Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Pop Music and the Dissolution of the Family

Mary Eberstadt, recent author of Home Alone America has a piece in Policy Review: "Eminem is Right", about the origin of the material for much of today's popular music being in the breakdown of the American family. It's some interesting stuff. A couple thoughts:

1) I have nothing but pity for Mrs. Eberstadt for having to listen to Pink, Good Charlotte, Papa Roach, Blink-182, etc etc, as she wrote this piece. She's taken a hit for all of us. Buy this woman a drink if you ever meet her.

2) I'm not sure how much of this isn't a "when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail" problem. A lot of Eminem's music isn't about family - about either his parents or his daughter. It's about anger and hatred - of his parents and ex-wife, yes, but also of women generally (all except his daughter, Hailie), of the government, of white America, of black America, of the music industry, of himself - and it's about his feelings of persecution.

These aren't necessarily disconnected issues. You can argue, for instance, that Eminem's apparently extraordinarily low opinion of women originated with his mother, and was confirmed by his own partner, Kim, who was, in his mind at least, an inadequate wife and mother. But you can equally argue, I think, that Eminem despises women, and sees them as mere objects for his sexual gratification, because he grew up in a culture (that of urban Detroit) that's suffused with those ideas. Eminem isn't the only rapper who hates and disrespects women. He's just among the best-known, because he's among the best, and because he deliberately provokes controversy as a way of selling albums. (This is sort of like my point about Ray Charles and heroin last week.) It's true, I suppose, that many other rappers come from broken homes, but all that means is that we're caught in a causal feedback loop. The culture creates broken homes, broken homes create the culture, on and on, ad infinitum.

To cut off perhaps some angry email, I have nothing but respect for Eminem's technical skills. He has, I think, a better grasp of the sounds of the English language than any musician working today, better indeed than most professional writers. And I think some of his songs are extraordinarily good. But most of the time he puts his talents to horrific use. That said, I think the odds are better than 50/50 he'll be poet laureate of the United States at some point before I die.