How to Ban Eminem

Written: 12 January, 2001

Eminem just sounds like a whiny white guy trying to rap to me. He's like a step backwards, after the progress of Beck.

Anyway, here's a post I wrote on January 10th on a non-comics message board:

My local Christian radio station took phone calls the other day about Eminem. The host of the show wanted to know if callers thought that stuff like Eminem should be censored, i.e. if there should be a law making such objectionable song lyrics illegal.

The host cited the fact that Eminem talks about raping his mother and killing his wife. I don't think the host mentioned that Eminem apparently also uses derogatory language against homosexuals, which I think would actually qualify as "hate speech." The fact that the host didn't mention Eminem's anti-gay language made me wonder if the host had less of a problem with it. It's a conservative radio station, and I found it a little disturbing that the host didn't attack Eminem's anti-gay language, too.

Anyway, the host very much favored the idea of Eminem's lyrics being censored by the government, comparing it to poison that could harm someone, or the way that shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater is against the law. Most of the callers to the show agreed that Eminem should be censored, although most of them seemed to sound a little lukewarm to me, like they didn't feel too passionately about it, and didn't think it would happen. I tried to call in, too, but I didn't get through till after they'd moved on to another topic. So, I'll say what I think here instead...

I don't think song lyrics could be banned by the government because the courts would rule that they are literary or artistic in the same way that novels are.

But the idea of having government ban something is a somewhat simple-minded solution to stopping a problem, in my opinion. As Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "Earth's Holocaust" showed, you can ban something (or throw it into the fire, as in the story) to get rid of it, but you'll never truly get rid of it as long as people continue to desire it in their hearts. As long as there are people who want it, there are people who will make it and sell it to them, whether it's legal or not.

I think the thing for us to do, if we don't like offensive material being so prevalent in our pop culture, is to fight passionately against it in the marketplace. Consumers can complain to the stores that sell such material and they may have more of an impact doing so than they'd realize. Companies respond to consumer pressure and what they feel there is a market for. Let me use an example as proof:

A lot of kids want to hear Eminem. A lot of people don't think kids should listen to Eminem's profanity, and so they won't let their kids buy Eminem. So, the company puts out an "Edited" version of the Eminem CD (and Limp Biskit and so on) because they know that they can sell copies of the Edited version to kids who otherwise would not be allowed to buy the CD. Eminem once stated on MTV, "I won't censor my art," but his record company is quite willing to censor his so-called "art" in the form of the Edited Version because it makes them money.

So, if our wallets can force the record companies to release "edited" Eminem CDs, then we can also use that power to make most stores sell ONLY the edited versions, or not sell the CD at all. Also, we can use our consumer power to make albums with positive messages more popular. I think that most people are so laidback and permissive, however, that they don't really see anything wrong with listening to lyrics laced with profanity, or supporting pop stars who behave like strippers.

I think that's probably the biggest obstacle to creating a more positive pop culture -- our own complacency about making it happen. It doesn't seem to matter all that much to most people anymore.

So, to sum up, I don't think that government censorship is the answer. I think that we should use the marketplace to change our culture. If we just pass a law against stuff like Eminem, it looks like we're trying to enforce our values on everyone else. But if we run Eminem out of business, then we win because it's what the majority of people want to happen. But first WE really have to want it to happen.