RICHARD FRY

A Letter to Eminem or Will the Real Slim Shady Please Grow Up.

Dear Marshall,

You’ve had many accusations of homophobia levelled at you throughout your career and you often respond claiming you have no issue with gay people. This surprises me as I’ve never heard so much anti-gay rhetoric come from someone who had no issue before.

You confidently defend your use of the word ‘faggot’ as during your formative years in the underground rap world, it was bandied about as a general derogatory term so presents no direct connotation to homosexuality for you. This makes you come across as a bit naive which doesn’t fit your persona as a streetwise rapper but for the sake of the argument, I’ll buy it.

After selling over ten million copies of your crossover album in 1999 you must have realised you gained a much bigger audience as you embraced the mainstream and became a shiny pop commodity like Britney and Christina. The vast majority of the people who now buy your music have never been to the underground rap scene, you brought your ‘non-homophobic’ insult into a wider world where it is an absolute gay pejorative. Even if you truly didn’t realise the weight of your words, the subsequent backlash definitely alerted you to the fact that you were spreading hate towards gay people. It’s unconvincing to still be using your old justification 15 years on.

You also justify a lot of your hate language via the vessel of your alter-ego Slim Shady. I get what you do with Slim, the rock/pop doppelgänger has been a tried and tested theatrical device from Ziggy Stardust to Sasha Fierce.  I like it, showing different sides of the spectrum, letting a character emote deeper parts of your psyche.  Ziggy Stardust was all about celebrating difference, Sasha Fierce exudes confidence and promotes independence, Slim Shady peddles violent misogyny and rampant homophobia, he’s a nasty, twisted individual with a propensity for hate far beyond any slasher-flick psychopath we’ve seen in the last 20 years but that’s exactly the point, right? Shady offers you the opportunity to be as shocking and controversial as your inner child wants you to be. He gleefully assassinates women, gay people and other minority groups. He certainly doesn’t hold back as he spouts the endless ways he intends to harm and kill them. Nasty stuff.

I’ve noticed Shady never runs down black people. Why is that? If he’s selective in his hate, he’s not the all-out-psychotic-threat-to-society you appear to think he is and therefore his motivations are much harder to justify. If he was totally indiscriminate in his threats then he becomes truly subversive, an irrational sociopath society can’t explain. That’s really making a statement. It would be more difficult for people to challenge him, it’s hard to argue with someone who hates everyone.

A man who largely slags off women and gay people is much easier to challenge as he displays massive doubts linked to his own masculinity. It’s textbook. This is Shady’s major character flaw, he has boundaries which ultimately expose his insecurities. To curb this he needs to start slagging off people on account of their race and religion too. I’m guessing you know this but are scared of the backlash you’d suffer at the hands of those groups so you continue to pick on people who are perceived as weaker. This makes you weakest of all.

Another flaw and a reason why you receive so much grief for Shady’s words is in the execution, the line between you and he is not clear. The music business has changed a lot since your crossover release - people don’t listen to whole CDs anymore, they cherry-pick tracks and perhaps your work is not listened to in the way you intend. The subtleties between you and Shady become confused and there lies the problem, the listener doesn’t see the bigger picture outside the context of the album. TV and radio stations top and tail tracks and the messages get skewed. All that’s seen is a guy who looks and sounds a lot like you making offensive remarks. I’m also sure a lot of your audience do get the difference and still love Shady anyway - you’ve turned a dark, tormented character spewing the worst bile into a folk hero. That’s not good, you’ve fostered a great deal of hate.

Let’s forget about those you offend for a moment and concentrate on the people who adore you. A lot of your fans are young and many of them come from a similar background to yourself. It stands to reason you’re their hero, you managed to pull yourself out of that existence and achieve a life way beyond what was expected of you. That’s incredibly inspiring. But let’s be realistic, you were one in a million, very few of them are going to be able to break too far away from their roots. Socially, it just doesn’t happen. A lot of them grow up below the poverty line and some of the things you say are potentially damaging. Your influence serves to normalise slurs which will alienate them from the parts of society preparing them for adult life. Schools and workplaces have rules which ban the use of hate language. If one of your fans voices your vernacular they can get suspended from school or lose their job. You are setting the worst kind of example. I’ve seen you place the onus on the parents but as a Rap God, you are way more exciting than any parent could hope to be. Your pull will always override a parental ban. It gives you authority and you use it in the worst way.

I was surprised to find out you had been bullied. You were bullied so badly that your mum raised an official court complaint against the school. I was bullied too, it’s really horrible, isn’t it? As a result of that, I built up a body of work to challenge the culture of bullying with words to inspire and heal. I sometimes go into schools and talk to youth groups and I see the grief hate language causes. Some of them cited you as a problem. This is real. How do you feel that kids are being bullied with slurs you have helped to normalise? If you could go back to your younger self, wouldn’t you want to help him? For the last 15 years, you’ve been helping the bullies put the boot in.

It also surprises me that you’re 41. Does bitching about people and making threats still satisfy you? Money aside, what do you actually get out of it? Do you feel good when you call someone a faggot? Is it a misguided attempt to assert your masculinity? I’m genuinely interested. To me, one of the defining traits of masculinity is the willingness to reach out and support others who society perceive as weaker. From your position of authority and success, you shouldn’t be belittling people or perpetuating hate against minorities. That makes you even less of a man than you think you already are. Runs deep, huh?

I know the criticism you get for using anti-gay rhetoric makes you feel ‘attacked’. Yup. That’s exactly how gay people feel when they hear your words. It’s not nice, is it? If you want to stop feeling attacked you could stop using homophobic slurs and see if that helps. I’m guessing it would. I suspect you enjoy your notoriety a bit, it keeps you controversial and as a middle-aged man in the rap world, it must get harder to stay relevant. Does the use of the word 'faggot' give you kudos with the groups you fail to denigrate? You’re still the little skinny white boy vying for attention in the underground rap clubs. It’s time to grow up, Marshall, become a man and use your inarguable talent to make some positive, inclusive statements. That takes real courage and conviction.

You may be a hero to all the disaffected boys and girls but the rest of us can see your troubling self-doubts. You wouldn’t go to such great lengths to distance yourself from everything you deem weak and feminine if you were a more secure and stronger man. The irony is, Sasha Fierce and Ziggy Stardust - a woman and a man in make-up - have much bigger balls than you.

Big Kiss,

Richard Fry

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