Eminem may be sober, but he's still homophobic

The star is back with a new track -- and more hateful lyrics

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published October 16, 2013 7:47PM (EDT)

Eminem        (Reuters/Jumana El-heloueh)
Eminem (Reuters/Jumana El-heloueh)

Earlier this week, Eminem released "Rap God," an ambitious, 6-minute opus from his forthcoming "Marshall Mathers LP 2." In the Daily News, Jim Farber enthused of "Rap God" that "Say what you will about the song’s homophobia, woman-bashing, and lust for violence -- and it’s got scads of all three -- 'Em’s flow couldn’t be more divine." In other words, aside from the homophobia and misogyny, it's great!

Disclosure: I happen to generally be an Eminem fan, because frankly, as a boring white person with kids who's over 40, I am his audience. Marshall Bruce Mathers has long played, and very cleverly, with what's funny and what's shocking, taking the verboten and making it rhyme. He's confrontational and cocksure and he tackles difficult subject matter with an intensity that's unique and arresting. He's brilliant.

He's also, undeniably, not easy to love. He's built a career on being casually derogatory, in particular toward gay people. Twelve years ago, he explained, "I'm not into gay bashing. A lot of people are too stupid to understand it…. 'Faggot' to me doesn't necessarily mean gay people. 'Faggot' to me just means... taking away your manhood. You're a sissy. You're a coward. Just like you might sit around in your living room and say, 'Dude, stop, you're being a fag, dude.' That's the way that the word was always taught to me. That's how I learned the word. Battling with somebody, you do anything you can to strip their manhood away."

In the intervening years, he's matured somewhat. He's shared a stage with his buddy Elton John. He's supported marriage equality, declaring "I think if two people love each other, then what the hell?" and laughingly stating, "It’s the new tolerant me!" He's embraced sobriety. But in his last album, the conspicuously titled "Recovery," he vowed that though he was clean, he was "causing mayhem."

And as if to prove his point, in "Rap God," Eminem boasts, "I'll still be able to break a motherfuckin' table over the back of a couple of faggots and crack it in half" and mocks a "Little gay looking boy, so gay I can barely say it with a straight face looking boy." But he does it supernaturally fast, so it's okay? I guess? Because artistic expression or something. You know what? No.

On an evening last May, Elliot Morales and a group of associates approached Mark Carson and a friend in Greenwich Village. They said, "Look at these faggots." And then Morales shot Carson to death. That's the kind of person who calls other people "faggots." That's the way that word gets used out there in the real world. It's a weapon used to abuse and silence individuals for daring to move freely through the world. Carson was later remembered by friends and family not as a "sissy" or a "coward," by the way, but as "a courageous person" and a "proud gay man."

You still want to make cracks about "your mom deep throatin'," well, knock yourself out. And as far as I'm concerned, the world needs more JJ Fad references. But Marshall Mathers, you are not the 28-year-old who once airily excused your ignorance by saying that "faggot" was just another word for not masculine. You are a grown-ass middle-aged man who's been in recovery for five years now. You have sat down with Anderson Cooper and been challenged about your use of homophobic slurs. And you are smart enough that you can cause all the mayhem in the world without continuing to deploy "faggot"and justifying it because, hey, that's just you keepin' it real. You can mature as an artist or stubbornly cling to hate speech like a bratty kid who doesn't know better, when you damn well do. And you can brag that others are "stuck in a timewarp from 2004," but when you still use slurs as a crutch to create controversy, you're the one who seems hopelessly out of step.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Eminem Hip-hop Lgbt Rap God