By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated November 04, 2002 12:00 PM

“It’s kind of strange,” controversial platinum-selling rapper Eminem tells New York Times op-ed columnist and former Broadway critic Frank Rich.

Such is the career of the Grammy winner — who is about to open his first Hollywood movie, “8 Mile,” on Friday, and now has The New York Times pondering the phenomenon of the entertainer also known as Marshall Mathers III.

Asked by Rich if his audience demographic has shifted, Eminem, 30, (who reportedly loathes being compared to Elvis), responded: “It used to range from 10 years old to 25. Now it seems to be from 5 years old to 55.”

Which leads Rich to wonder if “the scourge of bourgeois values is now entering the American mainstream” — and Rich makes a strong case for it.

The essayist even cites PEOPLE magazine — which last summer reported on Eminem’s role as a joint-custody father to his daughter Hailie, 6 — as contributing to the general public’s acceptance of the profane performer, despite the rapper getting scolded by critics ranging from Republican Lynne Cheney to Democrat Tipper Gore.

Rich even touches upon a frequent criticism of Eminem: that he is a raging homophobe. Eminem only uses expletives to describe gays when he is speaking in the voice of his nasty fictional alter-ego, Slim Shady, explains Rich, who was told by Eminem himself that he was never a homophobe.

“I don’t give a (bleep) what your sexual preferences are,” says Mathers. “As long as you’re cool with me, I’m cool with you.”

Would Elvis have said the same thing?