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Delacroix, Sardanapalus

    Invisible Misogyny

  1. I do not intend to condone or excuse Eminem’s degradation of women, but rather to suggest that we see it against a background of entrenched institutionalized misogyny rather than as some phenomenon unique to Eminem or to rap as a genre. Significantly, the “clean” version of The Marshall Mathers LP, which bears no parental advisory and is sold at Wal-Mart, deletes the profanity and drug references, but does not alter the woman-hating sentiments (DeCurtis, “Eminem’s Hate Rhymes” 17–21).

  2. The degree to which violence against women is accepted as normal in American culture is indicated by the haste with which it was dropped from the media coverage after the Grammys. Pre-Grammy coverage of the Eminem controversy on National Public Radio considered both homophobia and violence against women as serious issues. However, NPR’s day-after reportage of the rapper’s public relations duet with Elton John on the song “Stan” said nothing further about misogyny or spousal murder (National Public Radio). “Stan,” however, rehearses the very same trope while deflecting blame onto someone else: in this song, not Slim Shady, but rather an obsessive fan locks his pregnant wife into the trunk of a car then drives off a bridge.35 In coverage by other media, ranging from the left-wing institution The Nation to popular tabloid-style publications like Teen People, violence against women took a remote second place to concerns about homophobia, clearly an important and related issue, but one that comprises a smaller proportion of the content of these recordings than their pervasive degradation of women (Brown 35–8;see also Kim 4–5).

  3. Writers in popular press magazines tend to make some obeisance to political correctness by remarking briefly on the misogyny of Eminem’s lyrics, but even these modest criticisms are neutralized by an overwhelmingly positive evaluation of Eminem’s talent, by incorporating the misogyny into an assessment of his “macabre imagination” (Toure 135–6) (which then makes it praiseworthy), or, my favorite tactic, by juxtaposing the criticism with lovey-dovey accounts of the rapper’s relationship with his daughter. Thus, Kris Ex’s review of The Eminem Show gives us the requisite misogyny paragraph,
    His divorce from Kim Mathers fuels the slow Southern bounce of the hypermisogynist “Superman,” and his relationship with his estranged mother creates “Cleanin Out My Closet,” … [which includes] a list of atrocities and venomous threats … (108)
    … immediately followed by, “Em’s love for his daughter, Hailie, produces his singing debut, the tender ‘Hailie’s Song’” (108). This type of journalism implies the same thing that Eminem’s songs do, that misogyny is a phenomenon driven by interpersonal relationships and justified by individual circumstances rather than a social blight for which Eminem happens to be a convenient representative: seldom do journalists question the implications of both his interviews and his murder raps, that Kim and mom are the “bad” women and Hailie the “good” one.

  4. Even when her elder female relatives are not under discussion, journalists invoke Hailie in ways that seem to inoculate Eminem from his own degrading speech, as in this conversation about his fears of becoming a has-been:
    [Eminem:] Suddenly, you’re not cool no more, you’re like the Kris Kross jeans or something, even if at first you’re the greatest thing since sliced cunt.
    [Rolling Stone:] Now that you have joint custody of Hailie, you’re spending more quality time with her. What’s a typical day like? (Bozza, “Eminem: The Rolling Stone Interview” 75)
    Word choices like “sliced cunt” and “pregnant bitch” (hit in the stomach with luggage, quoted above) suggest that there is more to Eminem’s misogyny than his personal animus towards his wife or mother, but this subtlety seems to pass beyond the radar of the Rolling Stone writers.

  5. Some sources completely elide the misogyny issue, for example EQ, a periodical for producers and audio engineers. Dr. Dre was their June 2001 coverboy—EQ rarely has a covergirl—and the interview article discussed his production techniques in The Marshall Mathers LP, which earned him a Best Producer Grammy. Considering the obvious care that Dr. Dre took to fit the raps with compelling accompaniments and sound effects, it is surprising that the article bears no mention of the lyrics (Roy 48–55). Foregrounding the technical aspects of music to the exclusion of text and narrative clearly parallels the situation Susan McClary has described with regard to formalist analysis of avant-garde music and its tendency to obscure misogynist content (McClary 57–81), and Dre’s own perspective is consistent with some of those McClary critiques. For example, he describes “Kim” [the song] this way: “It’s over the top—the whole song is him screaming. It’s good, though. Kim [the person] gives him a concept” (Bozza, “Eminem Blows Up” 72). Masculine creativity that is virtuosic, extreme, or “over the top” is the only issue of importance; Kim as concept is infinitely more significant than Kim as human being.

  6. In magazines marketed to teenagers, Eminem’s misogyny is discussed in terms that make it seem coolly rebellious, as the reportage in the Summer 2001 Music Special issue of Teen People demonstrates. The overall tone of the coverage is celebratory: the magazine cover sports a large photo of Eminem surrounded by much smaller photos of other musical figures, and the controversies are presented in a carefully controlled manner under the title, “Rebel without a Pause” : “He has shocked parents, rocked the Grammys and divided his fellow musicians with his often inflammatory work. Can Eminem top himself? You bet.” Shortly follows a quote from one of his new tracks, cleverly titled, “I’ll s—t on you”: “A lot of people say misogynistic/Which is true/I don’t deny/Matter of fact, I’ll stand by it” (qtd. in Brown 36). “Misogyny” is not defined for these young teenage readers, many of whom will not know the word’s meaning.

  7. Most disturbingly, under the rubric, “The Kids are All Right with Eminem,” appears the photo of a 13-year old girl, posing sexily in tight pants and midriff top, who opines that, although the song “Stan” makes her feel “disrespected as a girl,” “it’s great that [Eminem] says what he thinks about people … [and] doesn’t restrain himself” (qtd. in Brown 38). Conspicuously absent from Teen People is any allusion to the “disrespect” visited on girls in many recent concert audiences, from Woodstock ’99 (the scene of “rampant, horrifying sexual harassment,” eight rapes, and intimidation of any woman who would not remove her top) (Aaron 88–94), to the “Anger Management Tour,” where Eminem, Xzibit, and Ludacris, in series, greeted the “ladies” in the audience, received a friendly response, and then launched into raps with words like, “Bitch, you make me hurl” (Brackett 21–2).

  8. The young teenage girls to whom this magazine is pitched can scarcely avoid grasping the message that it is “all right” for men to make them feel “disrespected as a girl” as long as those men are giving full expression to their untrammeled masculine subjectivity. And despite the fact that the valorization of limitless male subjectivity is like a bad hangover from nineteenth–century Romanticism, these girl readers will have every reason to believe that it is cool or at least normal because cultural products ranging from late night talk shows to music appreciation textbooks tend to agree.36

    Resurrecting the Mother

  9. One girl who is not “All Right with Eminem” is Tori Amos, whose 2002 CD, Strange Little Girls, includes a deconstructive intervention on “’97 Bonnie and Clyde.” The CD is a collection of covers of songs by male songwriters, all of which include the portrayal of some woman whose character Amos inhabits in the song: she re-imagines each song from a particular woman’s standpoint. The female characters are represented visually in portraits—all of them Amos—with captions—most of them cryptic. The picture for “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” seems to be an earlier photo of the now dead wife/mother, looking not at all like she’s “real, real bad,” but rather like an updated “Angel in the House” : long blonde hair, “natural” make-up, modest dress and affect, proffering a birthday cake (Figure 4). The caption reads, “She wonders what her daughter will do,” which is something that we all wonder at the end of the song.

  10. If the resurrection of the mother and intrusion of Tori Amos’s feminine voice into Eminem’s narrative are not sufficiently disruptive, her flat, whispered delivery of the text, punctuated by a wailing refrain, chills to the bone (Example 5). At the end of the second strophe, she dwells on the text “me and my daughter,” and the synthesized accompaniment imparts a sense of the uncanny with its combination of excessive vibrato, portamentos, and obsessive low string ostinato: gone is Eminem’s danceable groove (although a snippet of clave rhythm is heard in the refrain) (Example 6). We come away from the recording knowing that spousal murder is no joke, and horror is even more evident in Amos’s stage performance: she sings the part of the woman from offstage, visually marking her erasure, the stage bathed in light—blood red.

  11. Although Eminem’s murder ballad is at the center of Amos’s conception of Strange Little Girls, she applies her criticisms with a broader brush. In interviews she charges not only Eminem, but also other pop figures with cowardice and hypocrisy when they indulge in violent lyrics but then disavow them as “jokes.”37 Moreover, she remarks on the passivity of young women who, in their search for masculine approval, permit themselves to be degraded.38

  12. The importance of Amos’s aim in this project—to give voice to silenced women and suppressed perspectives—is illustrated by some of her experiences in making the recording. To select songs for the CD, Amos consulted a “laboratory of men” who discussed what the various songs meant to them. Amos relates that, at first, most of the men did not want to discuss “’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” but then,
    One man whom you’d consider very intelligent said, “You know, I have empathy for this guy [the murderer] because the [expletive] did this, did that and he just had enough and snapped.” The one thing that struck me was that not one of them asked about the wife. Nobody ever talked about her! (Harrington T06)
    Even audiences who do not identify with the slayer, as did the man in Amos’s “laboratory,” tend to disregard the slain woman:
    When I first heard the song … the scariest thing to me was the realization that people are getting into the music and grooving along to a song about a man who is butchering his wife. So half the world is dancing to this, oblivious, with blood on their sneakers. (Atlantic Records)
    One person who is not dancing, Amos points out, is the woman in the trunk (vanHorn).

  13. Amos’s version of “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” is stunning not only because it exposes the horror embedded in Eminem’s jolly little tune, but also because it challenges us to listen for the voice of that woman in the trunk, and this strikes at the very heart of patriarchy. For once we acknowledge that there are other voices to be heard, and we make the effort to hear them (not their ventriloquized simulations), we have disrupted the unspoken assumption that the only subject position that matters is male, that women are disposable, and that it is “all right” to construct culture over our dead bodies.

Eminem's "Murder Ballads"

Finn and Cobussen:
Creativity and Ethics


Film: Warhol's Frankenstein


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