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Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 2002 / 13 Kislev, 5763

Diana West

Diana West
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Consumer Reports

Does Eminem now fit in? | Reading the notices on Eminem, you get the distinct impression that what the boffo rap star needs now is some really awful press -- a hit of florid outrage, a grassroots boycott or two, maybe some fresh congressional testimony defining the depths of his deviance. But no. Instead, he gets good-to-mediocre reviews for his performance in "8 Mile," box office receipts by the Brinks-truckload, and the adulation (yech) of America's women, who reportedly forked over more than half of the $54.5 million the movie earned in its opening weekend. Poor guy. How long can any self-respecting "scourge of bourgeois values," as the Times' Frank Rich calls him (with a wink and a nudge), go on if the bourgeois scourge values him?

It gets worse. Describing the "high point" of a typical evening on the "2002 Anger Management Tour," Mr. Rich quite neutrally depicts Eminem, mid-rap, as he "vows to urinate on the White House lawn and hurls expletives at Lynne Cheney and Tipper Gore." Cole Porter, Noel Coward, eat your hearts out. There's genuine "artistry" for you -- Eminem's signature way with words critics swoon over -- but does it start a revolution, a rampage or even a tentative roar? Not from this audience, a "happy crowd," Mr. Rich notes, that could just as easily be tromping through a mall, rooting for the home team or even filing into church. Eminem raps on about being "in trouble with the government," but this, too, is another crowd-pleasing fantasy. Eminem clings pathetically to Tipper Gore (she who repented to Hollywood for her anti-smut sins 15 years ago), but not even so perky a lifeline can save the dark star from sinking into the polluted cultural mainstream.

The fact is, Eminem is not "in trouble" with the government and never has been, notwithstanding the valiant efforts of a Lynne Cheney here, or a Joe Lieberman there, to shine a light on Hollywood's crawly underside. The big debate in our more peaceful past was not about a rapper's freedom of speech, but about the social responsibilities that go along with that freedom -- or should.

Silence on the subject today is not because Eminen has been launched, finally, into the mainstream: Critically acclaimed and marketplace validated, he has really always gone with the flow. Nor has the political let-up come about as a result of conservatives abandoning cultural controversy after rediscovering the meat-and-potato issues of national security in the wake of 9/11.

If Osama bin Laden didn't stop the culture wars, as one executive with Eminem's recording company intimated to The New York Times, he certainly changed them. Or at least changed the battleground. That is, the conservative shift away from domestic cultural issues in the last 14 months hasn't occurred solely because Islamic terrorists with big bombs might end the world long before homegrown cultural rot ever could.

In the fight against Islamofascism, there is a familiar aspect of the old culture wars: namely, the need to oppose cultural relativism. This same philosophy, roughly, that now causes Westerners to quiver when called upon to judge such non-Western practices as death-by-stoning or female genital mutilation, long ago stripped the West of the guideposts, barriers and taboos that once upon a time would have consigned any man who sang about murdering mothers and wives to society's margins -- not to the top of the charts.

On some level, Eminem seems conscious of the unbearable lightness of today's (nonexistent) constraints. He appears vaguely aware of the need to resist an overbearing social order -- which, of course, doesn't exist -- to avoid appearing utterly ridiculous. Hence, he leans on Tipper like a crutch, and raves on about being "in trouble with the government."

Exactly which government, one wonders, is that? Faint echoes of the rapper's plaints come through recent headlines about people who really are in trouble with their governments for speaking out. There is Kola Boof, a Sudanese author in hiding who has been sentenced to death for denouncing the oppression of women under Islamic law and the enslavement of non-Muslim black Africans in Sudan. There is Hashem Aghajari, an Iranian professor who has been sentenced to death -- not to mention 74 lashes and exile -- for questioning why clerics only have the right to interpret Islam. And there is the Netherlands' Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This Somali-born woman hasn't been threatened by the Dutch government, but has received inadequate protection from it, forcing her to flee the country after receiving death threats from Dutch Muslims for revealing the sexual and physical abuse Muslim women and girls suffer inside Holland -- as permitted by Muslim clerics in direct contravention of Dutch law.

Sounds like a new kind of culture war -- one in which Eminem will have to share top billing.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

11/04/02:No time for gloating
11/04/02: What's in a name when the name is Muhammad?
10/28/02: Jihad as a First Amendment right
10/21/02: When speaking out isn't allowed
10/14/02: Terrorism in Maryland and abroad
09/30/02: So long urgency, hello indulgence
09/24/02: That one, sturdy, missing word
09/17/02: Fingerprinting, finally
09/09/02: When 'healing' overshadows reality
09/04/02: Tales from the Techno Valley and Forest
08/16/02: Elvis shall rise again
08/14/02: War with Iraq won't harm war on terror
08/06/02: Clinton snaps over Somalia
08/01/02: 9-11 anniversary shouldn't come with apology
07/27/02: An unstable common ground
07/25/02: Hillary fights hard for soft money
07/12/02: Goretheus unbound
07/10/02: Rosie takes a shine to Republicans
07/08/02: Are you still shocked, Sami?
07/02/02: Can Britney win hearts of the Middle East?
06/28/02: A war on terror or Islamists?
06/25/02: Blame the murderer, and the messenger
06/21/02: Up front and personal with Atta
06/18/02: Terrorism at the United Nations
06/11/02: Who's policing the INS?
06/07/02: Spa Gitmo
06/04/02: Can rock gods save the queen?
05/31/02: Hillary's war
05/29/02: Have you forgotten we're at war?
05/24/02: An antiquated luxury of the past
05/21/02: From terrorists to tourists
05/19/02: Hate U.
05/07/02: Western self-loathing numbs us to violence
05/03/02: Pioneering television
05/01/02: Western self-loathing numbs us to violence
04/29/02: It's the misconduct, stupid
04/24/02: Medal of diss-honor
04/17/02: Holy sanctuary or terrorist shield?
04/12/02: Egyptian clerics solicit martyrs for murder
04/09/02: Defining terrorism down
04/05/02: The Wilder life
04/02/02: Acting, equality and the Academy
03/31/02: Speeding to conclusions
03/25/02: Hard to remove blood (libel) stains
03/21/02: The tale of Nixon's tapes --- again
03/19/02: The Big Lie lives on
03/15/02: The tunnel vision of '9/11'
03/13/02: The American Auschwitz?
03/08/02: Hating the indoctrination of hate
03/05/02: Clinton and Enron: Old friends
03/01/02: Pickering doesn't polarize, the process does
02/26/02: Destiny's prefabricated child
02/22/02: The White House heist
02/20/02: Making the grade
02/11/02: Studying student visas
02/06/02: Understanding arrogance
02/04/02: The professor's war
01/29/02: Disconnected dialogue
01/23/02: Anti-Indiscrimination
01/18/02: How much is enough?
01/15/02: Oh brothers, where art thou?
01/10/02: Air on the side of caution
01/04/02: Blacks seeing red at Harvard
01/02/02: Clinton's campaign continues
12/26/01: A tale of two exhibitions
12/24/01: Taliban Idyll
12/19/01: Right is right
12/17/01: Hillary strikes out
12/13/01: Lost files, lost presidency
12/10/01: Revolutionaries never grow up
12/05/01: Immigration reform talk is not just for 'haters' anymore
12/03/01: A new symbol of justice
11/30/01: Beyond morality
11/26/01: Can't keep a good man down
11/20/01: Tough talk at the United Nations
11/19/01: Hollywood's other battle
11/14/01: What's the matter with Sara Jane?
11/09/01: A beef with bin Laden's Beef Noodles
11/07/01: Facing up to the FBI's past mistakes
11/02/01: A school that teaches patriots to shutup
10/30/01: The gap between Islam and peace
10/26/01: The ties that bind (and gag)
10/24/01: This war is more than Afghanistan
10/22/01: The fatuous fatwa
10/19/01: Left out
10/16/01: Whose definition of terrorism?
10/11/01: Post-stress disorder
10/08/01: How the West has won
10/01/01: Good, bad or ... diplomacy
09/28/01: Drawing a line in stone
09/21/01: Prejudice or prudence?
09/14/01: When our dead will finally rest in hallowed ground
09/07/01: We want our #$%^&*() audience back!
08/24/01: The transformation from Green Mountain State to Green Activist State is all but complete
08/17/01: Enlightenment at Yale
08/10/01: From oppressors to victims, a metamorphosis
08/03/01: Opening the dormitory door: College romance in the New Century
08/01/01: How-To Hackdom: The dubious art of writing books about writing books
07/20/01: Hemming about Hemmings
07/13/01: Justice has not been served in the Loiuma police brutality case
06/22/01: When PC parades are too 'mainstream'
06/22/01: When "viewpoint discrimination" in our schools was not nearly so gnarly a notion
06/15/01: Lieberman flaunts mantle of perpetual aggrievement
06/07/01: Is graciousness the culprit?
06/01/01: The bright side of the Jeffords defection
05/29/01: Campus liberals should be more careful
05/18/01: 'Honest Bill' Clinton and other Ratheresian Logic
05/11/01: Dodging balls, Bugs, and 'brilliance'
05/04/01: Foot in mouth disease and little lost Tories
04/20/01:The last classic Clinton cover-up
04/20/01: D-Day, Schmee-Day
04/06/01: For heaven's sake, a little decency!
03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
03/23/01: America's magazines and the 'ick-factor'
03/09/01: Felony neglect
03/02/01: Who's sorry now?
02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
02/16/01: Elton and Eminem: Royal dirge-icist meets violent fantasist
02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West