In the final rap battle in 8 Mile, Jimmy Smith, played by Eminem in a loosely autobiographical role, calls out Papa Doc for having attended “Cranbrook, that’s a private school.” Oh, the horror! Em, you should know that even the poshest private schools offer need-based financial aid.
I rushed out to see 8 Mile when it came out, ready to smirk at its portrayal of Detroit and its environs. I didn’t expect that the finale would hinge on a place I know so well. The reference to Cranbrook actually came up earlier, in passing during a party, so vaguely that I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly. During the finale, though, it was loud and clear.
It’s sort of funny to hear the immature bravado in B-Rabbit’s accusations — the horror of a suburban area code, the embarrassment of a silly first name, the shame of having happily married parents. He’s making generalizations for effect, of course, although a young, angry part of me completely agrees with his words. It’s one major aspect of this film that works to tell a compelling story — B-Rabbit may not be right, really, but he voices sentiments that many of us have felt. In the strangely divided world of the Detroit metro area, he wears his “white trash” pride on his sleeve.
I really was pleasantly surprised by 8 Mile. It wasn’t cheesy; it didn’t feel like a vanity picture. Eminem’s character felt so true — so desperate, so intense, so rabid at times, and not always sympathetic– that I easily forgot that this was a quasi-biopic. Sure, maybe his strong performance was due to the fact that he wasn’t really acting, but compare it to 50 Cent’s lackluster turn in the generally mediocre Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and you can come to appreciate Marshall Mathers’ acting abilities.
There’s something about this character who, when pushed, proclaims pride about his upbringing and his socio-economic circumstances, that rings true. When pressed, he claims the trailer park as his home, he acknowledges his embarrassing encounters, the bugs becoming features… What bridge-and-tunnel-718er can’t empathize with his plight? What have-not doesn’t resent a superior educational opportunity or a seemingly happy family? It’s all silliness, of course, and we learn and grow out of these chips on our shoulders.
Of course, on the other hand, what have-not doesn’t express a certain amount of pride at having survived unfortunate circumstances? Even when it elicits a certain amount of ill-placed schadenfreude? Talented people come out of unfortunate situations, and of course I’m proud of that fact. So, is the unfortunate circumstance actually a necessary catalyst, or can [creative] people be well off, or better off, without it?