- Justice John M. Harlan, Cohen v. California (1971)
LOS ANGELES, CA (February 24, 2001) -- It was certainly no surprise to learn that bad boy rapper Eminem took home several Grammy Awards on February 21: Best Rap Album ("The Marshall Mathers LP"), Best Rap Solo Performance ("The Real Slim Shady"), and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group ("Forgot About Dre"). The only shocker was that he did not win Best Album, which went to Steely Dan for "Two Against Nature." (By the way, according to Kevin and Bean on The World Famous KROQ radio station in Los Angeles, Steely Dan got its name from a dildo)
During the live Grammy telecast in Los Angeles, Eminem and openly gay pop icon Sir Elton John received a standing ovation after performing "Stan," a song about an obsessed fan. John angered gay rights organizations such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), because they hold the opinion that song lyrics can lead to hate crimes against gays, women, and others.
Eminem has never publicly made any derogatory remarks about gays, nor has he demonstrated any type of homophobia (aside from what Em's critics say are homophobic lyrics). In fact, John and Eminem hugged each other on stage after the duet! I don't know too many homophobic men who hug male homosexual men. GLAAD's entertainment media director, Scott Seomin, told Kevin and Bean on February 22 that the issue is not about whether Eminem is homophobic, but is about what some say are extremely hateful and derogatory lyrics in the rapper's songs.
Not Everyone is Glaad
"The pair brought bigotry out of the closet in pop music," wrote pop music critic Robert Hillburn in his February 22 column in the Los Angeles Times. "Instead of attacking Eminem and John as irresponsible, GLAAD ought to give them an award." Although Hillburn attacked GLAAD for distorting "the music when it takes certain lines out of context," he wrote that the organization's campaign against Eminem "will certainly help the cause of tolerance in this country."
Los Angeles veteran gay activist Morris Kight told metroG that organizations such as GLAAD are not justified in spending time and resources in protesting Eminem's lyrics. "We must not lose our sense of humor, and I think we must have great respect for the First Amendment and treat it as though it were a creation of the universe." Kight said that although he watched the telecast of Eminem and John performing at the Grammy Awards, he "couldn't understand a single word." "I think we have other issues, such as jobs, housing, disease, family planning, and I just think that we need to raise our sights and keep our eye on a higher prize," he said.
Some lesbigay artists, and lesbigay supportive artists, have publicly made positive comments about Eminem, including Madonna, Melissa Etheridge, and Boy George. Even mainstream music icons Pat Boone and Stevie Wonder had something good to say about The Real Slim Shady.
To add even more fuel to this controversy, Interscope Records appears to be affiliated with Geffen Records, owned by openly gay record mogul David Geffen. "For David Geffen to be running a company that puts out Eminem CDs should be of concern to the gay community," said Cathy Renna, GLAAD's media director. "This is all about money and marketing," she added.
metroG made three telephone calls to Interscope's public relations department over a 9-hour period on February 23, but none of the calls were returned.
"GLAAD is Doing Its Job"
Renna talked at length with metroG about GLAAD's role, which she says is often misunderstood during heated controversies surrounding speech issues. "I think GLAAD's mission is confronting defamation and inaccurate information. When we see homophobia in the media, it is our job to speak up about it," she said.
When asked whether GLAAD's protest of Eminem is equivalent to censorship, Renna was adamant that it is not GLAAD's role to censor others. "It has never been an issue of us imposing restrictions against Eminem [or anyone else]. I think it is our responsibility to speak out against language that we feel perpetuates violence and hate crimes."
Similar to their campaign that put pressure on Dr. Laura Schlessinger's television sponsors (for her derogatory, and perhaps homophobic remarks about gays), GLAAD has helped to keep the Eminem controversy alive.
Aside from an organized, yet small demonstration outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles during the Grammy Awards, GLAAD Executive Director Joan M. Garry wrote a letter to John, prior to the ceremony, pleading with him not to share the stage with one of the world's most popular rap stars.
Renna told metroG that she is still baffled as to why John would get on a stage with Eminem. She told metroG that GLAAD never just starts lashing out at those they feel are espousing homophobia, but that the group always makes invitations in hopes of having an open dialogue about the issues in question. She said that GLAAD made invitations to Eminem's publicist and his record label, Interscope, but neither provided much, if any response. She said that an invitation to John was completely ignored.
On the other hand, Michael Greene, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, accepted a GLAAD invitation to a recent "town hall meeting" in Los Angeles where a diverse group of people discussed the controversy in a public forum, including gay activists and an Eminem fan. During the Grammy Awards telecast, Greene may have hit the nail on the head when he said, "Let's not forget that sometimes it takes tolerance to teach tolerance."
Does Hate Speech Lead to Hate Action?
Renna told metroG that it is GLAAD's position that a large portion of Eminem's audience (young men) are also, statistically speaking, committing a lot of hate crimes. Renna maintains, for example, that the constant repetition of the word 'fag' in song lyrics desensitizes people, which can lead them to commit hate crimes. While GLAAD has never advocated laws prohibiting hate speech, Renna said she is convinced that when an artist fosters disrespect and prejudice against people that "it creates a climate where people feel it is okay to be prejudiced and disrespect others."
Ironically, GLAAD has become a target of hate during this controversy. Several derogatory and life threatening e-mails have been sent to the organization, according to Renna. "These e-mails are nasty. They say things like, 'If I ever see you I will stab you in the throat,' 'Be careful opening your mail,' " and one that contained the word 'DIE' in large bold letters. Several of these e-mails were attached with Gerry's letter to John, but not released to the public at the insistence of the Los Angeles Police Department.
"The question is why the hell are we rewarding his [Eminem's] lyrics," said Professor Brian Levin, JD, director of Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. The nonpartisan center provides documentation and primary source information related to hate crimes in North America.
As an attorney, Levin has participated in hate crimes litigation throughout the United States, and testified in 1994 before the Congressional Oversight Committee on Hate Crimes Against Gays & Lesbians at the invitation of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Levin has also written model hate crime laws that are utilized throughout the nation.
While Levin is clearly anti-Eminem, he told metroG that he strongly opposes any type of hate speech laws. "If people want to have hateful feelings, that is the cost of a free society, but I find it reprehensible that the record companies embrace hate." In reaction to Eminem and Elton John's duet at the Grammy Awards ceremony, Levin said: "What will the Grammys have next year? David Duke performing a duet with Stevie Wonder? The music industry really dropped the ball here. "
Like GLAAD, Levin says the issue isn't about whether Eminem is actually homophobic. "I don't care if he's homophobic. What is in his heart is of less concern to me than the fact that there are a lot of young impressionable teenagers who are getting that message [of hate]."
Although he could cite no solid research linking hate speech to hate crimes, Levin is convinced there is a strong correlation between the two. "I still think the research out there points to a very strong indirect effect. It was no accident that before a couple of skinheads went out and murdered two blacks at random, they got drunk and listened to a song about killing blacks. Hate violence starts with degradation and rejection, and then goes forward from there."
When asked for a reaction to other artists, some of them gay, stating publicly that Eminem is very talented, Levin said: "The fact that the guy can carry a beat doesn't give him license to go through his career without criticism. Let the bigot make as many albums as he wants, but my child will never own a piece of crap like that in my home."
In the End, Free Speech Reigns
"Eminem has the right to sing the lyrics he chooses to sing, and people have the right to protest," said Elizabeth Schroeder, Associate Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Southern California Chapter. "The ACLU vehemently disagrees with the homophobic and anti-women message in Eminem's lyrics, but he does have the First Amendment right to say what he says." She said that there has been a lot of talk about government restrictions of the music industry, and that such concerns have grown in the past few years. She said the ACLU keeps abreast of issues such as music labeling, restrictions on where certain types of music can be sold, or restrictions that might prohibit where an artist is allowed to perform.
Schroeder offers some simple and sound advice for those who want to fight back: "The best way to counter hate speech is with more speech."