Eminem’s film debut, 8 Mile, has already passed the $100 million mark in box office receipts. That fact, coupled with the near-universal critical acclaim that’s accompanied the movie, would seem like good news. In fact, it’s a double whammy, Eminem’s worst nightmare, and undoubtedly the most serious challenge yet to the rapper’s sense of self-worth and artistic integrity.
Already burdened by lily white skin, pretty boy looks and puckish stage mannerisms, his ongoing crusade to prove he’s a ghetto-certified thug kept down by The Man has become harder than ever to maintain now that The Man — in essence, middle class white society — is lining up around the block to watch his movie. The killer, though, at least from Eminem’s perspective, is that his performance is being hailed by middle-aged white critics, the very folks who aren’t supposed to get him.
This of course comes after the MTV Video Awards Show last August when Eminem failed to goad bespectacled techno-rock wimp Moby into a fist fight. “I will hit a man with glasses,” Eminem snarled from the stage of Radio City Music Hall. But Moby, who’d characterized Eminem’s core audience (correctly) as “impressionable ten-year-old boys,” wouldn’t take the bait. He just smiled from his seat several rows away as Eminem was led off stage by his glowering entourage.
Yo, what’s a guy got to do to raise a ruckus? I mean, a bona fide gangsta’s got to rumble, but Eminem’s previous efforts to strike up a feud with *NSYNC heartthrob Chris Kirkpatrick fizzled, and no fisticuffs ever materialized following his lyrical sniping at pop tarts Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Not even Eminem’s claim that his mother was a crack-smoking welfare cheat — a claim Mominem vigorously disputed and for which she eventually sued the fruit of her loins for millions of dollars — could establish his authenticity in the defiantly black medium of hip hop … though the claim did establish his view of what black authenticity consists of.
Nowadays, as the reception of 8 Mile indicates, the problem for Eminem is that he can’t fail for succeeding — a phenomenon that consistently undermines his acceptance among fight-the-power rap purists. “Radio won’t even play my jam,” he boasted in his rap “The Way I Am” — which promptly shot up the most-played charts on radio stations nationwide. Significant jail time, which would add luster to his hardcore résumé, has thus far eluded him despite separate weapons possession and assault charges. Sure, he sprinkles his lyrics with homicidal, sexist fantasies; but unlike his role models Ice T and Snoop Dogg, he never actually pimped out teenage girls to sweaty-palmed sleazebags liable to murder them. And even while Eminem was dissing Moby at the MTV Awards, he was taking home four trophies including Best Male Artist and Video of the Year.
The guy can’t not catch a break.
As he wrestles with his demons, bespectacled or otherwise, that may turn out to be the worst break of all for Eminem.
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