Eminem played a crammed Wembley Stadium two weeks ago. He had planned to play Hyde Park but a last minute u-turn from the park’s management, Royal Parks, meant a change of plan. The ill-informed overseers branded Eminem’s music racist and homophobic and banned him.
This demonstrates the dire state of free speech. Bans are, as a rule, detestable, but this has gone a step further – naïve illiberalism has collapsed into utter cluelessness. There is a chasm between Eminem’s lyrics and his beliefs. Indeed, what makes this ban so confused, though, is that Eminem’s act is ironic. Not only does he clearly disagree with the worldview expressed in his lyrics – he ridicules people who do. The Slim Shady persona that his most offensive lyrics are performed under is deliberately goofy and much of his music is self-deprecating. When in 1999 he rapped ‘I’m raping lesbians while they scream “Let’s just be friends!”’ he made it obvious that he was the butt of that joke – not lesbians.
Back in 1999, when he released his debut, Eminem’s faced a huge backlash from White America. The anaemic state of free speech in the UK today becomes all the more clear when Londoners unthinkingly follow a path paved by American wingnuts. Moreover, Eminem’s music is calmer and tamer than ever before. Back in the early Noughties, his mother sued him for his lyric ‘I just found out my mom does more dope than I do’. In 2013 he released ‘Headlights’ – an apology to his mum chorused by the singer from pop-rock band Fun. He hasn’t just been banned in the UK for the first time – he’s been banned when he’s at his most moderate.
What underpins this decision is a form of misanthropy. Organisers don’t trust the supposedly idiotic audience not to misappropriate Eminem’s ideas. This is reflected in Royal Parks CEO Linda Lennon’s statement about the ban: ‘The nature of any act with potential for lyrics to be deemed offensive and/or unsuitable language being audible within the park as a whole, let alone the surrounding residential areas, is unacceptable.’ With these words she demotes park-goers and those living nearby from autonomous and level-headed individuals to helpless wrecks, unable to withstand the occasional irony-laced slur without either crumpling into a heap or leaping into an act of homophobic violence.
Eminem does swear a lot – his radio edits, blotted with censored expletives, often sound like instrumentals – but his lyrics are harmless. He’s clearly not homophobic and racist. Even if he was, I’d still have a question for the people at Royal Parks – how did you become immune to his cancerous, bigoted language?