San Francisco Chronicle via Pacific News Service, Published Jan 7, 2003
Step aside, Columbine. Young white men, writes PNS contributor Russell Morse, survived the Dark Ages and are back in style. “Jackass” Johnny Knoxville and star rapper Eminem have ushered in a White Boy Renaissance.
Things were looking bad for a while. The plague of school shootings, lame boy bands and boredom kept America’s white boys under tight constraints. There weren’t a lot of options for the young, patsy residents of our country. But three films released over the past few months have closed the door on the Dark Ages.
It all began with “Jackass.”
The film is brilliant. Johnny Knoxville and his cast of pain-obsessed skater types have been freed from the confines of cable television — MTV’s show of the same name has been a huge hit — to create a masterpiece.
Knoxville, 31, and his buddies have provided kids in America with new methods to channel angst. It’s as if they’re saying, “Hey! Don’t read Hitler’s biography and shoot football players. Light bottle rockets out of your a– instead!” I saw the movie with my mom, and at one point she leaned over and whispered, “This is why we have wars — all this weird boy energy.”
But let’s talk about rapper Eminem, a curious character in this drama of the white boy. He seems to hate white people and has picked fights with most other musical white boys: Marky Mark, Moby, Insane Clown Posse, Everlast. But he’s credible. He grew up broke in a Black neighborhood, and most importantly, he can rap — and well.
His movie, sad to say, is not that good. In “8 Mile,” Eminem doesn’t really act. He just kind of floats from scene to scene, mumbling lines and staring off into the distance. His performance isn’t bad — there’s just nothing there. The movie is boring, the story riddled with cliches. The “bad guys,” the rival rap crew from across the town, are always dressed in black, a curious blend of the Kobra Kai (the “evil” martial artists from “The Karate Kid”) and the 1990s group Onyx.
The only redeeming points of the entire film are when Eminem is actually rapping.
In spite of all this, the critics loved it. They’ve called it the “hip hop ‘Rocky.'” There’s even “Oscar buzz” for Eminem’s performance. Oscar buzz!
Eminem, it would seem, is poised to take over the world. He’s a rap star, a movie star and a media darling. He’s worked through his own Dark Age — attacks for his homophobic lyrics, suspicions that he would be just another Vanilla Ice – and even made the cover of the New York Times Magazine under the headline, “American Idol: Eminem for Everyone.” All he’s got left to do is marry J-Lo and run for president.
But in the midst of “Jackass” and “8 Mile” glory, another film was released, one that tried to remind us that white boys in America are a condemned, frightening, worthless group. “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore’s latest cinematic effort (he also wrote a book called “Stupid White Men”) looks at school shootings, gun control and culturally devoid pockets of our country commonly known as suburbs. But it doesn’t add up to much. Moore does a good job assembling information, conducts some funny interviews and throws out statistics. But in the end, he doesn’t know who to blame for the violence, so he harasses Charleton Heston, Alzheimer sufferer and former president of the National Rifle Association. It’s sad, really.
And who wants to watch a movie about school shootings, anyway? That’s sooooo ’99. Angry white kids are no longer public enemy No. 1. There are bigger evils in the world. We have countries that we can’t find on a map to bomb. There are regimes to overthrow and natural resources to secure. Who cares about why armed kids in the suburbs went berserk in a cafeteria? It’s over.
Eminem’s gonna get an Oscar! “Jackass” made adolescent angst funny again! Justin Timberlake is smoking blunts with Nelly! It’s all coming together now. The Dark Ages are over. And here, ushered in by bottle rockets in the a– and trailer-trash rap, is the White Boy Renaissance.