Celebrity Culture   /   Spring 2005   /    Articles

Buying In, Selling Out

From Literary to Musical Celebrity in the United States

Loren Glass

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at a Civil Rights March (1963). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Is Eminem a poet? In a recent collection of essays entitled White Noise: The Eminem Collection, he is compared, favorably, to a variety of literary figures, including Sylvia Plath, Flannery O’Connor, Robert Browning, T. S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and Vladmir Nabokov.1 One critic even attempts to reinforce the par- allel with his own alliterative phrasing, calling Eminem a “bleach-blond Baudelaire.”2 Issued on the heels of Eminem’s apotheosis as a movie star in the semi-autobiographical -Mile and edited by New Yorker staff writer Hilton Als, White Noise both marks and meditates upon a familiar phenomenon in the American mediascape: an acceptance by the cultural mainstream of a purportedly oppositional, dissident artist. Eminem was Selling Out. But to whom? After all, the audience for White Noise is not quite the same as the audience for -Mile, though neither represent the denizens of Detroit’s hip-hop scene, where Eminem originally established his underground notoriety. The complexity of Eminem’s status as a celebrity, then, can be seen in the tense coincidence of his apparent co-optation by Hollywood with his apparent consecration by America’s cultural elite.

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