eminem is doing? Eating up the underbelly of society, catching the spirit of the times and spitting it back out in verse with more skill than any of his peers?
Dylan was no prophet but he did represent a zeitgeist and Eminem fills the role better than anyone since the early 90s pop culture poster boy, Kurt Cobain. All three of the above mentioned performers were and are flawed as people – yes, even Dylan (read the court transcripts from his late 1978 divorce) – yet they remain cultural icons with which millions of their contemporaries identify.
So is it a good thing that Eminem is the spokesperson of today’s youth? It doesn’t matter. Because everyone knows that the only difference between what is good and what is evil is who happens to be on the soap box in any given moment (right George?).
A more interesting topic of discussion is whether 200 years from now the collected works of Eminem, his lyrics and recordings, will be studied and analyzed in stuffy universities along side the writings and recordings of other literary luminaries such as Shakespeare,Voltaire and Dylan – Bob, that is, not Thomas.
Contact Wade Tatangelo at email@example.com