Contributor: Samantha Stillman
Eminem, Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers; no matter the name, this 39 year-old “white-boy” rapper has been a controversial topic in American pop culture since his debut in 1998. Brought up in a less than what is considered ideal household, Eminem makes clear through his lyrics the hatred he feels for his parents, in particular his mother.
I was eight years old when Eminem released his album, “The Eminem Show.” This album featured his song “Without Me,” which contained raunchy humor and vulgar language. Despite the nature of the song, my parents found lines from it, such as, “Little hellions/kids feeling rebellious…/start feeling like prisoners, helpless,/ ’til someone comes along on a mission and yells “bitch,”” creative and amusing.
It was his other songs on the album that my parents had a problem with. My father found the songs Eminem wrote about his own life to be redundant and unamusing, whereas my mother was upset about degradation of women all too prominent in his lyrics. Although he was never encouraged, my parents never banned me from listening to Eminem. They wanted me to be able to make my own choices. However, they would also take time to explain why beating women and wishing members of your family dead were not morally correct actions and sentiments.
I may not remember many events from my childhood, but I distinctly remember the thought processes and emotions felt during this time period of my Eminem obsession. It was actually my older sister who first got hooked on Eminem. She was six years older than me and I wanted to be just like her, so I wanted to like what she liked. I instantly associated Eminem with older kids, and believed I would be more mature by listening to his music and acting more like him. Simply listening to Eminem’s music would have been fine, but as for acting like him, I admit to cursing and swearing more so than other kids my age. By using the words that he used, I felt much more mature than my peers, and that I was entering adulthood at a quicker pace.
Now, looking back at his lyrics, I am actually very shocked at what I am reading. Apparently as a kid, I had no idea the real meanings of anything he was saying. Sure, I knew the words to every song, but I did not understand the extreme (and rather frightening) hate behind his lyrics. In his song “Cleaning Out my Closet”, Eminem expresses his distaste for his mother by stating that because she never supported him, but still tried to profit off of his fame, he wanted her to “fuckin’ burn in hell for this shit.” I can now easily see why parents would ban their children from listening to this music, and I can’t help but wonder why my parents didn’t stop me.
Jackson Katz (one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists), believes the effects Eminem’s lyrics have on children, are that young boys become insensitive to the domestic troubles of women, and young girls are encouraged to fall for men who are potentially abusive. Although it is very unlikely that boys will go out and abuse women just because Eminem says it is cool, based on my own reactions as a child, boys will go out and call women “bitches” without even knowing the damaging effects they may be causing. At the very least these children will not be swayed by foul language, and will not defend themselves or any friends who have been verbally abused; rather, they will just accept that they have been labeled, or will go around labeling every other woman with a similar title.
Young girls, I can recall from my own experience as well as my sister’s, somehow become attracted to this twisted concept of “cool.” Eminem was able to grip the hearts of these pre-teen girls by giving off a rebellious “bad boy” image. These girls seemed to accept the fact that he hated his wife and that many of his lyrics were about beating her, and would make excuses, arguing that Eminem was the victim. “He is a nice guy, it’s just all the girls in his life have been horrible,” is what my sister and I thought. However, we never seemed to understand that his lyrics could fuel sexism; we thought all his lyrics were directed strictly at his wife and mother, and would not affect how men could potentially treat other women. Another reason why Eminem was perceived as a “nice guy,” was that he wouldn’t let his young daughter listen to any of his vulgar music. Only now can I go back and see the hypocrisy of this statement. Brent Bozell notes that Eminem would not expose his daughter to harsh, degrading words, yet he was delighted to “F-bomb everyone else’s kids into submission.”
It is hard to say whether Eminem’s lyrics have a profound effect on children or not. The short-term effects can be pretty blatant, with children absorbing all they hear and see, and attempting to recreate everything they have observed. The long-term effects of children’s pop culture are not so prominent. I grew up to be a complete opposite of my cursing, “gangster-wannabe” childhood self, but not everyone may end up like me. As much as I am disgusted by the messages of Eminem’s music, I don’t think a child’s innocence is totally ruined by him; his young fans are just children attempting to use adult language. I think parents attempting to ban “harmful” pop culture from their children need to focus on informing the children about the reasons why something is considered a controversy, and allow them to figure out on their own what is right
 Stephen Thomas Erlewine, “Eminem Biography,” Allmusic, last modified 2011, http://www.allmusic.com/artist/eminem-p347307/biography.
 Brent L. Bozell III, “EMINEM: Tasteless, Incoherent – and Tired,” Media
Research Center, last modified July 24, 2002, http://www.mediaresearch.org/