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Meghan O’Rourke at Slate has an interesting and on-point essay on Eminem’s “Mosh” video.

Eminem has long been one of the best musical storytellers around, with a knack for turning his own life into the stuff of enduring caricature. “Mosh”—which is, in fact, animated—puts this talent to good use, capitalizing in part on the fact that reality seems like caricature to so many anti-Bush folks these days. “Mosh” is a pointed assault of the Bush administration and its disastrous handling of the Iraq war; it opens with a plane striking a building off-screen and concludes with a horde of disenfranchised citizens and soldiers, dressed in black hoodies with their faces masked, storming courthouse steps in order to vote. (Most versions end with the words “Vote. November 2nd.”) Done in stark black-and-white tones—leavened occasionally by the muted blues and reds of a presidential power suit—”Mosh” takes aim at the Bush administration’s tax cuts (and the widening gap between the rich and the poor); its self-serving appropriation of the heroic sacrifices made by young soldiers; and, most of all, the “psychological warfare” it has waged on those who “beg to differ” (hoping “to trick us into thinking that we ain’t loyal/ if we don’t serve our country”). Hence its warm embrace by lefty types everywhere.

…It combines animation and live action to disconcerting effect, moving from bombed-out ghettoes to stylized faces with large, imploring eyes. (GNN also produced the video to “White America,” which was never aired on MTV.) Planes fly menacingly overhead, we cut to Eminem as a Bush stand-in reading an upside down book about a pet goat. (One wonders if Eminem knows the similar image that went around the Internet for a while was doctored.) The police harass a black man (hip-hop artist Lloyd Banks); a single mother is evicted from her home; a soldier is redeployed. All of this is powerful but fairly easy to swallow; more complicated—and more interesting—are images in which a loner Eminem stands before a terrifying wall of anti-Bush newspaper clippings and scribblings worthy of the kookiest conspiracy theorist; or the figure of Private Kelly, whose fury divides him even from the voters transfigured by Eminem’s battle cry. As figure after figure silently joins Eminem’s determined march on Washington, “Mosh” coyly plays against the viewer’s sense of wishfulness—perhaps things really will change—by amping up the menace. The central conceit—an army of Eminem-inspired voters “moshes” to freedom—is not meant to be merely reassuring, in the same way that P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign is not simply a noble call to civic duty.

Indeed, what’s most remarkable about “Mosh” has little to do with partisan politics. Eminem is hardly carrying water for Kerry and the Democrats; the mode is noirish, fascistic, overtly menacing and antiauthoritarian. Em’s native mode is debunking the status quo, not building a new one up, and in “Mosh” he’s plainly taken measure of the fact that his video will be watched by upper-middle-class liberals thrilled by the PR value here: Even the pop culture hero who found nothing sacred—the savage from the urban jungle—is outraged by Bush. And so the image of an army of youth marching down the street is meant to make you feel, momentarily, that the peace between the classes is a precarious one, and that violence is the recourse—and the idiom—of those who feel themselves to be terminally disenfranchised.

The article is a good read. The video itself is here.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding