Eminem Is Right
By Mary Eberstadt
Mary Eberstadt is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, consulting editor to Policy Review, and author of Home-Alone America, from which this essay is drawn. Reprinted by arrangement with Sentinel, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. from Home-Alone America by Mary Eberstadt. Copyright © 2004 by Mary Eberstadt.
If there is one subject on which the parents of America passionately agree, it is that contemporary adolescent popular music, especially the subgenres of heavy metal and hip-hop/rap, is uniquely degraded — and degrading — by the standards of previous generations. At first blush this seems slightly ironic. After all, most of today’s baby-boom parents were themselves molded by rock and roll, bumping and grinding their way through adolescence and adulthood with legendary abandon. Even so, the parents are correct: Much of today’s music is darker and coarser than yesterday’s rock. Misogyny, violence, suicide, sexual exploitation, child abuse — these and other themes, formerly rare and illicit, are now as common as the surfboards, drive-ins, and sock hops of yesteryear.
In a nutshell, the ongoing adult preoccupation with current music goes something like this: What is the overall influence of this deafening, foul, and often vicious-sounding stuff on children and teenagers? This is a genuinely important question, and serious studies and articles, some concerned particularly with current music’s possible link to violence, have lately been devoted to it. In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry all weighed in against contemporary lyrics and other forms of violent entertainment before Congress with a first-ever "Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children."
Nonetheless, this is not my focus here. Instead, I would like to turn that logic about influence upside down and ask this question: What is it about today’s music, violent and disgusting though it may be, that resonates with so many American kids?
As the reader can see, this is a very different way of inquiring about the relationship between today’s teenagers and their music. The first question asks what the music does to adolescents; the second asks what it tells us about them. To answer that second question is necessarily to enter the roiling emotional waters in which that music is created and consumed — in other words, actually to listen to some of it and read the lyrics.
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The first thing I did after reading this thing (twice!) was to go to the iTunes Music Store and start looking for the songs Mary Eberstadt mentions. I downloaded about 20 different songs - curiosity can be expensive - and put them into more or less the order they were mentioned in the article. (OK, I admit I threw in a couple more songs by the same bands that I liked after listening to the 30 second clips). Then I burned a CD and just sat back and listened to it. Wow.
Some of the songs Mary E mentions were not available, notably "Family Portrait" by Pink and "Little Things" by Good Charlotte. Hey, super funky iTunes, paragon of cool, pardon the transatlantic metaphors but get the finger out and put your ass in gear!
Still, the playlist was pretty overwhelming, especially if you listen to it in one session:
1. Revenge/Papa Roach
2. Broken Home/Papa Roach
3. Father of Mine/Everclear
5. Stay Together/Blink-182
6. Adam's Song/Blink-182
8. Is It Love/Pink
9. Dear Diary/Pink
10. Hold On/Good Charlotte
11. Emotionless/Good Charlotte
13. Serve the Servants/Nirvana
14. About a Girl/Nirvana
15. Ode to Kurt Cobain/Gigi Love
16. Better Man (Live)/Pearl Jam
17. You Are (Live)/Pearl Jam
18. Sing for the Moment/Eminem
19. Who Knew/Eminem
Tomorrow I have to go back and expand my researches, specifically into Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Jay-Z, and Korn's "Kill You".
This is an amazing, enlightening discovery. Thank you, Mary Eberstadt, for some really useful scholarship (not the usual boring kind) which sheds the light of understanding on previously very dark places.
I had no idea that the huge number of Baby Boomer divorces - well, it was a pretty self-indulgent generation raised on sex and drugs and rock'n'roll (your parents, by the way, if you are 25 or younger) - was setting the scene for the boiling anger in contemporary music. And that divorce had actually become the focus for teenage rebellion.
To a lot of young kids today "Pleasantville" is a place they wouldn't have minded growing up in, if only to revolt against it when they were a little bit older. They were never given that chance.
Unlike most of their parents, they didn't have a mother and father living together and providing a relatively stable (if occasionally stifling) home life to rebel against in their teens. The two-parent family was taken away from them when they were 3 or 5 or 7 or 10 years old and they are still very very angry about it. That comes through clearly in the music.
For all their pain and anger, I wonder if this new generation will do any better in their courting, mating, and settling-down rituals. I'm curious to know how they are going to deal with kids of their own. That they will have kids (are bears Catholics, does the Pope poop in the woods?) is fairly certain. Just what kind of music will THEIR kids be listening to twenty years down the road?
cobain shot himself,
thought it was all over,
his music getting darker, his wife
something out of a magazine
have you noticed
how many of your friends,
maybe you yourself, come
from broken families?
the baby boomers
were in love with love;
sex, drugs and rock'n'roll,
no place for little kids
now the little kids
are not little any more,
nor are they happy little campers
but angry, totally pissed off
so where is daddy
since the last telephone
call, and the twenty-dollar bill
stuck in a belated birthday card?
daddy has moved out of town
daddy has a new daughter
called stephanie, he's thinking
of marrying what's-her-name
mom says she is serious
about bill or jim
or whatever the f--- he
calls himself, the smiling nerd
when i get married
i will stay married, i will
take care of my kids, i will
love them forever ...