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Eminem Is Right

Mary Eberstadt

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If there is one subject on which the parents of America passionately agree, it is that contemporary adolescent popular music, especially the subgenres of heavy metal and hip-hop/rap, is uniquely degraded ' and degrading ' by the standards of previous generations. At first blush this seems slightly ironic. After all, most of today's baby-boom parents were themselves molded by rock and roll, bumping and grinding their way through adolescence and adulthood with legendary abandon. Even so, the parents are correct: Much of today's music is darker and coarser than yesterday's rock. Misogyny, violence, suicide, sexual exploitation, child abuse ' these and other themes, formerly rare and illicit, are now as common as the surfboards, drive-ins, and sock hops of yesteryear.

To put this perhaps unexpected point more broadly, during the same years in which progressive-minded and politically correct adults have been excoriating Ozzie and Harriet as an artifact of 1950s-style oppression, many millions of American teenagers have enshrined a new generation of music idols whose shared generational signature in song after song is to rage about what not having had a nuclear family has done to them. This is quite a fascinating puzzle of the times. The self-perceived emotional damage scrawled large across contemporary music may not be statistically quantifiable, but it is nonetheless among the most striking of all the unanticipated consequences of our home-alone world.

To begin with music particularly popular among white teenage boys, one best-selling example of broken-home angst is that of the "nu-metal" band known as Papa Roach and led by singer/songwriter "Coby Dick" Shaddix (dubbed by one reviewer the "prince of dysfunction"). Three members of that group, Coby Dick included, are self-identified children of divorce. In 2000, as critics noted at the time, their album Infest explored the themes of broken homes and child and teenage rage. The result was stunning commercial success: Infest sold more than 3 million copies. mtv.com explained why: "The pained, confessional songs struck a nerve with disenfranchised listeners who were tired of the waves of directionless aggression spewing from the mouths of other rap-rockers. They found kinship in Papa Roach songs like 'Broken Home' and 'Last Resort.'"

In fact, even their songs about other subjects hark back to that same primal disruption. One particularly violent offering called "Revenge," about a girl hurting herself and being abused by her boyfriend, reflects on "destruction of the family design." Of all the songs on the album, however, it is the singularly direct "Broken Home" that hit its fans the hardest, which summarizes the sad domestic story it elaborates in a pair of lines: "I know my mother loves me / But does my father even care."

Mary Eberstadt is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, consulting editor to Policy Review, and author of Home-Alone America, from which this essay is drawn.

Read the entire article on The Policy Review website (new window will open).

Posted: 04-Feb-05



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