MTV has jumped on the “rape is hilarious!” meme with this exchange between Sasha Baron Cohen (“Bruno”) and Eminem:
Bruno forces his genitals on Eminem, who shoves him and walks off in anger. The event was staged with participation from all parties, but many bloggers have called it out as an example of how rape is played up for humor. Renee Martin from Womanist Musings wrote:
What is shocking about this video is that Cohen is using Eminem’s known homophobia to justify sexually assaulting him… It publicly cemented in the minds of those that have irrational fears of gay men that they are justified in fearing attack.
This is especially disturbing in the context of the promotion of Eminem’s new album, Relapse. Relapse is chock-full of songs that are directly and without question about rape. This is not really new to his literary discography. As in other albums, most rape scenes in Relapse are enacted by Eminem’s sociopathic persona Slim Shady1, who is often blamed for the actions of more ethical personas Eminem and Marshall Mathers. But Insane casts Eminem as the victim and not the actor in rape:
Insane is an extremely graphic and in my analysis autobiographical story about a stepfather raping the narrator. The the second verse seems to refer to “Shady” in Insane and indicate that this is part of the mythology of the Slim Shady persona, but the first and third verse seem to be about Eminem’s “real” persona, Marshall Mathers, his usual vehicle for expressing serious emotions. Most of these references do not suggest self-identification of “Shady”, but being called that by another. Furthermore, Shady’s persona is outwardly violent and rarely introspective, and only the second (and half of the third) verse poses the narrator as the actor and not victim of violence. Shady is not one to say “help me” in any context, as the narrator does in the third verse.
I interpret the first verse (which concentrates on the rape) as autobiographical because of this reference to the mother in this situation:
Debbie don't let that fucker get you upsetDebbie is Eminem’s mother’s real name. This direct mention of her in conjunction with the also autobiographical “My Mom” (which addresses his family history of addiction) further suggests that Eminem is not playing around. After the transition to Slim Shady and outward violence in the second verse, Eminem transitions back to the child Marshall:
What the fucks happening? I think I'm fucking melting,Eminem’s voice in these lines are distorted, suggesting a transition. Though the name is again imposed rather than self-identified, the use of Em’s legal name suggests that this is not part of the Slim Shady mythology or an attempt to explain “Shady’s” bad deeds but is instead a dramatization of actual events. [The lyrics quoted come from here.]
"Marshall I just love you boy I care about your well being",
No dad I said no, I don't need no help peeing, I'm a big boy I can do it by myself see
Further supporting my analysis of this song as largely autobiographical, most Slim Shady and rape songs are played for comedic purposes (though this is less present on Relapse). I don’t detect a humorous tone in Insane, with its screeching violins., and neither has anyone else I’ve listened to it with.
Eminem’s recent admission of his history of abuse makes an already vile stunt even more disgusting. Even using the interpretation of “he’s a homophobe, he deserves it” is faulty in the context of Relapse, which is to my ear considerably less focused on homophobia, and Eminem’s recent claim of a close friendship with Elton John. As Melissa observed at Shakesville:
Baron-Cohen certainly is aware of the same almost-but-not-quite admissions Eminem has made about his childhood that I am, and he went ahead with this stunt, anyway. Most of the people in that audience, and probably most of the people who have viewed the video and found it hilarious, are aware of the possibility that Baron-Cohen was sticking his genitals and butt into the face of someone who is very likely a survivor of sexual abuse.Eminem may have been a participant in this stunt, but that does not mitigate MTV and Sasha Baron Cohen’s error; it’s never appropriate to sexually ambush anyone, and their choice of a possible rape victim as the victim in this situation accents this depravity.
Yet it's all so goddamned funny—because most of us won't even make the connection between what Baron-Cohen is doing and sexual abuse.
1 Side analysis of Slim Shady persona: The character’s actions constitute not just hetero/sexism and violence, but also racism – apparently, “Slim Shady” comes from a term for a white rapper who “acts black”, similar to the vile term “wigger”. By making SS the “bad” part of Eminem’s three-pronged persona (Eminem/Marshall Mathers/SS) a figure that “acts black”, Eminem is enacting and furthering the white privilege he takes steps towards recognizing in songs like “White America”.