Melts in Your Mouth: Eminem’s Shady Sexuality

By Mark Simpson 

(Nerve.com, February 22, 2001)

Eminem, aka Marshall Mathers, may have won only a few consolation prizes at the Grammys yesterday, but clearly the white rapper behind The Marshall Mathers LP has created the Album of the Year in every other sense. Em is the hottest property not just in the music business, but in pop culture itself, and, like Big Gay Al, aka Elton John, who sang a duet with him on stage, no one – the fans, the press, the critics, the police, the Vice President’s wife – can leave him alone.

Especially, of course, the gay rights activists, two hundred of whom picketed the Staples Center in protest at his “violently homophobic lyrics” (and what they saw as gay Elton’s “betrayal”).

Afterwards, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation solemnly expressed “gratitude” that Em was not awarded Album of the Year, but complained that the three minor Grammys awarded Eminem showed that “Academy members were willing to place their stamp of approval on lyrics that promote hate, prejudice and violence.”

Amen. But the rather important point that the protestors appear to have overlooked is, Sure, Em’s music is violently homophobic. It also happens to be violently homosexual. The two facts are not necessarily in contradiction of each other. Actually, in the world beyond the Care Bear sexuality of GLAAD, they’re inseparable. It might even be the case that the Grammy didn’t go to Em precisely because his lyrics are too queer.

To understand this you just have to pay attention to the music instead of the press releases. Sodomy never sounded so seductive, or seditious. When fellow Detroit rapping duo Insane Clown Posse ‘wittily’ renamed Slim Shady “Slim Anus” on their last album, the squeaky blond bombshell responded quickly and explicitly. “Slim Anus? You damn right Slim Anus / I don’t get fucked in mine like you two little flamin’ faggots,” he retorts on a track on Marshall Mathers, the CD that lost the Grammy.

But then in the track “Ken Kaniff,” he all-too-enthusiastically impersonates the voices of the ICP frontmen engaging in lip-smacking fellatio complete with very convincing grunts and groans and backed by cheesy porno Muzak: “Fuck yeah! Suck it! That’s good!” (ICP have since placed a downloadable track on their website featuring an Eminem-on-poppers-soundalike getting reamed by his hip-hop producer, Dr. Dre.)

Am I the only one who got aroused by all this “homophobia”? I suspect not. After all, sodomy – and graphic sodomy at that – is really the only sex you’ll find on Em’s record-selling CD, whether in the form of invitations to the listener to “suck my fucking dick, you fucking faggot” or dismissing his critics as bitter queens: “He’s just aggravated because I won’t ejaculate in his ass.” If Em really is the “New Elvis,” it seems that Jailhouse Rock is his starting point (which would at least explain his prison punk look). Even when he leaves the violent sodomy alone for a moment and turns to romance, it’s of a rather queer kind, as in the hit single “Stan,” in which a fan sends a series of unrequited love letters to his rap-star hero – the song Eminem chose to duet with Elton John with at the Grammys.

Em himself “comes out” and acknowledges his obsession/passion in another skit on Marshall Mathers in which a furious record exec complains that he can’t sell his records because instead of rapping about his wide-screen TV, Eminem is “rapping about homosexuals!” (Of course, the joke here is that Eminem’s records “about homosexuals” could hardly sell better.)

Now, if all this “fuckin’ homo” stuff seems adolescent, that’s probably because it is. It’s meant to be. Adolescence is a time of hormonal anxiety about identity for boys, but nowadays it’s not just a phase, it’s a career. And what is it that boys are supposed to grow into these days anyway? Masculine certainties have vanished, in many cases, along with dad, family and blue-collar jobs. The only certainty left to bastard boys like this is that they are “not a fag.” It’s a negative identity that can’t sustain a sense of self, let alone sustain one in a world which has made boys useless – i.e. faggots – by making traditional, mature masculinity redundant.

Rapismo like Eminem’s articulates that frustration, then soothes the anxiety the articulation produces. Eminem’s own story (now the stuff of legend) is instructive. A poor, pretty, blue-eyed white boy growing up in a depressed black area of Detroit without a dad, he left the house the definition of “different.” He claims that he was neglected by his mother, which she vigorously disputes. Perhaps the truth is that he was spoilt and fussed over and then ended up hating his mother for as he saw it turning him into a sissy: “I used to be mommy’s little angel at twelve” he sings in “I’m Back.”

To avoid complete emasculation, he rebelled against his mother and chose to be fathered by pop culture, in the form of hip-hop and the humongous phallus of black street culture. To Eminem (and other “shady” white boys of uncertain paternity from better homes) the world seems like a post-feminist nightmare where Mom is the law – and political correctness is merely “wash your mouth out with soap” writ large. He’s South Park‘s Kyle, ten years down the line plus plenty of drugs and disappointment.

In this cartoonish world, homosexuality isn’t only emasculation and weakness, it’s also the ultimate machismo, and the ultimate rebellion against “bitches” – as well as a contradictory solution to the problem of being fatherless, easing as it does the ache for male intimacy. But easing that ache means acknowledging it. And that means weakness. So homosexuality has to be constantly “stabbed in the head,” to use one of Em’s more infamous lines, even as it is constantly being evoked.

Every stab just leads to another target. After all, homos are everywhere nowadays in pop culture. And the blatancy of male passivity in a world where males are sex objects only makes this “stabbing” more imperative – even when you’re not, like Eminem, a pretty bottle-blond boy with “cock-sucking lips” (to quote ICP) and more than a passing interest in having your picture taken. “All I see is sissies in magazines smilin’” groans Eminem.

Staring at my jeans, watching my genitals bulging (Ooh!) 
That's my motherfucking balls, you'd better let go of 'em
They belong in my scrotum, you'll never get hold of 'em.

Look at the pictures of him in his book Angry Blonde (interesting spelling, that), skim past the one of him in blond pigtails to the ones where he is surrounded by a crowd of bleach blond Shady male clones gazing at him with shining, hungry eyes. Has pop culture ever looked more disturbingly queer?

Slim Shady is famously a character Em invented to express his “dark thoughts.” But maybe Slim is himself just a screen. This is not to say that Mr. Mathers is “really gay” (just as he clearly isn’t “really straight”), but just “really fucked up.” Perhaps the “real” Em is as neurotic, mother-identified/mother-hating, homeless, vulnerable, narcissistic and passive (aggressive) as the lyrics and the picture of him on his album cover suggest. In other words, all the things that make a great star, from Elvis to Lennon to Cobain.

And, alas, he’s all the things that can make young men these days who will never be stars sad and sullen, and sometimes suicidal. A seventeen-year-old white Eminem fan in Devon, England recently threw himself in front of a train. Apparently he was depressed by the “dissing” he’d experienced from friends after a gay boy said he fancied him at a party. The liberal coroner thought the lad’s anxieties foolish and misplaced: “He appears to have been unusually worried over his sexual orientation which really should not affect people a great deal either way.”

Maybe. But Eminem and the sexually shady, not to say confused, world of white hip-hop show that such a preoccupation is anything but trivial for too many boys today. It’s all they have left.

eminem2r2ck.jpg

This essay is collected in Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture

Eminem: His Majesty the Baby

Eminem is overweight, addicted to drugs, suffering attacks of pneumonia, struggling with a heart condition, is a virtual recluse surrounded by parasitic hangers on and can’t write any new music, according to the Sun and his estranged mother’s new book.

Worst of all, Marshall Mathers, now aged 35 is ‘spotty’ eats ‘fatty food’ and has even let his bleached blond hair grow out. Now that is really tragic.

OK, so he’s going through a bad time at the moment, and spent Christmas in hospital with life-threatening illnesses, but there’s really no excuse for such sloppiness in a man these days is there?

Even his beloved daughter Haile appears to be deserting him: now 12, she is reportedly becoming more independent and no longer so keen on staying in and being being doted on by her daddy-mommy. And who can blame her if he’s got spots and needs a bleach job?

The Sun prints a still taken from one of Marshall Mather’s videos spoofing a fat, late-period Elvis who also took ‘traditional black music to the mainstream’ and points up the ‘irony’ of it all, how an obese Elvis locked himself in his Graceland mansion, surrounded himself with parasitic hangers-on and ‘died of a heart attack, aged just 43, after years of drug abuse’.

Well, now, it would be entirely churlish of Em not to complete the eerie parallel and die of a heart attack himself, wouldn’t it? (Note to Em: don’t wait til you turn 43 before helpfully dropping dead on the john as the Sun will have forgotten all about you by then.)

Unmentioned however is the main and most striking paralell between Elvis and Em: two Southern boys who loved their Mommas. And boys, who, in their own ways, never quite got over that – and certainly never grew up. The article does though quote some lines from his prescient song ‘Role Model’ that hint at this pathological Momma Love: ‘I’m bout as normal as Norman Bates, with deformative traits/A premature birth that was four minutes late’.

Norman Bates, some of you younger readers probably need to be told, was a 1950s Hitchcock psychopath (played by a homosexual actor) with multiple personality disorder (Slim Shady? Eminem? Marshall Mathers?), who kept the preserved body of his murdered mother in his basement and dressed up in her clothes to slash ladies he fancies to death with a large knife. Seeing as Em has rapped about slaughtering both his ex-ex-ex-wife Kim ‘the only woman I’ve ever loved’ and his smothering mother, the ‘New Elvis’ was clearly living at the Bates Motel instead of Graceland, at least inside his Gothic head.

As this bilious piece of mine below from 2003 shows, the ‘New Elvis’ turned into the old ‘Old Elvis’ some time ago. (And if you want to understand my disappointment, read this.)

Though in the pic used in the Sun (above) he appears to have turned into Boy George.

His majesty the baby

Isn’t it about time Eminem grew up? Mark Simpson on the rapper who elevated spoilt tantrums into an art form

Independent on Sunday, 27/04/2003

A few years ago a pasty-faced, bleached-blond, underfed white boy rapper arrived on the scene waving a chainsaw who, thrillingly, seemed to hate everyone, especially himself. He took pot shots at all kinds of pretension and bullshit, including the fame that he had achieved for himself and the industry that had made it possible.

Although he was a white rapper, he was decidedly no Vanilla Ice. In fact, there was nothing vanilla at all about this scatologically talented, potty- mouthed misanthrope who sounded like Bugs Bunny crossed with South Park’s Cartman on crystal meth. He was hailed by some as the “new Elvis”, and although the comparisons were full of hubris, like Elvis he had taken a “black” music form and made it his own, and in the process fashioned a new kind of pop. In this instance one which seemed genuinely, dangerously, neurotically interested in words and narratives. For the first time in years, people began talking, arguing and even demonstrating about a pop star.

Marshall Bruce Mathers III, alias Eminem, alias Slim Shady, was the evil, comical, candy-buzz of consumerism laced with melt-in-your-mouth cyanide, promising a little indigestion in a saccharin-sweet, always smiling, aspirational pop industry of boy blands and Britneybots. On his smash-hit work of Gothic genius The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) he famously sneered, “You think I give a damn about a Grammy? Half you critics can’t even stomach me…”

And then in 2001 he appeared on the damn Grammys, in that very disturbing duet with the evil fairy godmother of showbiz pop blandness, Elton John. Millions of viewers were treated to the sight of Slim Shady conscientiously sucking the Grammys’ cock while a pink-polka-dotted bewigged Elton sucked his (Em later claimed he ‘didn’t know Elton was gay’). For his consummate skill at controlling his gag reflex, Em was awarded some Grammy consolation prizes for which he was gosh-awfully grateful. Countless other awards came his way, eliciting various other embarrassing, actressy acceptance speeches in a hip-hop stylee.

Then last year at the MTV Awards, when some audience members booed him, he accused “that girl” Moby of being behind it and threatened to beat him up. This was greeted with many more boos from MTV’s liberal-leaning great and good, and Em, seeing his career slipping away, ended up humbly apologising and mumbling something about attending “anger management classes”. So it was official. Em was just like all the other “faggots” he’d berated so profitably on his records: he only wanted to be liked. It was all about suckcess, again. It was just more showbiz bullshit.

Meanwhile, the critics lauded Em’s mediocre Marshall Mathers follow-up album The Eminem Show, full of empty vanity, forced, phoney politics and pompous 1970s guitar riffs, especially in famously “street” publications such as the Guardian. Maybe I’m just bitter because I feel betrayed, but it seemed that everyone wanted you to know how much they liked Eminem – and how cool, ironic and post-PC that made them. As a final confirmation of his total tiredness, his awesome over-ness, the tedious, toothless autobiographical flick 8 Mile (complete with a Be Nice To Fags public service announcement) which merely showcased his sullen, scrawny lack of charisma, saw the “new Elvis” being hailed now as the “new James Dean” on the front page of the rebel-loving hipster organ the Daily Telegraph. As a sign of the accelerated times we live in, the New Elvis had become the Old Elvis in the space of two years.

Oh, and by the way, Eminem, the voice of teenage angst, is actually 30. If you ever felt that Em was reminiscent of a Harry Enfield character, Nick Hasted’s biography will confirm your suspicions. Em himself seems to know that the Kevin-ish sullen stares, hissy histrionics and spiteful tantrums he has based his career on are essentially childish, and has been shaving a couple of years off his true age, like an ageing rent boy, for most of his career. Until, that is, his estranged mother – damn you, bitch! – “outed” his real date of birth recently. That’s the terrible thing about mothers: they are the original Women Who Know Too Much. No wonder he’s said he wants her dead.

Much as I’d like to be able to add Nick Hasted’s book ‘The Dark Story of Eminem’ (Omnibus) to the long list of embarrassing examples of molesting dad-culture rubbing up against Em’s “enormous pop culture talent” and “credibility”, it’s a largely clear-headed assessment of his career, his strengths and weaknesses, as well as something of an expose of the inevitable deceits this artist famous for reckless “truth-telling” has disseminated.

We learn, hilariously, that little Em was a quiet, shy, sensitive child who liked to colour pretty little pictures, which he would plead to be sent to his absent, deadbeat dad who never once attempted to get in touch with his son. As he grew up, an only child, Marshall’s rage ended up directed towards someone within reach: his single mother, Debbie Mathers-Briggs. As we all know, he has accused her, over and over again, of neglecting him. She denies this: “The real problem is not that he had a hard time, but that he resents I sheltered him so much from the real world… I was an over-protective mother who gave him everything he wanted and more.” It’s perhaps self-serving but quite convincing, not least because Em is still bitching and moaning about her neglect into his fabulously wealthy and famous thirties.

So when Mathers-Briggs recalls: “I got kicked out of stores because he’d be like the spoiled brat, lying in the aisle, arms and legs spread open”, it’s impossible not to cackle. After all, little Em managed to turn flailing and screaming about the world in general, and women in particular, not giving him enough attention into a spectacularly successful, attention-seeking career. In an early sign of his Springer-esque instincts, he has bragged how he would tape his mother throwing him out of the house to play to his friends to convince them “how crazy she was”.

Hasted, who did not have access to what Freud might have termed His Majesty the Baby himself, or his fractious family, has assiduously digested the clippings, piecing together a more consistent narrative than most of us have gleaned from the public slanging matches in the tabloids and in Em’s songs. Hasted also assesses the oeuvre, giving credit to Mr Mathers’ real talent, but also not quite letting him off the misogynistic hook with his “Ha-ha I was only kidding ladies, you know I love you” routine at the end of songs about butchering his ex-wife in cold blood in front of their daughter, and analysing his all-important, all-consuming relationships with the women in his life: his mother, his daughter Haille that Em keeps telling us he loves so much, and his ex-ex-wife Kim (since the book was written they are reportedly very much in love again and living together with Haille – the whole family admiring Em’s sweet “Kim: Rot in Pieces” tattoo over breakfast). My abiding impression is that, alas, Em doesn’t hate everyone, just women – and mostly because he is so pathetically dependent on them. Which isn’t exactly very special.

Hasted also visits Mathers’ home town of Detroit and discovers that Em’s background was not quite so white-trash as he has made out – more blue-collar and semi-suburban. Less productively, he spends rather a long time standing in the playground where a young Marshall was allegedly thrown by a bully head-first into a snowdrift (Marshall was a favourite target of bullies, and it’s easy to see why), re-imagining the seminal incident which prompted the song “Brain Damage” and caused Em to be hospitalised for several days. His mother apparently had to nurse him for many months afterwards. (Probably, it seems to me, another reason he hates her: bad enough to be of woman born once, but twice….)

In fact, Em’s fame appears to have been based on the murder not of ex- wives but of mommy’s little boy. Em’s first album, Infinite, now airbrushed out of history by Em, while critically well-received was apparently too sensitive, romantic and polite to be a commercial hip-hop success, especially with the suburban teen white boy audience who buy hip hop to piss off their nagging feminist moms and keep them out of their bedrooms. In other words, the don’t-give-a-fuck, mother-hating, wife-murdering, potty-mouthed – and smash hit – Slim Shady persona conceived (“while I was taking a shit”) after the failure of Infinite, seems to have been all about… giving a fuck.

There never was any Real Slim Shady.