Fuck Cranbrook

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?

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6 thoughts on “Fuck Cranbrook

  1. I think what’s more important to pay attention to what the unforunate circumstance does rather than what it is. It sets the mind to commit to something without holding back, it finds a way to do something regardless of boundaries, without excuses. It makes you find a way or make one.

    The power of the unfortunate circumstance, is its pain. The power of the pain is that it forces you into action. When things are so painful, whether it be physical, mental or experiential, you find ANY way and will DO anything that will get you out of it. When things are comfortable (career, sitting on the couch), there’s no impetus to push forward. Pain is a great motivator.

    With action you engage in life, you actions are an expression of your life. Whereas unfortunate circumstances are certainly powerful, there are many experiences that can do that for us, not just unfortunate ones.

    Unfortunate circumstances,
    Motivation to action,
    Action to expression.

  2. I agree. At the same time, isn’t it a bit naive to make these assumptions? To think that poverty doesn’t exist in the suburbs, or that having two parents makes for a happy life, or that attending a private school is necessarily a sign of prosperity? Further, to imply that having these things can’t be accompanied by some other adversity? Or that experiencing adversity is a prerequisite for having a legitimate creative voice?

    I’m questioning all this because my knee-jerk reaction is much like the sentiments echoed in the above clip, and I always have to remind myself that this line of thinking is flawed.

  3. I was a poor kid from Texas without a coat, and Cranbrook accepted me on FULL scholarship. I am grateful for that.

    Now, I did almost get smacked down while crossing campus by a lady in a Cadillac who thought that she was too good to stop for an artist slub. Both sides at play, here.

  4. I’m right there with you, on both counts! Of course, the Cranbrook that’s referenced in the clip above is the prep school and, although it offers financial aid, I’m sure its students tend to come from relative social and financial privilege. The Cranbrook that I think you’re referencing is the art school, which is chock full of starving students who tend to stretch their student loan dollars to the limit for two years.

  5. Pingback: Welcome to New Granada « Visualingual

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