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Nothing shady about Eminem's new message

Rapper joins new wave of political activists to get out the vote with anti-Bush video "Mosh". By Helen A.S. Popkin
/ Source: contributor

Eminem’s new video, “Mosh” is important. It’s Public Enemy important. It’s so important that Eminem’s arch nemesis Moby wants you to see it. “You know Eminem and I have had our differences in the past, but this video is the best thing I’ve seen all year” the techno musician wrote in his October 26 blog entry, the day after “Mosh” was “leaked” on the Internet. “It’s an amazing song and an even more amazing video,” wrote Moby, who has exchanged barbs with Eminem through the media.

“Mosh,” the second release from Eminem’s new album, “Encore,” is an anti-Bush call to arms. We expect this from Moby, a political activist and MoveOn supporter. He’s criticized George W. Bush both in person and via his blog since the administration began. We expect it from Bruce “Born in the USA” Springsteen, the Beastie Boys, R.E.M, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn. It’s so expected, their words become background noise.

So what’s up with Eminem? “Mosh” is the first time he’s used his public persona to fight for a cause other than his own. We know from his music that he hates his mom and ex-wife, and cares only about himself, his daughter Hailie, 8, and his immediate circle of friends (e.g. D12, Dr. Dre). He’s like a lot of us. We may feel unsatisfied but lack the motivation to act. The clue to Eminem’s new attitude is how he describes himself in the song’s first stanza:  “A father who has grown up with a fatherless past.” Something valuable (his daughter) is threatened. He’s become both the opposite and the same as the Bush-voting “Security Mom.”

This election year, possibly the most important of our lives, things have changed. There is a lot at stake. Both Bush and Kerry supporters are concerned about the war, terrorism, the economy, religion and civil rights. People, not just those accustomed to watching the political process, are mobilized. Voter registration is booming. The candidates are so different that a cultural groundswell was inevitable. The complacent now feel pressed into action. Unlikely spokespeople are emerging as a major force to the voting booth; “King of All Media” Howard Stern, hip-hop artist and fashion designer Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and now Eminem.

A 'rebel with a rebel yell'Eminem’s videos are always brilliant and often hilarious. “Encore’s” first release, “Just Lose It,” features him as Michael Jackson, M.C. Hammer, Madonna and Pee Wee Herman. The “Mosh” video, a stunning combination of animation/live action, is both a visual and thematic departure from previous work. An animated Eminem is portrayed posting Iraqi-war news stories on a wall. Pounding the headlines in anger, he dons a black hoodie and leads the disenfranchised to “Rebel with a rebel yell.” As the action progresses, a black man (hip-hop artist Lloyd Banks) is harassed by police, a soldier is called back to duty, and a mother receives an eviction notice while Bush announces “tax cuts for the wealthy” on her TV. Each character dons a black hoodie like Eminem and joins the march. Storming a Federal building, they stop those who would prevent them from entering with a fire hose. Once inside, they drop their hoods and form an orderly line behind Slim Shady who, now wearing a suit, signs in to vote.

In the real world, Eminem, 32, did not register to vote until this year. “Mosh,” however, is arguably as powerful as any video by seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy. In the ’80s and early ’90s, Public Enemy used rap and the new media of music videos as a force for revolution and social change. The Spike Lee-directed “Fight the Power” featured baritone lead Chuck D and his Greek chorus, Flavor Flav, addressing their audience both from a stage and while marching with them in the street. The crowd pump their arms in defiance. Images of Malcolm X fill the screen. “Our freedom of speech is freedom or death,” Chuck D raps. The course of action was clear: “Fight the powers that be.”

In “Fight the Power,” the divide is racial. In “Mosh,” the divide is socio-economic. The rich are seen passing unfettered into the Federal building while the poor are held back. As in “Fight the Power,” Eminem addresses his audience from the stage and leads their march in the street. Eminem’s course of action is clear: “To disarm this Weapon of Mass Destruction we call our President, for present.”

Eminem is not as eloquent as Chuck D, not nearly as studied in politics and history. He places himself at the center of the message, “Let me be the voice in your strength and your choice.” But that’s his style. His message is galvanizing. Those who would continue to dismiss him as a homophobe, misogynist Vanilla Ice are closing their senses like those three monkeys on a log.

Other unexpected voices for changeThe Left also tends to assign a cultural low-tide status to “shock jock” Howard Stern. But when the Federal Communications Commission claimed his show violated broadcast decency rules, the fallout resulted in Stern entreating his audience to vote Bush out of office. According to Stern, it wasn’t until he criticized Bush on his show that the FCC decided to crack down on his other provocative content.

Stern, who’s moving to the freedom of Sirius satellite radio when his contract ends, now dedicates a generous portion of every show to blasting the President. Comedy bits and interviews with strippers and porn stars are now mixed with discussions on the Christian right, stem-cell research and Iraq. The official Howard Stern Web site, once a bookmark for the occasional nutty photo, is now a clearing house of political information, including voter registration instructions, and updated daily with new stories about election issues. Those who think Stern’s army of 18- to 34-year old male swing voters will continue to skip the polls haven’t heard the obstacles they’ll surmount to make crank phone calls to major news organizations.

P. Diddy, who wasn’t registered to vote until 2000, heads “Citizen Change,” a nonpartisan campaign that includes other artists such as 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Mya and Mary J. Blige. “Vote or Die!” is the slogan. It’s one of several celebrity-packed nonpartisan organizations attempting to drive traditionally absent minority and youth voters to the polls. Though “Citizen Change” doesn’t endorse any candidate, participant Ashton Kutcher is stumping for John Kerry. Mr. Demi Moore says he voted for Bush in 2000, and declared last week in Dubuque, Iowa, “Yeah, we got punked.”

On the Internet, where “Mosh” appeared only a week before the election, chat room participants discuss “da black hoodie movement.” You have to wonder why Eminem released this song too late to get people to register to vote. Perhaps he’s hoping to mobilize those who already signed up at the behest of P. Diddy and friends while “Mosh” is still fresh in our heads — not background noise.

Helen A.S. Popkin lives in New York and is a regular contributor to