Rare is the day when you will find me mounting a vociferous defense on behalf of Eminem, who, despite the fact that I find him an extremely talented performer, regularly makes my skin crawl with his insistence on using that talent to pen tracks rife with misogyny, homophobia, fat hatred, and rape fantasy. But here's the thing: That doesn't give anyone the license to molest him for comedy.
(I can't actually believe I have to write that sentence, but that's the sort of thing I've had to write a lot during the "Rape is Hilarious" series, the latest installment of which can be found here, with the rest linked at its bottom.)
If you can't view the video, it's a clip from the 2009 MTV Music Awards in which Sacha Baron-Cohen (aka "Borat"), in his Bruno (a gay fashionista) persona, is swinging out over the audience on a harness dressed as a "dove of peace" in feathered wings and skirt (under which he is wearing only an ass-bearing jockstrap) when his harness appears to get caught and tangled. He is lowered face-down on Eminem's lap, at which point his (clothed) balls and (naked) ass are directly in Eminem's face. Eminem looks horrified and, in my estimation, scared, as he asks, "Are you serious?"
Eminem and his entourage roughly shove Baron-Cohen off of him, as Baron-Cohen says, "Hey, don't touch me, guys! I've already got a boyfriend!" and the audience roars with laughter while Eminem walks out.
All of this, of course, is hilarious—and has further been justified because it "exposed Eminem's hypocrisy" since he can "dish it out, but can't take it." ("It" being his habit of being an asshole to other people, which he is, but I've not heard he routinely molests people in public for yuks, so it's a pretty weird construction.)
The rationale also goes back to the ostensible raison d'être for the Bruno character, which is exploiting people's homophobia and holding it out for ridicule—a dubious proposition given that Baron-Cohen is not himself gay, thus allowing homophobes the opportunity to laugh unironically at the gay stereotype being played by a straight man. It's a caricature which, by the way, relies heavily on "the predatory gay" narrative, which is in conspicuous evidence here, and not only demonizes gay men as rapists, but casts straight men as the primary targets of rape (thereby also effectively disappearing the reality that they are the primary perpetrators of rape).
That alone would make it a total clusterfuck, but then there's this: Eminem has alluded to, on multiple occasions, having been molested as a child. (His new album contains a widely discussed track in which he imagines a child being raped by a stepfather.) I don't know for certain whether he has been, although I suspect it's likely given his fascination with the subject and his evident anger surrounding it. It's really incidental, except insomuch as how much worse this will have been for him if he is a survivor of sexual abuse.
And because there was more reason than usual to stop and think about how fucked-up this "joke" really is.
Baron-Cohen certainly is aware of the same almost-but-not-quite admissions Eminem has made about his childhood that I am, and he went ahead with this stunt, anyway. Most of the people in that audience, and probably most of the people who have viewed the video and found it hilarious, are aware of the possibility that Baron-Cohen was sticking his genitals and butt into the face of someone who is very likely a survivor of sexual abuse.
Yet it's all so goddamned funny—because most of us won't even make the connection between what Baron-Cohen is doing and sexual abuse.
We are soaking in a rape culture where a dude sticking his balls in someone else's face without his consent as a "joke" seems normal.