Eminem, Free Speech Hero? Eh, Not So Much
Diminutive white boy rapper Eminem has been catching heat lately for his use of the word “faggot” on the new tune “Rap God.” To get the official First Amendment disclaimer out of the way: Yes, artistic license gives him the right to say it, just as Quentin Tarantino was technically free to employ the word “nigger” –– over and over and over again –– in his script for Django Unchained. (The contexts are different, granted, but the free speech principle still applies).
But acknowledging an artist’s right to use an offensive epithet is just the beginning of the discussion, not the end of it. So far, the smartest and most on-target criticism I’ve read of Eminem trying to be ”edgy” and “authentic” by slurring gay men is from a rapper named LastO:
“[Eminem’s] song is, lyrically and flow-wise, superb. But he’s a lil’ too old to be using ‘gay’ and ‘fag’ and shit as an insult. That’s playground shit. That may have been the effect he was going for. He’ll run the ‘fag’ word and the ‘gay’ word ragged but he won’t ever say ‘nigger.’ So, as irreverent and offensive as his brand is supposed to be… he still knows his line.”
Bingo! Eminem should at least acknowledge that his lyrical fearlessness is extremely selective and, when it comes down to it, he knows which minorities won’t tolerate being bashed in his tunes. I suspect time and a generational turnover will, in the end, resolve this debate. As artists start to feel less like brave troublemakers and more like ignorant bigots when they casually throw “faggot” around, the word will fade (if never completely go away). That process has arguably already begun. With some exceptions, it’s an insult you don’t hear very often anymore in TV, movies, and music. (Though given the reliability of trolls, you might hear it a lot in the comments section below.)