T.R. Rigby – Eminem’s Brilliance


Eminem’s Brilliance:

How Eminem brilliantly proves the illegitimacy of Hate Crimes Legislation.


by Thayne Ross Rigby

April 18, 2001

The supporters of white rapper Eminem have now gone so far as to suggest that he is brilliant. I suppose that they are referring to his brilliant “talent” for rhyme and rhythm. He is especially skilled in the lyrically demanding genre of poetic misogynistic homophobia. I’ll give him that. But that’s not all. The controversy surrounding Eminem has brilliantly proven the illegitimacy of hate crimes legislation, as well. (And you thought he was just some punk rapper with a bad attitude and a habit of flipping the bird.)

Hate crimes legislation is quite simply an attempt to base the sentencing of lawbreakers on evidence that can never be fully obtained. Or, in other words, to punish criminals based not just upon the severity of one’s crime, but on the supposition of one’s motive. Even after gathering as much anecdotal and circumstantial evidence as is available, even if we are told by the perpetrator himself what the motive was, we are still left with a decision: to either believe what he says or reject it; to believe what the evidence points to or not. We can never definitively “know” what the true motive was at that time the crime was committed.

Enter the beautiful and talented Eminem. No one questions whether his message is filled with hate and anger. There is no ambiguity in his lyrics. He raps of rape. He raps of murder. He raps of all manner of violence and assault and death and destruction. And his favorite targets are women (including his own mother and wife) and, lest we forget, gays. So why is Eminem not the poster boy for federal hate crimes legislation? If ever there was proof that hate exists, and that it is marketable to the masses if packaged correctly, it is the startling success of Eminem’s album, The Mis-Education of Marshall Mathers, which has sold more than a million copies so far. But instead of furthering the cause of hate crimes legislation, the controversy wrought by Eminem’s album has instead shown the impotence of such legislation.

At the recent Grammy award show, Elton John, long-time openly gay musician and activist, first performed with and then held up the hand of Eminem on stage in a twisted, confusing and (for the gay rights activists picketing outside) infuriating show of solidarity. Ironically, many were wondering just what Elton John’s “motivation” was for interjecting himself into the Eminem saga at all. Was he attempting to protect the artist’s first amendment right to think up, write down, and then perform lyrics depicting the beating of innocent people based upon their gender or sexual orientation? If so, I don’t remember him raising the hand of Dr. Laura. Her bible-based orthodoxy was universally denounced as evil by the whole of the homosexual community, though she simply articulated age-old biblical teachings and never even hinted at violence or intolerance at all.

Or was Elton John, along with many other Hollywood leftists, showing support for Eminem simply because they think that he doesn’t mean it. They believe Eminem when he says that his motivation is not hate. Fame, maybe. Money, certainly. But hate, no. But what of the gay rights picketers outside the show? They don’t seem to believe him. Or are they simply against his right to free speech at all, if it means the professing of an uncomplimentary opinion of the homosexual lifestyle?

In the end, though Elton John and his ilk and the gay rights picketers are in total disagreement where Eminem is concerned, both groups can claim intellectual consistency within the bounds of their respective lunacy. For both groups base their support –or lack thereof– on the supposition of Eminem’s “motive”. But, through their disagreement, they unwittingly prove the illegitimacy and utter unfeasibility of creating a criminal hierarchy of motivation. If gay rights activists themselves cannot agree whether Eminem is motivated by hate –when he explicitly promotes such in his lyrics, when he involves himself in violent behavior in real life, when all evidence points in that direction– how can they suggest, with any credibility at all, that such subjectivity and conjecture should be taken into serious consideration during the sentencing of actual crimes? They can’t. Thanks to the brilliance of white rapper and moral philosopher, Eminem.

Thayne Rigby is finishing a degree in Political Science & Philosophy at Boise State University, and is considering a career in broadcast journalism.