Eminem, the white rapper who also operates under the name Slim Shady, is this year's chief specimen of music-industry magic. His new album, the one in which he rhapsodizes about raping his mother, stabbing gays and so forth, has been in the Top 10 since May, with sales in the U.S. of more than 5 million and climbing. Sample line: "Slim Shady does not give a f___ what you think. If you don't like it, you can suck his f___ing c___." Got that, folks?
Most adults are embarrassed to admit anymore that they might find a movie or a song too much to stomach. They are not so complacent about their kids. The rough edges of pop culture scrape harder these days, and its most extravagant enchantments are promoted to ever younger kids. When your 10-year-old comes home singing "Bitch I'ma kill you"--Eminem again, in a Valentine to his mother--you don't care if you once adored Richard Pryor and William Burroughs. You turn into one of those angry swing voters.
This, naturally, is where the Federal Trade Commission comes in. Last week the FTC released a report on how movie studios, music companies and video-game makers push violent products on children. Landing as it did in the middle of the campaign season, the report caught the attention of Washington at the highest levels of presidential ambition. Al Gore gave the entertainment companies six months to shape up their marketing practices or face unspecified retaliation from Washington. The Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by John McCain, held a hearing to examine the FTC conclusions. Senate colleague Joe Lieberman showed up to express his and Gore's distress. Dick Cheney's wife Lynne, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, arrived to cite Eminem as proof that the problem is not just how the entertainment companies sell. "There is a problem with the products," she noted.
The report was requested by Bill Clinton more than a year ago, in the aftermath of the Columbine school massacre, when raw pop culture was blamed for furnishing some of the mental climate in which the killers let their grievances fester. Sidestepping the interminable question of what role song lyrics and movies play in real violence, Clinton asked the FTC just to determine whether the movies, pop music and video games that manufacturers themselves label as questionable for kids were being marketed to kids anyway. The report concluded that "the answers are plainly, yes."