by Izzy Kalman (July 2005) I had been intending to watch this movie for a long time, but when a seminar participant last week in Baltimore recommended it to me because she said it illustrated what I teach, I decided to see it right away. I’m often told by mental health professionals who work in the inner cities that my methods couldn’t possibly work with their populations – that there is no way that these residents of the “jungle” could allow themselves to be insulted without getting mad. They think I don’t understand their culture and I am insulting their population by expecting them to behave according to my values. Personally, I can’t help feeling that the mental health professionals who say this to me are the ones who are truly insulting the inner city population. They are suggesting that they are a lower kind of human being for whom the rules of civilization cannot apply. 8 Mile is a powerful, fascinating story roughly based on the pre-fame experiences of the white rap star, Eminem. This movie is not for children, and if you do not tolerate profanity, violence, and sex, it is not for you, either. But it gives an inside look at the dark, dangerous world of the inner city. Eminem (real name: Marshall Mathers) plays a tough, fearless young white man perfectly at home in the Black community, and seeks fame and fortune as a rap artist by competing in “battles.” These battles are competitions in which the contenders, rather than hitting with fists, take turns attacking each other verbally. The audience is dazzled by the brilliance of the competitors, who have 45 seconds to barrage their opponent with a spontaneous flow of rhyming insults. As in American Idol, the audience determines the winner. When I do my seminars, I engage in insults with my volunteers, but I am a complete infant compared to these hard-hitting rappers. And the insults aren’t just imaginary – they hit each other by attacking what they know to be true about their opponents. Like boxers, the contenders are not angry at their sparring partners. Their goal is to win over the audience with the best insult display, by they are personally unfazed by the insults. They have honest respect and admiration for their opponents’ skill. There are several episodes of true physical violence interspersed throughout the movie, but the fights are over money, sex partners, and retaliation for physical abuse of family members, not insults. The clincher of the movie is the very last scene, which is also the reason the seminar participant excitedly came to tell me about the movie. Eminem faces off against the reigning champion, and this time they are given 90 seconds rather than the normal 45. Eminem goes first. What he does completely catches his opponent off guard. Instead of insulting the champ, Eminem spends most of his allotted time insulting himself! He calls himself “white trash” and recounts of all his mistakes, losses, and misery, only at the end finishing up with insults about his opponent. When it’s the champ’s turn, he is utterly speechless. There is nothing insulting left to say about Eminem, and he forfeits the contest. So there you have it, the idols of the inner cities are masters at handling insults in public without getting upset. And our experts in human behavior tell me that inner city people can’t be taught to handle insults without getting upset. Sure.
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