Popular performers both reflect and shape social attitudes.
The white rapper Eminem won a Grammy Award while I was writing this book. At the time of his award, one of his newest popular songs was “Kim,” the name of Eminem’s wife. The song begins with the singer putting his baby daughter to bed and then preparing to murder his wife for being with another man. He tells his wife, “If you move I’ll beat the shit out of you,” and informs her that he has already murdered their four-year-old son. He then tells his wife he is going to drive away with her in the car, leaving the baby at home alone, and then will bring her home dead in the trunk. Kim’s voice (as performed by Eminem) is audible off and on throughout the song, screaming with terror. At times she pleads with him not to hurt her. He describes to her how he is going to make it look as if she is the one who killed their son and that he killed her in self-defense, so that he’ll get away with it. Kim screams for help, then is audibly choked to death, as Eminem screams, “Bleed, bitch, bleed! Bleed!” The murder is followed by the sound of a body being dragged across dry leaves, thrown into the trunk of a car, and closed in.
Even more horrible than Eminem’s decision to record this song glorifying the murder of a woman and child is the fact that it did not stop him from receiving a Grammy. What is a teen boy or a young man to conclude about our culture from this award? I believe I can safely say that a singer who openly promoted the killing of Jews, or blacks, or people in wheelchairs would be considered ineligible for a Grammy. But not so, unfortunately, for encouraging the brutal and premeditated murder of one’s wife and child, complete with a plan for how to escape consequences for it.
And, unfortunately, Eminem has plenty of company. The extremely popular Guns ’n’ Roses recorded a song that goes: “I used to love her / But I had to kill her / I had to put her six feet under / And I can still hear her complain.” The singer (Axl Rose) goes on to sing that he knew he would miss her so he buried her in the backyard. This song supports a common attitude among physical abusers that women’s complaints are what provoke men to violence. Another outstanding example is the comedian Andrew Dice Clay, whose repertoire of “jokes” about the beating and sexual assault of females has filled performance halls across the country. Fans of these kinds of performers have been known to state defensively, “Come on, it’s just humor.” But humor is actually one of the powerful ways a culture passes on its values. If a man is already inclined toward abuse because of his earlier training or experience, he can find validation in such erformances and distance himself even further from empathy for his partners. In one abuse case that I was involved in, the man used to play the above Guns ’n’ Roses song on the stereo repeatedly and tell his wife that this was what was going to happen to her, laughing about it. But in the context of verbal assault and physical fear that he created, what was a joke to him was a blood-curdling threat to his partner.”
- Why does he do that - Lundy Bancroft (via scherbensalat)