The Role Language Plays in Entertainment
When Eminem returned to the music scene with his surprise album Kamikaze, on 31st August, the news shook fans and music lovers around the world.
The album seemed to garner mixed reviews, with some mourning the loss of the old Eminem, but what was certainly reminiscent of the old Eminem was his use of yet another homophobic slur. The rapper, who has had to defend himself against accusations of being homophobic multiple times in the past due to his lyrical choices, revitalised his particular brand of homophobia with one specific lyric in the song Fall, which caught everyone’s attention: describing Tyler the Creator as a 'f*****.'
When confronted about his poor choice of words in the past, the award-winning rapper typically responded with buzzword infused defences explaining why he's not homophobic. While it is true that he has endorsed gay marriage and is close friends with Elton John, his main line of defence continues to be grounded in the ignorant idea that people are simply 'misunderstanding him,' as reported by iHeartRadio in 2017.
In 2013 his interview with Rolling Stone reveals that Eminem 'never really equated those words' to, as the interviewer says, 'actually mean "homosexual"?' He goes on to suggest that he had not considered the repercussions of expressing such explicitly homophobic sentiments so publicly. However, in the five years since that interview, it appears the artist has not learnt much. He concludes the Rolling Stone interview with the statement: 'I still look at myself the way that I did when I was battling and broke,' suggesting that he still views himself as a small, low-level underground artist with no level of actual influence, attending rap-battles and cyphers trying to make it. Evidently, this could not be further from the truth, as demonstrated by his self-titled ‘Rap God’ status and his millions of fans.
To an extent, Eminem’s consistent use of homophobic slurs and general terms pertaining to homosexuality in an insulting, pejorative manner can be understood – but certainly not excused - in the context of the genre and industry in which he makes music. The hard-hitting rap and hip-hop scene has been just as notoriously criticised for its glaring sexism and homophobia. While expecting a rapper to remove insensitive words from their confrontational diss tracks was unheard of in the 90s, what Eminem fails to understand is that it is 2018. The world knows now that you can’t use the aforementioned f-word with the excuse that it means something different in a rap context. It doesn’t and it shouldn’t.
As a society, we are no longer willing to accept harmful rhetoric when we don’t have to, and we cannot excuse homophobic slurs any more than we can accept sexist, rape-culture promoting language like 'grab ‘em by the pussy.' Many celebrity careers were rightfully ruined because they unapologetically expressed such degrading sentiments. While Eminem is not the worst when it comes to using offensive language, his level of influence and continued disregard for those he offends remains a legitimate cause for concern. This criticism is not a reflection on the quality of Eminem's music, but it is a comment on his failure to educate himself and grow.
Western music and entertainment in 2018 operate entirely differently to how it did just a decade prior. The very language of entertainment has been radically altered; all thanks to the internet and social media. With information more accessible than it has ever been, millennials and post-millennials can no longer reconcile the language of their parents and grand-parents with today’s liberalised cultural sphere, which encourages self-expression and truth to one's self above all else. With the creation of online platforms revolving around one’s profile and sense of self, so too came a culture of tolerance and acceptance unlike any other before it, a culture predicated upon something not unlike the post-colonial movements of the academic sphere that were characterised by the unlearning and dismantling of canonically white-taught narratives. This culture manifests itself into the entertainment industry more visibly than anywhere else.
Social media has quickly become a tool for amassing a following and keeping fans and audiences updated with their favourite artists, actors and celebrities. However, it is a package deal. You cannot expect to cater to an online audience where people from all walks of life may follow you, and then proceed to shut them out with words coined specifically to offend them, whether you intended to or not.
While this culture of tolerance and acceptance is responsible for pretty much all of the positive social change seen in the last decade, it can sometimes be used to call out those who have made genuine errors without being given the opportunity to learn why they were mistaken. The intricacies of this issue and the debate on whether or not political correctness limits freedom of speech is a component of a much larger conversation. However, it is worth noting that with this social movement of political correctness comes a tendency to quickly remove anyone in the public eye that simply does not understand the impact of what they have said, often mistaking them for being ‘problematic’ when they are simply ignorant on the topic, and thus any attempt to rectify that is immediately invalidated.
That being said, this cannot be applied to figures like Eminem who has repeatedly included homophobic and sexist terminology in his lyrics, been called out for it, and proceeded to continue displaying the same irresponsible behaviour. Not demeaning someone's sexual identity is not a complex, revolutionary idea - it’s the decent, human thing to do. Similarly, this also applies to people who use the n-word while not being black, those who continue to use offensive terms to refer to minority groups of people, and those who perpetuate rape-culture by expressing grossly inappropriate sexist sentiments, etc.
So the next time you see a tweet labelling your ~fave~ celebrity as problematic, maybe with over a hundred thousand retweets, don’t immediately dismiss it as overly-liberal drivel from your local social justice warrior. Using rhetoric that has historically been weaponised to marginalise and systematically oppress minority groups has palpable social consequences. It isn’t drivel.
Those who aim this rhetoric are often indifferent to its effect, and when they are public figures their words hit millions. Thus, they deserve to be called out.