Music

Letters

|

Ballot Tampering

As an Arizona resident, I appreciated "Ballot Tampering" by Jeffrey A. Singer (December). This is not the only time the courts have blocked a citizens' initiative effort to curtail state power. About 20 years ago, the National Taxpayers Union led a drive to get the states to petition Congress to call a constitutional con-vention to produce a balanced budget amendment. California was one of the states holding out. The citizens put an initiative on the ballot to cut off state legislators' pay until they took appropriate action. The California Supreme Court removed that ballot measure, again with no explanation. That was the bad news. The good news: three of the justices responsible for the removal did not win reinstatement when their terms were up.

Albert K. Heitzmann
Phoenix, AZ

Big-Bucks Welfare

I see that welfare reform has moved people into jobs ("The Hassle Factor," December). But the taxpayers are buying welfare recipients cars, paying for their car insurance, schooling or job training, day care, bus transportation, and more. How much does all that cost? Is it more, less, or the same amount as the old programs? I don't care how many people are statistically "former recipients." Welfare is still a big-bucks program. I can't consider welfare reform successful until the taxpayers' burden has been lifted.

Diane Barnes
Eastpointe, MI

The Art of Eminem

Brian Doherty's attack on Lynne Cheney and defense of Eminem ("Bum Rap," December) disturbed me. Doherty overlooks the serious problems with this sort of trash culture, and instead sets up a straw man in Cheney's criticism of nihilistic art.

First off, he implies that Cheney was calling for censorship, which is not true as far as I know. I am dead set against censorship, but holding a firm position in support of artistic freedom does not mean that one cannot pass artistic judgment. I see nothing wrong with public figures using their highly visible positions to encourage greater aesthetic maturity and to discourage the support of nasty, puerile, violent, and intellectually bankrupt influences on our children. No one is obliged to listen to Cheney any more than they are obliged to listen to Eminem.

I was more disturbed by the effort to promote Eminem as a serious artist. I commend Doherty's straightforward honesty in reprinting some of Eminem's lyrics, though they certainly don't help make his case. It surprises me that REASON would fail to connect the self-indulgent attitudes displayed in these lyrics with the ever-growing infantilism in society, which contributes so greatly to the popular demand for Big Daddy Government.

We should be encouraging teenagers to listen to music that stimulates their maturation, not to whining, solipsistic crap aimed at promoting permanent childlike dependence. The problem with "art" of this sort is not that it will produce maniacs who imitate it literally, but that it will stunt the mental development that makes a free society possible.

This so-called musician hides behind ironic detachment and supposed humor so that he can shout out his most childish, violent fantasies. Can anyone really believe "provocation" is an art form? I am well aware that defining the meaning of art is an unsolved—probably unsolvable—philosophical problem. Nonetheless, it seems clear to me that defining as art anything that tweaks the nose of other people renders the concept meaningless.

To me, true freedom is based first and foremost on maturity and responsibility among the people. A society that cannot distinguish between good and evil, or between inspiration and mob incitement, is ripe for manipulation by demagogues. We all have within us the desire to scream and shout, to tear down and destroy, to join the mob and indulge our animal natures. The trick is to learn how to live without expressing these primal urges. Children do not naturally draw this lesson from within themselves; they need to have it taught and demonstrated by their parents and other adults around them.

While I certainly defend the right of Eminem to spew hatred and filth, I will continue to encourage my children and all other people around me to turn their backs on such emanations and instead to develop their intellects and their souls as free, responsible, mature individuals.

Jonathan Taylor
West Newton, MA

I enjoyed "Bum Rap"—the prompting of such thoughtful discussions is one of the few salutary effects of Eminem's music that I can discern.

As a staunch defender of free speech, I do not advocate censorship as an approach to Eminem. But as I see it, his music is less significant for its artistic merits (which I thought were somewhat overestimated in "Bum Rap") than as dire reflections of our condition.

From a historical perspective, isn't there a risk of freedom being lost when its exercise takes too many forms that are too objectionable to too many in the society? Such exercises inevitably and directly elicit the kind of proto-fascist, censorial impulses criticized in "Bum Rap." Eventually, enough people become sufficiently perturbed that they elect, by democratic process, someone who promises to do away with this "rot" and clean up Dodge City. When that happens, everybody loses their freedom, not just those who indulged themselves in its excess. This is why I think intelligent people can reasonably be concerned about the moral stimuli presented to a young, impressionable audience by Eminem—not to mention a host of other offerings which have arisen in our current era.

We shouldn't overlook the fact that Eminem's approach is geared toward profit, not free expression. The latter is something it merely takes advantage of. It reminds me of the saying that we aren't really free at all, unless we're free to abuse our freedom. That position strikes me as intellectually absurd, and ultimately dangerous to the freedom it pretends to support. It bespeaks a demonic impulse to erase any and all boundaries. I quite agree that we have the "modern liberal cant" to thank for the social milieu in which an Eminem rises to prominence.

Doherty rightly characterizes Eminem as annoying, not evil. But something that is not "evil" can still be potentially destructive to the interests of both society and individuals. That said, Eminem is not the disease. He is merely a symptomatic lesion that has broken the surface. Cheney and her ilk may fail to understand this, but I would also caution against the more sanguine view in "Bum Rap." There are two equal and opposite directions in which we can mislead ourselves in the face of phenomena such as Eminem. We might do well to avoid both.

Brian Akers, Ph.D.
Atlanta, GA

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the article on Eminem. As a feminist and someone who is now considered a "grown-up," I have often found myself looking and feeling quite out of place when I defend Eminem as an artist. As is so often the case when you feel like a lone voice, I found it extremely comforting and encouraging to see someone whose work and ideas I admire making many of the same arguments—and making them so well.

Teresa Brown

Fairfax, VA

I have never been a fan of contemporary rap. I find most of it insulting, both intellectually and musically, with only rare exceptions (for example, Busta Rhymes and Wu Tang Clan when viewed as social commentary; rap will be the Negro spiritual of future anthropologists of black culture). A few weeks ago I heard "Stan" by Slim Shady and I was floored. When I examined the subject matter, I had to go buy Eminem's records. He has a great musical ear and a quicksilver tongue, and he likes to push buttons.

Dale Fitzgerald
Johnson City, TN

Brian Doherty replies: While Lynne Cheney paid the usual lip service to not advocating government action, remember the context of her remarks: a presentation to a committee of Congress, contemplating state action regarding the marketing of disapproved material to children. Cheney did not appear to be making an "artistic judgement" as Mr. Taylor says, but reacting to out-of-context bits of lyrics and ignoring the larger context of Eminem's record—which, as my article tried to demonstrate, deals with the very issues of artists' (and parents') responsibility toward kids with more insight, wit, and nuance than Cheney exhibited. Referring to "provocation" as his chosen art form was an attempt at wit on my part—Eminem is clearly very gifted at it.

I strongly disagree with Dr. Akers contention that it is Eminem's, or anyone's, responsibility to restrict their right to say what they please to appease those who would violently quell speech that offends them.