Sunday, August 21, 2011

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #22: 8 Mile (2002)


The usual caveat: Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old. Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time.
I’ve never really cared for Eminem.  It’s a funny thing, I suppose, because I’m certainly a fan of hip hop.  My iTunes contains a high number of songs I’m sure are just as purposely offensive as anything Eminem has produced, sometimes moreso (including recent additions in the form of selections from OFWGKTA (though I’m partial to Mellowhype over Tyler, the Creator)).  While there are a couple tracks from the bug-eyed Mr. Mathers that have been allowed admission (albeit begrudgingly) to my hard drive, there’s just something about Eminem that’s always struck me as…sort of boring.  His cleverness is wrapped in bitter, juvenile entitlement, his diss tracks have devolved into obnoxiously repetitive harpings, he’s got a voice that makes every song sound identical to the last, his instrumental backing tracks are phenomenally underwhelming, and when he shocks he does so in a way that suggests he has only partial insight into his own psyche.  So, I care for Eminem about as much as I care for the adolescent boys who turn their baseball caps backwards and snort with laughter as they watch his videos for the first time.  By which I mean, yeah, not at all.  In fact, if we’re going to be real about it, a huge part of why I can’t stand Eminem is because of his fans.  True Em fans, in my experience, are like those college dudes Sacha Baron Cohen road trips with in Borat; they’re often not capable of being in on the joke even when Eminem himself is.  They hear only the anger, never the wordplay.  It’s an easy thing to do, I think, when someone seems to be fairly incapable of controlling the volume of their voice…

Anyhow: when everyone else was going crazy about 8 Mile, I was staying about as far away as I could.  “Lose Yourself” was a good song.  I can’t deny this.  It deserves the Oscar.  But strange things were happening when people watched 8 Mile.  People I knew would come back and, instead of merely being impressed by the music, say “Eminem is a pretty good actor”  or, what really grossed me out, “Eminem is hot.”   It was very disconcerting.  How could someone who’s most public introspective moment was in the form of “Stan” suddenly be a wealth of empathetic emotion?  In the true spirit of Eminem, I wasn’t really into finding out what I was missing.  I was far more content to sit over here and come up with slam after slam of my own.   Most of them beginning and ending with something force rhyming boring and annoying.  “Your insults are all tepid, your acne scars all decrepit.  You look like a hopped up gerbil pondering a crystal method.  Take a tweekend, visit a f*cking museum, get some culture so you can curate your own goddamn feelings without using top 40 radio like Tony talked to Lorraine Bracco…..something something, boring, annoying, there you have it.”  Ok, I didn’t really do that.  I suspect I’m not so good at freestyling (and have completely avoided that mode on my Def Jam Rapstar, which I have because I’m a geek), but I did just make that up.
THIS IS NOT THE POINT. The point is that I watched 8 Mile, and it wasn’t bad. It was pretty good, actually, as underdog tales from the urban wasteland go. What’s worse? While I was watching it, I started to feel really sympathetic for Bunny Rabbit (Eminem), and, by proxy, Eminem. He’s never been more likable and, knowing what I’ve seen after years of watching the rapper through his public persona, I was rather surprised to see an Em who was willing to step back, be vulnerable, and allow himself to be shown as more submissive than gratingly Type A. There are different stories out there. Some say the film is a loosely interpreted version of Eminem’s pre-fame life story, others that the similarities begin and end with being an aspiring hip hop artist in Detroit. We’ll call it semi-autobiographical, but obviously working with the understanding that its audience would equate one with the other and not be able to fully distinguish between the two. As Rabbit, Eminem gives us a young man who chokes up in spite of his talent, who lives in a trailer with his mom, who stands up for folks picked on in the factory lunch line, and who begs for more hours to try to achieve his American dream. The story is true working class grit, rife with an organic feel and racial anxieties. Within it Rabbit is the downtrodden hero who we understand could transcend all if only he could get in the studio to record his demo.

 What I got from 8 Mile, apart from a partial respect for Eminem’s origins and skills, was an odd notion of his discomfort with his whiteness. There are some very strange racial tensions going on here, and it’s hard not to notice that in order to gain the respect of his musical peers, Rabbit needs to essentially lay claim to his genetic makeup. All his rivals harp on the color of his skin, ideas of white trash vs. what can only be described as stereotypically white privilege, the stigma of his economic situation, and attacks that further challenge their perceived understanding of his status as outsider. Rabbit is anxious, so are his competitors. What to make of a film that flips our societal issues with racism and sets up a situation in which proclaiming one’s whiteness and finding “power” from that is the only possible heroic outcome? Why are so many of the victims white? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that in a film that wasn’t supposed to be a negative portrayal, and I don’t know what to think of it, but something about it makes me uncomfortable, probably because it was a purely accidental subtext; like the comfortable benign racism that comes from growing up in a diverse neighborhood, going to a diverse school, and deciding it’s ok to call things the way you see them simply because “your best friends are X, Y, Z.” Then again, I’m probably reading too much into this. I’m going to go and think up a bunch of rhyming words to use in case I ever wind up in a freestyle battle.

2 comments:

  1. I've also never seen 8 Mile, but the difference between me and you is that I always wanted to watch it... I don't know if I like Eminem, I like some of his songs more or less, and the way he shocks people (again: only sometimes)... but the film has always interested me.
    If you liked it, you'll probably also like "Notorious B.I.G". I saw it without knowing anything about Notorious, but it's a really good film.

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  2. I'd heard that "Notorious" was good, but, you know, never got around to that one either (though certainly not for the same reasons). One of these days I'll have to go back and revisit it...

    Thanks for visiting the site!

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