Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Why Young People Listen To Eminem

by L.S.S

After giving a couple of talks on Eminem, and his allure in our culture, I've had time to think about this question. Why do people -- especially youth -- gravitate to his music. My answer? Because they want a hard life. Yes, you heard me right. They want a hard life. They want a life with real challenges. Eminem provides that fantasy.

Eminem raps about anguish, challenges, and obstacles. Broken family. Absent father. Poverty. Loneliness. Even marriage problems. Now, it's true, a lot of the suburban kids who listen to him haven't had these kinds of problems. Again, I'd suggest, they almost wish they had.

Two groups of youth listen to Eminem: those who have had a life like Eminem and find solace and release in his music, and those who fantasize about having a life like Eminem.

  1. Those who have a life like him.
"I'm not alone in feeling the way I feel," he says. "I believe that a lot of people can relate to my **** -- whether white, black, it doesn't matter. Everybody has been through some sh*t, whether it's drastic or not so drastic. Everybody gets to the point of 'I don't give a ****.'"

Eminem knows this, and reaches out to this group of kids in his music. Consider Sing for the Moment, and Stan as examples.

  1. Rich (usually) white kids who fantasize about being from 'the hood.'

“See the problem is/ I speak to suburban kids who otherwise woulda never knew these words exist/ whose moms probably never gave two squirts of a piss, till I created so much motherf*ckin turbulence...they connected with me too because I looked like them (White America).”

And, “Say there's a white kid who lives in a nice home, goes to an all-white school, and is pretty much having everything handed to him on a platter-for him to pick up a rap tape is incredible to me, because what that's saying is that he's living a fantasy life of rebellion. He wants to be hard; he wants to smack motherfuckers for no reason except that the world is fucked-up; he doesn't know what to rebel against. Kids like that are just fascinated by the culture. They hear songs about people going through hard times and want to know what that feels like. But the same thing goes for a black person who lived in the suburbs and was catered to all his life: Tupac is a fantasy for him, too (Spin, Interview, 1999).

Why are these kids fantasizing, even some Christian kids, about this kind of life? I think it is because they desire to have a cause and be courageous. Perhaps there is a general sense of angst because youth want to lay down their lives for something more than just weekends playing video games. Why can’t Jesus’ radical (on some level rebellious) call to discipleship satisfy their need for challenge. If we present the gospel, but not the radical call, then we will have a difficult time competing with Eminem: young people -- all people -- want more!

Here's the conclusion to anyone concerned about youth listening to Eminem: have you offered them a better, harder, challenge. Have you called them to a life of greater sacrifice? Greater agony, even, in a nobler cause?

Consider Jesus' truly radical call to a life of sacrifice:

“If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me (Luke 9:23).” 

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