Good old Eminem, a Sondheim in his own right, has once again pulled out his bag of misogynist tricks.
In a video promoting a greatest-hits compilation, the erstwhile Marshall Mathers has this to say:
Play nice? Bitch I’ll punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice, like Ray Rice in broad daylight in the plain sight of the elevator surveillance/ ’Til her head is banging on the railing, then celebrate with the Ravens.
Yep, Eminem wants to beat Lana Del Rey in the exact same way that former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulted his then-fiancée.
Fans of The Real Slim Shady might argue that Lana Del Rey had it coming—she did, after all, call her latest album Ultraviolence. And in the title song she sings, “He hit me and it felt like a kiss.”
Well, look. It’s a stupid lyric, but that doesn’t mean she asked for it.
It’s easy to write off Eminem’s Del Rey slam as yet another instance of hip-hop misogyny. But scapegoating hip hop lets way too many other culprits (Rolling Stones, anyone?) escape blame.
It also lets the rest of us—listeners and consumers—off the hook. That’s the knottiest part of this problem: There’s a huge and varied audience for these lyrics, just as there are plenty of customers shelling out for the Hillary Clinton nutcracker dolls at Urban Outfitters. Misogyny helped catapult Fox News to the top of the ratings heap. The list goes on.
But here’s what’s truly maddening: No matter how egregious these offenses are, the cultural response follows a typical pattern. First there’s shock (at least from some reliable quarters); then we move on, and then we forget.
Consider Big Sean’s September takedown of his ex, Naya Rivera, in the delightful ditty “I Don’t Fuck With You.” The Glee star might be a sweetheart or she might be a 21st-century Cruella De Vil, but she hardly deserved this:
I don’t give a fuck about you or anything that you do / I saw you got a new man I see you taking the pic / I see you post it up thinking that it’s making me sick / I see you calling up Imma answer that shit like ‘I don’t fuck with you.’
A hiccup of dismay followed the song’s release; then Big Sean (a huge Eminem fan, by the way) became a media darling because he’s a) easy on the eyes and b) now dating diva-of-the-moment Ariana Grande. Forget the fact that Big Sean was once charged with sexual assault; the guy tweets heart emojis to Ariana, so everything’s OK. Stars—they’re just like us!
Misogyny, 1, society 0.
It’s too soon to say which way Big Sean’s career will go, but maybe he’s taking notes from Mr. Mathers, who soared to fame by slinging aggression left and right—and has never suffered any real consequences.
Eminem’s 2000 song “Off the Wall” includes this tidbit: “Causin’ terror to Christina Aguilera/ When I grab her by the hair and drag her across the Sahara”—his response to Aguilera’s comment that women need to “watch out for abusive guys.”
And though Eminem’s the king of feuds, he doesn’t reserve his anger for pop stars; he’s also rapped about murdering his ex-wife and burying his mom.
And who can forget his song “Kill You,” where he swells his chest like a fierce Foghorn Leghorn and says, “I invented violence, you vile venomous volatile bitches.”
In spite of it all, Eminem draws plenty of critical acclaim—as does Jay-Z, who once observed that “Sisters get respect, bitches get what they deserve.”
We can condemn Eminem and Jay-Z and Kanye and the rest, but they’ll still get airplay and magazine covers and sell out concert venues. Misogyny’s OK, but if you’re a female celebrity and you shoplift at Saks, your career will never recover.
We’re talking about Eminem today and we’ll talk about another bad boy tomorrow. Until we press pause and give these offenses the weight they deserve—until we stop talking about these guys as though they’re completely removed from the rest of us—the cycle will keep going.