"Wearing visors, sunglasses
1. The Revenge of Pentheus
Pentheus, the protagonists of Euripides' The Bacchae, was a young moralist and anarchical warrior who sought to abolish the worship of Dionysus (God of tradition, or perhaps better said...God of the re-cyclical, who causes the loss of individual identity in the uncontrollable chaotic eruption of ritualistic possession). When Pentheus sets out to infiltrate the world of the Bacchae and explore the mysteries of savage lore, his intention is to save the possessed women of Thebes (from themselves) who engage in hedonistic practices somewhere high in the mountains. Dionysus derails the young warrior's lofty mission by titillating his sexual curiosity (inviting him to take a quick glimpse of the drunken lesbians as they revel in their secret orgy). In order to first handedly witness the goings on of the inhumane, Pentheus must disguise himself as one of them, and the young macho soldier's disguise mirrors the appearance of Dionysus, the very God he seeks to conquer (blonde, effeminate). The transformed soldier, also possessed by the spirit of Dionysus, is set on the highest branch of a fir tree, elevated above all and visible to all. It is because of this very public place he inhabits that he is quickly discovered and brutally dismembered by the possessed women on the mountain, lead by his own mother.
Historically, academics have neatly interpreted the characters of The Bacchae as belonging to themes of good vs. evil, rational vs. reason, nobility vs. paganism. In the casual study of Classical Realism, Pentheus is noble in his efforts to eradicate paganism, and Dionysus is an all powerful, demonic and immoral force...but in a more careful study (or at least, an alternative one), we learn that Dionysus is a traditional Olympian God, neither good nor bad. His powers are amoral, they are powers informed only by the powers that control human existence. Real life; Death, Sex, Grief, Joy, etc., in all its splendor and cruelty. Dionysus and his worshippers can not be converted (colonized perhaps, but not converted). Their humanity is inhumane, and that's the very nature of real life. We are all of us, its victims. In The Bacchae, the mother's murder of her son is a necessary evil; we accept the death of Pentheus as the inevitable defeat of his judgmental and moral idealism, andbecause this act of brutality is performed by the mother of its victim, we also question the value of human existence above the existence of humanity. (Couldn't she have just have given him a slap on the hand and a good talking to and said, "Baby, some people live differently than others, but ain't nobody better than others..."?) The moral to the story is...there is no morality. There is only humanityand the existence of nature, and our eternal struggle to negotiate our understanding of one's relationship to the other, as a means of forming an identity for ourselves as a collective, and as individuals.
Fast forward a few thousand years to a more contemporary but parallel hero/anti-heroic protagonistEminem, the platinum domed Caesar haircut pop prince bad-boy superstar of late 20th/early 21st century Post Modern hip-hop culture. Like Pentheus, Eminem may also be seen as a rebellious and beardless icon with disdain for the majority and like Pentheus, he dresses himself in the garments of the outcasts, has learned their language, their songs and rituals...but, unlike Pentheus, Eminem is no moralist martyr. The Real Slim Shady does not make the mistake of recreating Pentheus' vain attempt to destroy the God of mass appeal. He accepts the unholy ghost as his personal Savior, and with a slight flip of the script (with hip-hop Greek tragedy flare) introduces his first important sacrificehis own mother, who he publicly strips of all garments of integrity, and drags into the spotlight nude and debased. Though savagery calls for misogyny of magnanimous proportions, his humiliation of the maternal figure is not just limited to his own mother, but extends itself to she who is also the mother of his child (or in outcast terms, his baby mama). In one of his most legendary (and Grammy winning) acts of hedonism, he murders her right in front of his baby for our entertainment pleasure, thereby raising the inhumane status of outcast culture to new Bacchanalian heights. The post-modern pop culture icon is complete; Eminem does not seek to know pagan lorehe was born into it, has always spoken the language of it, has always danced to the music of it, has always dressed himself in the latest pagan wear, has never used this language, this music, or this apparel to disguise his true identity, or to disguise his race, economic status, political affiliations or (most importantly) his true love for the luscious harmonies of teenage boy bands like O-Town. And, he has never tried to disassociate himself from the source of his race performance. Rather, Eminem uses his disguise to disguise himself as undisguisedraising the question, who is the real Slim Shady, and what exactly is being performed?
Fanon tells us that the oppressed must identify an oppressive archetype in order to overcome historical oppression. But before the oppressed can achieve acts of true upheaval, he must first realize that the oppressed is essentially a "non-being" who may have attempted prior acts of resistance, but has never actually "descended into a real hell" that will scorch into the very nature of seeing an effective upheaval that brings the non-being into being. For now, the oppressed continues to live in the dream of identity, the dream that (in reality) the oppressed is in fact, Negro, Colored, Black, Minority, African American, Hispanic, Oriental, Bitches, Ho's, Niggaz. Allnon-beings. The acceptance of these identities of non-being further compels a performance of these identities, whether compliant or rebellious. The oppressed relies upon the historical narrative that supports the construct of these identities before a revisionist identity is forged, thus, even when we (the oppressed) think we are revising our identites, updating the language of our identities, or endeavoring to better the circumstances of our identities, we are not...not totally...because our identites have not been located or actualized or named...no accurate language in the American polyglot has been assigned to the core of our identity, and what we (the oppressed) have been working with as an identity is actually born out of a dream. Our subscription to this dream is our ignorance of the reality of human existence.
The oppressed, like Pentheus, are possessed by the very thing we repel, and the oppressor is not only our archetype of oppression but the architect of the dream that oppresses us. We inhabit a dream, and the oppressive figure is a Dionysian like landlord of realityboth good and badneither real or unreal, and completely exempt from being vanquished. Until that descent into Fanon's hell, the oppressed continues to pay a high price to rent sub-standard space in the dream that is race in America.
2. Eminem, The New (White) Nigga
"...If all the Niggers
Eminem a.k.a. Marshall Mathers was born a white male in St. Joseph, MO (near Kansas City), spending the better part of his impoverished childhood in Detroit, Michigan which, by the way, is about 90 percent ethnic minority, has one of the highest concentrations of African-Americans in the nation at 83 percent, while non-Latino whites comprise only 12 percent of the city's population. Detroit's recent dip below 1 million is largely attributed to continuing white flight, and 10 percent of the state's population has lived in poverty for more than twenty years ( a family of three with an income of a little more than $9,300 earns too much to qualify for welfare in Michigan but is about $4,000 below the federal poverty guideline) according to the American Community Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Translation: Eminem may have been born white but he was socialized as Blackin the proverbial hoodand the music of the hood for the last twenty five years has been rap music. The same inner city struggles and impoverished circumstances that brought us blues, jazz, and doo-wop, brought us rapit began as a form of identity boosting vocal scatting over pulsating beats and progressed to become a means of expressing the social realities of urbanity. By the time it became an industry, it transformed into a bodacious confirmation of gangsta life and gangsta obsessions with murder, money, sex, alcohol and drug consumptionand when this performed reality got tired, quickly over occupied itself with the Glam of capital gain.
The legend of Eminem, Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers' psychotic nasal slapstick trips of alienation begin with his Detroit, Michigan exposure to rap, performing it at the age of 14, and later earning notoriety as a member of the Motor City duo Soul Intent. The legend he dropped out of high school, worked minimum wage jobs, practiced beat boxing and freestyling his lyrics on home recordings, and worshipped rap groups like NWAadmits he "wanted to be Dr. Dre and Ice Cube", wore big sunglasses while "lipsinking to their records in the mirror". He also honed his style in the company of five black Detroit MC's. They decided that each of them would have an alter ego, so the six MC's were actually twelve membersdubbing themselves, The Dirty Dozen (D12). When Eminem emerged as a solo artist in 1996 with the independent release Infinite, he was accused of sounding trying to sound "too much like Nas" but soon his nasal white boy, horror-rap style was perfected and he followed Infinite with the Slim Shady EP; which lead the hip-hop underground to dub him hip-hop's "great white hope."
Allegedly, Dr. Dre discovered Eminem's demo tape on the floor of Interscope label chief Jimmy Lovine's garage. Another story goes that Dre first heard him on the radio and said "Find that kid whoever he is! I'm gonna make him a star!" Either way, not until Em took second place (we may never know who won first place) in the freestyle category at 1997's Rap Olympics MC battle in Los Angeles did Dre agreed to sign him, producing the best-selling triple platinum Slim Shady LP in early 1999. With controversial yet undeniable talent (the right mix for stardom of any kind) Eminem became the white boy cartoon God of surreal white trash humor and graphic violence. The Marshall Mathers LP followed and sold close to two million copies in its first week of release, making it one of the fastest selling rap albums of all time. In the completion of surrealist rap icon, Eminem managed two weapons charges, an assault charge, his mother sued him for humiliating her in his lyrics, and his baby mama/wife attempted suicideall to keep it real, as they say.
But Eminem does not offer us real, he offers the surrealseveral alter-egos further immersing our Bacchanalian notions of race inclusive hip-hop lore. We all want to be Bacchus or Dionysus. Especially black people, especially Niggazwho have invented the alter-ego of a New Savage Goda gun toting nationalist radical with supreme sexual prowess and unsurpassable talent to counter Bill Cosby's 1980's middle class Negrodum. We, who are members of the so-called minority race and belong to a hip-hop generation, have constructed a dream borrowed from our own relevant history of slavery and Black Panthers, Black Arts Movement poets and pimps, and Blaxploitation superheroes as well as the oppressor's icon of cowboys, gangsters, and comic book superheroes, and we have combined these archetypes and incorporated them into cultural myth and music.
In order for this merger of race icons to evolve, there had to be in place a basic understanding of race amongst a contemporary generation. The new power brokers of culture had to inherit an inherited concept of race, and form vaguely similar ways of seeing the construct of race. If the culture of race in America could mean more to the new generation than the sociopolitical, economic, and physiological history of race in America, the new product on the American cultural marketcould be race itself.
C. Loring Brace, professor of anthropology at The University of Michigan, explains that the concept of race "does not appear until the Trans-Atlantic voyages of the Renaissance". Therefore race is a recent historical invention used to make a distinction between the people for purposes of colonization. The relationship between appearance, human status and race perception is actually more significant today than it ever was. The perceived image of race is based on individual (or collective) sight, which has been recreated and reproduced. It is an appearance, or a set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved (in language and colloquialism) for a few moments or a few centuries. Once we are aware that we can see, we are aware that we can be seen, and "the eye of the other combines with our own eye...we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves...our perception of what we see depends on our way of seeing. Images, for instance, were first made to conjure up the appearance of something that was absent. Gradually, it became evident that an image could outlast what it once represented, (see "Ways of seeing" by John Berger) but verbalized perception of image arrests the object in a perceived context for as long as the perception and the original language for the perception are upheld. In the case of race in America, it is physiology and the historical perceptions of and common terminology used to describe physiology that most often informs the individual's sense of defining race.
What has emerged is a new superpower contingent upon race perception; the final incarnation of the black male figure in a century that began with sharecroppers and first generation free peoples trying to avoid the hanging tree (this should have been the white man's worse nightmare). But if this dream of the historically oppressed generation's opportunity for attaining ostentatious wealth and fame while defying conventional structures of morality was ever going to mean something to its human makeractualize into a commodifiable product for the inventor it had to have some commodifiable potentialtranslation; white people had to like it, buy it, invest in it, adapt it, permit it, and incorporate it into their culture too. Thus, hip-hop has evolved into another classic American original, like blues or jazzexcept this time, the black hip-hop artist participates in the profit and control of the industry (to some extent) more so than ever before. But because it is an outsider culture, perpetuating its own outsider mythology, conservative white culture tolerated it for as long as they could before they needed some White representation of this new outsider culture for their impressionable children who were wearing their jeans pulled down around their knees and sleeping beneath posters of self-proclaimed rapists, gang members, and murderers with record deals. Enter several white hip-hop icons, Vanilla Ice being the first popular Wigger to cross the color lines, invented his character with the main ingredients of authentic angry black male gun-toting threats;
Ice man coming with a dope hit
Further validates himself with essential sociopolitical blues lamentations of existential thug life;
Society has got me screaming
And offers us some insight to the familial dysfunction of ghetto life that produced his rage;
I can't explain why I want to blast brains...
Vanilla Ice's middle class white childhood reality emerged and ruined the authenticity of his performancebut Vanilla Ice's hip-hop icon left an indelible mark on hip-hop culture. The reality of an icon is not relevant to people who accept them as real. Rather, it is the image of these men and their proclamations of themselves that reaches beyond them, creating a mass of followers who are inspired by their belief in their performance. In this way, they become ancient, distant archetypes that appeal to our psychic dispositionslike Jesus or Gatsbythe icon we believe in helps us validate what we believe about life and the world. Both men take their cues from a savage model, and it is this savage model that has informed everyone from the Surrealist to the Bohemians. If there is an eternal plan, it is a primitive one with no bearing on virtue.
The anti-symbolic nature of the savage archetype from which Eminem creates his character, is different from Vanilla Ice's invention. Vanilla's performance was classic in naturea form of modern realism where human truth was more important than the poetry of words. Realism places God in heaven, makes distinct social classes where moral law distinguishes between good and evilan orderly world with gradual changes, wars, revolutions, inventions, etc. One can belong to the outcasts of this world, and still be a realist. Style becomes the only authentic instrument of authentic realism, and the style of hip-hop realism involves daily mortal danger. However, within one's own existence, one is influenced not only by the current circumstances of life but by the style of life where we are experiencing it, and our interpretations of the style of life. Style both replicates reality and takes us away from external forms of reality, style also heightens and produces a counter balance to the realism of life. Those who can readily admit that they do not live in a world constructed by any era of supposed hip-hop realism (in social interaction or ideology) may still embrace the style of hip-hop reality because it removes them (momentarily) from actual reality.
If the supposed style of hip-hop lore changed from the rivalry of East Coast, West Coast, bullet dodging murderous aspirations, to Harvey Winston diamond encrusted platinum jewelry, Versace gear and Cristal champagne, it was an attempt to break from the tradition that produced the sudden deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakuran attempt to make a gradual transference toward escaping the conventions of death. A bargaining with life and its supposed realism. Eminem's style rarely attempts to address serious social or political ills, nor is obsessed with hyper-capitalism. Eminem does not attempt to perform the authentic Nigga as much as he performs a New White Nigga (or Negro). He maintains his whiteness with quirky vocal Jerry Lewis like phrasing, dyes his hair a bright Greek-god blonde, and the classic contemporary realism he was initially influenced by when he studied the style of Naughty by Nature and Nas, has been replaced by his own brand of contemporary surrealism that abstracts and exaggerates hip-hop lore.
Eminem's lyrics speak to the wayward descendants of Fanon's Negroes; Niggaz. Niggaz hear him and Niggaz understand him, even though he never calls them by that name, because he is aware of social history and the political circumstances of his pop iconography. Still, he comes as a representative of what Niggaz have produced in their dreamssomeone who is not them but worships them and belongs to them, and by virtue of socializationis one of them and worshipped by them. He confounds Niggaz in the schoolyard with his mastering of their language and assumption of their style. His presentation is authentic, because he has lived in their neighborhoods and listened to their music and learned their cadencebut he does not attempt to mimic them like his misdirected forefathersthose who came before him and poorly adapted the ideologies and style of the oppressed.
Eminem's race performance is not (solely) intended to impress his oppressive kinfolkhe has no allegiances with them whatsoever. He is more concerned with receiving his validation from Niggaz, an adopted family, and he comes to Niggaz already fluent, already revered by a relevant society of Niggaz and Nigga icons. He takes the mythology of the oppressed, identifying himself as impervious, armed and dangerous, sexually superior, economically privileged and radicaland Eminem turns this dream on its head. Makes it a macabre comedy of internal warfarewe must laugh at our anger and still be angry, he says. We must be offensive and still be funny, he says. Our enemy is not race...our enemy is everybody and anybody who is not us and "us" is defined aesthetically, regionally, generationally, sexually, economically, sociallynot racially; we who are outsiders have strange, dark dreams we dare not expressand the problem with "us' Niggaz is we don't take our irreverence far enough. We talk about killing each other and we celebrate our daily drug intake, but we still thank God and Jesus for small favors. We aspire to make millions of dollars any way we can, but as soon as we make it, we buy houses and land for friends and family.
Niggaz may talk bad about their baby's mamaEminem brutally murders his. Niggaz may have issues regarding absent fathers or dysfunctional mothersEminem exposes their dysfunction's, elaborately, hangs his mother's pussy high up on a tree for all the world to see and laugh at. Niggaz may be misogynist, may boast of sexual superiority and sexual indiscretions with a multitude of women, may commonly relegate women to the bitch and ho status with fat asses prime for the taking, Eminem takes the bitch, drugs the bitch, fucks the bitch, discards the bitch's dead naked body on the side of the road and moves on to the next bitch. This horror-rapping member of the oppressed nation who looks like the oppressor has won. He has proven to the oppressed that he is one of them, and he is down for the peopleand he has proven to the oppressor that they are still superior in their perceptive abilities. Ultimately, he replaces the idea of Jesus. Not one of us but the insider's idea of "us"ultimately, he becomes one of us with supernatural (or hyper-natural) powers beyond us.
3. The New Surrealist Manifesto
Eminem's performance is anti-realism, and at its core has ties to the Surrealist movement; an early 20th century European movement of white male artists who attempted to perform a poetic, political, moral, revolt that refused to accept anything derived from a cortical understanding. There was to be no distinction made between what we consider to be abstract and what we consider to be real. In "Surrealist and Existentialist Humanism", Ferdinand Alquie wrote, "to claim that reason is man's essence is already to cut man in two, and the classical tradition has never failed to do so. It has drawn a distinction between what is rational in man (which by that sole fact is considered truly human); and what is not rational (instincts and feelings) which consequently appears unworthy of man." Freud also spoke of the mortal danger incurred for man by this split, this schism between the forces of reason and deep seated passionswhich seem destined to remain unaware of each other. Surrealism wanted to save impulses and desires from repression. The Surrealists, like Eminem, have invited you into a dream. Eminem, like the Surrealists, has borrowed the sinister dreams of the oppressedtheir aspirations for economic success outside of traditional structures, their achieved narcissism born to overwhelm self loathing, their illusions of grandeur used to counter depressed circumstances, their dismissal of history in order to fashion for themselves a new reality in the present tense, and their inherent existentialism. It was Verlaine who first coined the phrase, "White Negro", when describing Rimbaud, calling him "the splendidly civilized, carelessly civilizing savage." The thought being that the white man who dares to live with danger attempts the art of the primitive. The Surrealist as well as the early Modernist movements fashioned themselves after their associations with the outcasts of societyin most cases, the outcasts were either Spanish, of African descent or Africanand in all cases, the outcasts (or savages) were economically and socially disenfranchised. Gautier and Alexander Dumas traveled through Spain and wore gypsy costumes as if to make their willed identification more real, and this escape into the exotic became the trend of many European writers and artists.
Flaubert traveled to Egypt out of a desire for a "visionary alternative" for something "in contrast to the grayish tonality of the French provincial landscape."resulting in his "labored reconstruction of the other". Baudelaire said true civilization was "...hunters, farmers, and even cannibalsall these...superior by reasons of their energy and their personal dignity to our western races." Gautier (whose best friend was a Negro from Gaudeloupe, Alexandre Privat d'Anglemont) when commenting on the Algerian influence on French fashion, said "Our women already wear scarves which have served the harem slaves...hashish is taking the place of champagne...so superior is primitive life to our so-called civilization." Before Josephine Baker reared her beautiful black ass in Paris in the 1920's, European Bohemia was already fascinated with their perceptions of Negroes, and as explained by Firmin Maillard, Bohemians were "philosophers who couldn't have cared less what their philosophy was based on... (they were) brave searchers for infinity, impudent peddlers of dreams..." and Erich Muhasm admitted, "...It emerged that all of us without single exception were apostates, had rejected our origins, were wayward sons." It emerged Maurice de Vlaminick was already collecting African art as early as 1904, and Picasso praised the influence of African art on his work by stating, "...I understood what the Negroes used their sculpture for...to help people avoid coming under the influence of spirits again."
In 1916, Hugo Ball, founder of the Dada movement, opened a cabaret in the red light district of Zurich, where prostitutes and Africans commingled freely with starving artists called The Café Voltairie, infamous for the illogical simultaneous poems composed and performed by the likes of Jean Arp and Tristan Tzara and Walter Sernerexplained by them to be "elegiac, humorous, bizarre". They wore black cowls and played a variety of exotic drums, calling their performance the "Chant Negres". Ten years later, Surrealist artists Robert Desnos and Andre de la Riviere moved into studio apartments next door to the Bal Negre, a bar frequented by Negroes who lived in hostels on the same street. Hugo Ball explained, "From the Negro we take only the magical-liturgical bits, and only the antithesis makes them interesting...We drape ourselves like medicine men in their insignia and their essences but we want to ignore the path whereby they reached these bits of cult and parade."
These "bits of cult and parade", co-opted by European Bohemians, leaked into the mass culture of modernity, much in the same way hip-hop and R&B has produced Eminem, Britney Spears and N'Sync. The result is not associated with race as much as it is associated with culture. Alfred Jarry (author of the infamous 19th century French play "Ubu") recreated himself as a savage, but the invention was so abstract that it could not directly be linked to the Negrohe perfected a staccato speech for himself, a Negro slang of sorts, without directly impersonating the Negro. He publicly performed the fictional character he'd invented for himself by walking up and down the boulevards in white clown masks, cycling clothes, or dirty white suits and shirts made of paper on which he had drawn a tiedemanding outcast status in a formal world. Jarry lived in a room with nothing except a pallet bed and a plaster cast of a huge penishis ode to both poverty and the wealth of hyper-sexuality. Perhaps Eminem is more like Heseltine, who possessed a sweet boyish face and closely cropped blonde hair but was described by D.H. Lawrence in "Women In Love" as "degenerate", "Corrupt". Heseltine, who was married to the beautiful Puma (who eventually committed suicidemuch like Em's baby mama has tried to do, an ode to the tragic beautiful grisette (working girl) of Paris who loved the self indulged Bohemian savage artist), and composed music under the nom de plume "Peter Warlock". Heseltine was also known to smoke a lot of weed, delved in the occult, and gassed himself to deathdeath translated into superiority for most existentialist Bohemians.
Fifty years or so after the European Bohemian era, the Beat generation invented itself with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassidy and William Burroughs at its forefront (Leroi Jones is often omitted from the history of insurgent Beat culturemost likely because any true beat poet is to be remembered as a performer of inhumanity, not an actual savage). When a young Allen Ginsberg admitted in an interview that while growing up he "developed a tremendous tolerance for chaos", and described the world as "absolutely real and final and ultimate and at the same time, absolutely unreal and transitory and of the nature of dreams...without contradiction", he easily validated Verlaine and Norman Mailer's theoretical view of The Negro and their psychological profile of The White Negro.
Mailer, in his infamous "The White Negro" essay (in response to William Faulkner on the topic of school segregation, and the relationship between Blacks and Whites) said "Whites resist integration and the prospect of equality" because whites secretly know "the Negro already enjoys sensual superiority...The Negro has had his sexual supremacy and the White had his white supremacy." Mailer further identified himself as a "near-Beat adventurer", who identified with Negroes and "urban adventurers", those who "drifted out at night looking for action with a Black man's code to fit their facts." "The hipster" he said, "had absorbed the existentialist synopsis of the Negro and could be considered a White Negro", because "...any Negro who wishes to live must live with danger from his first day...the Negro knew life was war...The Negro could rarely afford the sophisticated inhibitions of civilization, and so he kept for survival the art of the primitive. The Black man lived in the enormous present, he subsisted for his Saturday night kicks, relinquishing the pleasures of the mind for the more obligatory pleasures of the body, and in his music he gave voice to the character and quality of his existence, to his rage and the infinite variations of joy, lust...and despair of his orgasm... " Mailer's explanation of Beat culture (which was a contemporary form of European Bohemian culture) as "the essence of hip...", further explaining that "the source of hip is the Negro for he has been living on the margin between totalitarianism and democracy for two centuries...the Bohemian and the juvenile delinquent came face to face with the Negro...the child was the language of hip for its argot gave expression to abstract states of feeling." James Baldwin countered Mailer's racist and myopic views in an essay, "The Black Boy looks At the White Boy", calling Mailer's sentiments "so antique a vision of the Blacks at this late hour". But Eldridge Cleaver called mailer's views "prophetic and penetrating in its understanding of the psychology involved in the accelerating confrontation of Black and White in America."
Like hip-hop culture, Beat culture emerged in an era of economic prosperity and political paranoia. If the mid-twentieth century American White Negro emerged in a post-war era of convention, in which hip and cool Negro icons created a counter culture of style, immorality and self destruction , the latter 20th century American New White Negro patterned himself after hip-hop culture's era of rebellion, taking him on an uncharted journey prone for danger. Ronald Reagon and Rodney King were good reasons to recreate a new generation of Charlie Parkers and Billie Hollidaysundeniably gifted icons of artistic genius, personal style and self destruction. If the Negro hipster lived without definable past or future, the hip-hopster never let you forget his past and elaborately decorated his present with excess in anticipation of a life without a futurewhich elevated him to the status of potential martyr. He (or she) became like the Robert deNiro or, the hip-hop favorite, Al Pacino in "Scarface"an outlaw feared for his enormous ferocity, revered for his unsurpassable skill and wealth, and daily living with the threat of assassination or mutiny. But the Beat culture also produced popular icons that offered a more abstract version of Mailer's White Negro. Its superstar was Jack Kerouac, a Dionysian figure whose impulses toward the primitive conflicted with his tendency towards culture, education and ego.
Ultimately, Jack was not as interested in being an outlaw as he was interested in being a star...the star that his White status could afford him. And as Baldwin pointed out, the Beat hipster could, at the end of the day, return to being White. The threat of daily living could never mean as much to him as it did the Negro because the hipster's was an avant-garde performance of cool. Vanilla Ice has returned to the beach, formed a heavy metal band and reflects on the days when Suge Knight hung him by his ankle over a balcony railingbut Ice has escaped the danger of hip-hop lore by returning to fundamental whiteness. Eminem escapes hip-hop lore by maintaining fundamental whiteness in the context of blackness.
4. Living In The Dream
In the reality that is our daily human existence, Eminem does not exist. He never did. But he is a real product of the American dreama character born out of our nation's collective unconscious; our inborn predilection to produce parallel images or identical psychic shapes common to all men. He is conjured from what we think of ourselves and what we think of others. He is born out of The Jerry Springer Show, South Park, Jack Kerouac, Carl Van Vechten...all part of a dream, and within this dream there is a dream. Singling out Eminem as an archetype of race perception and performance in America is a shallow undertakingthe composition of his character has its history within the context of the American dreamwhich is now a conundrum of dreams within dreams. Dreams may be difficult to interpretbecause they are, after all, indistinct metaphors and allegories of fantasybut the dream of race and its performance in American culture is not difficult to track. It has a history, and that history comes with pre-supposed rules and pre-supposed character traits that are familiar to us all.
In the dream that is identity, there are archetypal conflicts between the free will of the human maker, (his savage creative impulsesan unconscious state of being) and what is the human thinker's intellect (culture, and historical perspectivea conscious state of being). The landscape of democracy and freedom for all men is also the invention of a dreama utopian impulse; a way of perceiving an eternal plan in the contingencies of timea creation of the human will born out of fiction where there is no transcendental dimension or registration of the infinite "I am". The dream of race as identity is born only in a perceived land of diversity (or difference). Race is a regenerated fantasy owing its genesis to neurosis (or as Freud said, "some early trauma repressed") and our need to achieve psychic balance. What is actual is what we produce from our dreamssymbols and signs of our expressions and intuitive perceptions. Our response to what we think we see. Identity. Race. Identity is an invented thing. Race is an invented thing. They are not real, but they are actual. Race and identity are based on perception and performance and are only relative to the perceptions and performances of the individual and the collective understanding of existence and the activity of being within the context of the dream. These symbols and signs cannot be expressed differently by us or better said by us. Language fails usand the individual or collective mind is forced into overdrive in order to invent language and behaviors for archetypes of identity. Apertures into non-ordinary reality.
It is therefore less significant that Eminem, easily identified as "white" (a non-specific race term for people of European descent) identifies himself with "black" culture ("Black" being a non-specific race term for people of African descent, "black culture" being that which is socially produced by the collective of people of African descent). That is not what makes his archetype of non-ordinary reality a significant landmark in the landscape of the American dream. Rather, it is how he has re-fashioned an old symbol that appeals to popular culture and its boiler plate concepts of race, class and identity, to a new generation in a new wayand how that old symbol has transmogrified in the last one hundred years, owing its present day existence not to the historical performance of blackness, but to the historical performance of whiteness and the ingenuity of human dreams.
There is black in America and there is white in America and they have a fundamental and historical relationship to each other in America. If one believes in their existence it is because one needs to believe in ones own existence within the context of history. Race has as its square root a hierarchical structure of being expressed in symbolism and signs. They are never thought out consciously. They are produced from the unconscious as revelation. The collective unconscious creates them in order to survive the present. Archetypes. Eminem's archetype appeals to the nature of what we believe about ourselves now and what we know about ourselves now, without referring to the history of what we know about our identity. He uses the vernacular of black hip-hop culture, as well as the psychoanalytical vernacular of the white intellectuala little Dre, a little Woody Allenand this invention of character is transferable to any race. The old White Negro may have worn cork and afro wigs, soaked up Harlem culture and delivered the talented tenth to the mainstream, given race music a haircut, tuxedo jacket, and orchestra, may have learned to shake their narrow white hips in the manner of the Negro, thereby creating just enough controversy to gain movie star status, and may have heroicized Negro jazz musicians in their literature, proudly proclaiming to have actually shared a joint or some smack with one or two Negroes at the height of a Bohemian subculture's tendency toward race mixingbut the new White Negro has not arrived at black culture... he was born into itand there is a difference.