Eminem loves to rap about hurting women. That includes raping them, ripping off their breasts and, most recently, battering them like Janay Rice. To accusations of misogyny, the Michigan native has done little more than play the victim.
Of course, Eminem has not been arrested for harming a woman (just for gun-related offenses, including being involved with a paintball gun shooting), and I have no reason to believe the artist—who has stoked controversy since he made his major-label debut in 1999—carries out any of the grotesque acts he’s rhymed about over the years. But why in the world would someone with a history of woman-hating lyrics, many of them directed at his ex-wife, be asked to play a concert for people who are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence?
I’m talking about veterans and their families, the people honored during tonight’s Concert For Valor in D.C. Eminem is booked to play the big-league show—sponsored by HBO, Starbucks and Chase—alongside Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna (herself a victim of partner abuse), Carrie Underwood, Metallica and an array of other enormous pop acts. On the docket, I would guess, is a concert specializing in patriotism, a tradition to which Eminem has contributed in his own special way. (And I’m not just referring to those reports that his music has been used to torture detainees in Afghanistan.)
Meanwhile, combat veterans are linked to 21 percent of domestic violence acts in the U.S., according to a Yale University study. That statistic is related to post-traumatic stress disorder, which also contributes to a high rate of suicide among veterans. A 2006 study shows that “domestic violence rates among veterans with PTSD are higher than those of the general population.” While domestic abuse declined overall in the U.S., rates of intimate partner violence among post-9/11 veterans “began to explode,” according to When the War Came Home author Stacy Bannerman.
Did anyone at HBO, Starbucks or Chase consider that violence against women might be a sensitive subject among veterans and their partners, many of whom will be in the audience tonight? (I sent emails to the spokespeople representing the Concert For Valor, and I haven’t heard back yet.)
Most attendees at tonight’s concert probably won’t blink at the booking—Eminem is still one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, and in a 2010 New York Times Magazine interview, he claimed to have turned over a new leaf.
But Eminem’s 2013 album The Marshall Mathers LP 2 found him as woman-hatin’ as ever. And he just rhymed about pummeling singer Lana Del Rey “twice like Ray Rice” in a video released Monday. To an audience made up partly of veterans and their families, will Eminem’s presence feel like the honor it’s supposed to be or—quite symbolically—like a slap in the face?