For those of us lacking in beauty or brawn, language can offer salvation. From the classroom comic to the writer sheltering behind their prose – we create strongholds of speech and slice space with our mouths.
This is illustrated in the film ‘Eight Mile’. Here we meet Jimmy: a little guy who gets picked on by big ones. He wants to be a rapper. Armed with a scalpel-sharp wit, his method is to exploit his opponent’s weakness, by exposing it and then tearing him to (verbal) shreds. On paper he’s nothing – but put him behind the mic and he can take on the world. There’s just one problem: he’s the embodiment of the weakness he wants to attack. He lives in a trailer with his alcoholic mum and his job’s a dead end. His first gig bombs and to make matters worse, his mum rejects him, his new girlfriend cheats on him and he’s mugged by rivals.
Everything hinges on the next rap showdown – but Jimmy’s a walking bullseye, a feast of weakness. Mocked in private by his friends – how can he survive public criticism from his enemies? It’s going to be a bloodbath – and surely no amount of speechplay will save him.
Sure enough, Jimmy is pitched against “Papa Doc”, the tournament’s most feared rapper.Papa Doc’s technique is to expose his opponent’s weak points and to shame, expose and humiliate them. Defeat seems certain.
But then Jimmy does something amazing. He bares his throat before his audience – and makes himself stunningly vulnerable. Before Papa Doc can attack him, he speaks with rawness and honestly about his ‘white trash’ background and the ways in which he has let himself down . He leads with his weakness and in this way he strips his enemy of speech.
(Sorry some swearing in this):
It’s the weakness that is strength. It makes no sense – but it can’t be denied.
The world can’t understand it – but it can’t overcome it either.