I don't know what you were up to last Wednesday evening, but I was at home dutifully watching the Grammys so I could catch the latest live performance from the diva of all divas, Madonna. Of course, I think everyone else in the worldwide audience tuned in to see the much-hyped and much-maligned performance from the unlikely duo of rapper-cum-provocateur Eminem and in-the-doghouse gay icon Sir Elton John.
If you follow the news in any form, you have heard about the controversy surrounding the lyrics on Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP. The most often-quoted lyric, "My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge/that'll stab you in the head whether you're a fag or a lez," along with similarly misogynistic and homophobic references throughout the tracks on the CD, have placed the 28-year-old rapper on the crest of a wave of controversy that continues to steamroll despite the duo's anticlimactic performance last week.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLADD), lead by Scott Seomin, the group's entertainment media director, has strongly criticized Eminem's lyrics since the album's summer 2000 release.
Seomin told the Washington Blade, "Eminem is just using Elton John for publicity. Elton John is someone who has used his gayness for good and not for evil," also noting the charitable works of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. "Performing with Eminem goes against everything Elton John has stood for."
To draw additional attention to the group's position, GLAAD organized a coalition of gay and women's groups to protest outside the Grammy Awards ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Participants in the "Rally Against Hate" included the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, the National Organization for Women, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, among many others.
Elton John has been widely quoted describing himself as "a big fan" of Eminem's "brilliant" music, which has been praised for its artful fusion of Rap, R&B and Metal as much as it has been lambasted for its lyrical content.
"I want to work with him because he's the most exciting artist around today," John said in the weeks prior to the performance. "I know I'm going to get a lot of flack from various people who are going to picket the show. ... I'd rather tear down walls between people than build them up. If I thought for one minute he was hateful, I wouldn't do it."
I have to admit I have been torn between the two sides of the controversy. As a gay man, I find discrimination and defamation deplorable. But just as I have the right to once a month sound off on the topic of my choice, I have to say I believe in a recording artist's right to do the same — whether I like what he has to say or not.
In the Advocate, film and music writer Dave White brought up an interesting counterpoint about the incendiary lyrics. "In the intro to the above-quoted song, 'Criminal,' Eminem states, 'A lot of people think that what I say on record or what I talk about on a record ... if I say that I wanna kill somebody, that I'm actually gonna do it or that I believe in it, well, shit. If you believe that, then I'll kill you!' At the song's end, he even adds, 'Relax, guys! I like gay men!' "
Will any of us really know Eminem's true position on any of these issues unless he decides to reveal it? No. And who knows when that will be, considering the attention could be seen as a driving force behind at least a portion of Eminem's strong sales, not to mention his Grammy trifecta. We can all sit by and spend more column inches dissecting his lyrics, or we can use this opportunity to our own advantage as a platform to continue to fight homophobia and intolerance in any form.
Look at it this way. At least all the controversy has people talking and, more importantly, thinking. And when they start thinking, they have the opportunity to become more educated, more informed and hopefully, in the end, more tolerant.
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