Dear Eminem: It’s Only Okay When We Call Each Other That

There’s a curious scene in Eminem’s big screen biopic 8 Mile in which he comes to the defence of a gay workmate at a car manufacturing plant. Amid the dilapidated gloom of the work yard someone delivers a freestyle rap as part of an MC battle in which a tall, leather-jacketed homo co-worker is dubbed ‘Paul the Fruitcase’ and accused of wearing panties (Victoria’s Secret, natch). Catching wind of the diss, the artist also known as Slim Shady intervenes:

Okay folks, enough with the gay jokes,
Especially from a gay broke bitch yourself.

Fuckin’ homo, little maggot,
Paul’s gay, you’re a
faggot.
At least he admits it, don’t even risk it,
Why you fuckin’ with the gay guy, G?
When really you’re the one who’s got the HIV.”

If Paul the Fruitcase could speak in this scene, I’m sure he’d express his misgivings about Eminem taking a gay-hater to task but, um, calling him a faggot. Especially considering Shady’s shady attitude towards gays in the past; the most recent example being the film clip for his newest choon, We Made You.

While it’s exciting to envisage – as the clip depicts – a planet called Womyn where Lindsay Lohan’s eternal flame Sam Ronson rules as overlord with the help of a giant sickle, can we really believe that Eminem is a friend of the gays in one breath, a la 8 Mile , when he’s representing lesbians as humourless, butch feminazis the next?

He is, of course, to be taken with a spadeful of salt: A provocateur of the sort of un-PC-ness that become rather du jour in the late-’90s (see also: South Park, Vice Magazine‘s ‘Do’s and Dont’s’). Yet that didn’t stop him piquing the ire of gay activists who have protested his frequent use of the epithet ‘faggot’ in song, not to mention ditties like Stan in which  he raps about killing women (albeit with a judging, admonishing eye). As if in riposte to such criticism, he duetted with Elton John at the 2001 Grammys on said song Stan, a ballad about a murderous fan who expresses a wish to “be together” with Eminem.

And voila! Homophobe image problem mitigated with a warm, widely televised  embrace of arch mincer Elton. But can he shroud his other homophobic misdemeanours with stunts like this? What’s more, does it even matter what Eminem thinks about the gays? Well, kinda. It would be nice, helpful even, if the biggest pin-up for frustrated young men in the past decade didn’t invoke gay-hating slurs in his lyrics. While Eminem may be, in real life situations, okay with the gays, I venture to guess many of his fans are not. Especially, I’m assuming, the carful of skinheads I once spotted in Ipswich – the home of firebrand bigot Pauline Hanson – driving a Confederate Flag-bestickered vehicle with Eminem blaring out of the stereo. Yes, white supremicist rap fans. It’s safe to say they listen to their Public Enemy CDs from the privacy of their bedrooms.

The best riposte to Eminem’s murky I’m-Not-A-Homophobe-But-I-Reserve-The-Right-To-Call-People-Faggots-And-Make-Fun-Of-Lesbians attidude came from the Pet Shop Boys, who penned their 2002 song The Night I Fell In Love as a sort of subversively homoerotic counter-action. With a backdrop soft, romantic synths, Neil Tennant sings of a young male fan who spends the night with a rap superstar who we learn to be Eminem through references to Dr Dre and the Eminem-character singing, “Hey, man, your name isn’t Stan, is it? We should be together!’. The song manages to be both hilarious and weirdly romantic/arousing. Was Shady able to hack the joke? Not really. His response to the rebuttle coming in the song Can-I-Bitch in which he and Dre run their car over the Pet Shop Boys.

It’s stuff like this that makes his defence of Paul the Fruitcase in 8 Mile all the more perplexing. For yes, while the taunting of Sam and Lindsay and Pet Shop Boys may be meant in jest by Eminem, are the hordes of young angry doods who worship him likely to discern the blur between jocular teasing and actual hate?  Some, no doubt. The majority? Probably not.

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