Today, we’ll be ending our long discussion on Eminem as his life and career have matched up with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Before getting too much into the actual article, I would like to clarify my intentions with a very important disclaimer.
I’m not writing this series to prove to anyone that Eminem is a hero. Frankly, I think that ship has sailed for Marshall Mathers, who was at the height of his career an anti-hero. The point in tracking his career through the stages of the Hero’s Journey is to look at music using a more experimental approach.
My real intention is to find the story of artists’ careers, and see if I can make sense of them through Campbell’s template. Eminem was merely the first one I chose. And after this, I would like to turn my attention to an artist who offers more heroic characteristics.
But for now, we’ll wrap up our look at Eminem. We’ve come this far already, and there’s only one album we haven’t covered. First, let’s see what Joseph Campbell has to say about the final stage of the Hero’s Journey.
The Final Return (Master of Both Worlds)
This might be the most recognizable stage of the Hero’s Journey if you think about most movies. It typically comes in at the end (surprise), and presents a picture of our hero having changed and brought a boon to the world.
In “Star Wars: A New Hope”, this is most easily seen in the final scene, in which Luke, Han, and Chewbacca are each awarded for their bravery and heroism. They have saved the galaxy from the evil Empire, and put an end to the Death Star. After this moment, they have all changed considerably from the people they were when we first met them. No more whining about power converters when the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance. But I digress.
The main takeaway here is that this is the end point of the Hero’s Journey. The return represents change, success, and proof of the journey itself. The hero will return to where he/she started, but things will never be the same again.
It’s clear from his most recent album that Eminem is also returning to where he started, and things aren’t the same. But the context of his return, and the specific way the musical landscape has changed, don’t necessarily make him a hero, though he may consider himself a misunderstood one.
In “Kamikaze”, Eminem lashes out at the media, as well as the newest evolution in rap music that he doesn’t agree with. The album is filled with a lot of chest-thumping and a preoccupation with the past. It seems that the foul-mouthed rapper has given up on the higher goals he strove toward (albeit, unsuccessfully) with “Revival”.
While his technical ability to weave rhymes together is hands-down better than anyone else in the world, Eminem’s thin skin is the stopping force behind any path toward creating art that would actually be of any benefit to the world. He claims otherwise on the album’s first track, “The Ringer” with the lines, “Maybe I need to stir up shit/ Preferably shake the world up if it were up to me”. Unfortunately, Eminem seems to think that “shaking the world up” means bringing back a dose of his alter-ego to let out his rage.
It seems that Eminem really does want to bring about some good in the world, but just doesn’t know how to do that with his greatest gift. He considers himself a tortured, misunderstood artist. And you can hear him trying to break out of his comfort zone in some places. But the bottom line is that, with a few exceptions, Eminem doesn’t rap for anyone other than Eminem.He does it to blow off steam, and because he’s been doing it for so long that he doesn’t know what else to do.
Eminem has all the potential of a hero, but just fails to change himself for the better. He’d rather take the easy route: sending out meticulously-crafted lyrical barbs at his detractors from the sidelines, as the culture passes him by.
That about finishes up our discussion on Eminem through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Thanks for bearing with me to the end. If you have any suggestions as to who you’d like me to cover in the future, please leave a comment below. If you have anything terrible to say, don’t expect a response. I think that sounds pretty fair.