On Friday morning, a WRC staff member was on CNN’s American Morning to discuss “the glamorization of domestic violence”, specifically in the context of Eminem’s new video featuring Rihanna. Because we couldn’t fit everything there is to say about the video in a time-limited interview, you get it here. If you haven’t seen the video, search “Love The Way You Lie” on Youtube. Done? Let’s get started.
The best-case scenario for this video is the one Eminem and Rihanna are promoting. Eminem just got out of rehab and has stated that he’s trying to make amends for the things he’s done wrong in his life. This album is called “Recovery” and the songs on it reflect that theme. Because he has a lengthy history of violence against women, he decides to write this song to give his fans a glimpse into the mind of a batterer. After all, he begins the song rapping, “I can't tell you what it really is. I can only tell you what it feels like.” He’s letting us know that this is how a batterer views an abusive relationship.
Viewed through that lens, the scenario is pretty realistic. A batterer doesn’t see himself using power and control. He thinks her temper is as bad as his. He sees her fighting back in self defense and thinks that she’s violent, too. He says he just snapped, but, when he tells her it won’t happen again, he knows he’s lying. He enjoys the heightened emotions, the “drama”, and the make-up sex (which she might enjoy or to which she might be too scared to say no). He assumes she likes it too, or else she wouldn’t be around. Still, he acknowledges that she has tried to leave him before, and, if she tries again, he’ll kill her.
We all know Eminem purposefully recruited Rihanna to sing his hook. She says that the experience was cathartic and that she was drawn to the lyrics. She plays the victim as the abuser sees her – a woman who likes it when he lies and likes it when he hurts her. We’re supposed to see Rihanna’s face and remember all of the victim blaming that we did even though we have graphic photos of her beaten almost beyond recognition. We’re supposed to be sickened by the thought that anyone could like that level of violence.
Rihanna also sings about the true #1 reason that women tell us they stay in abusive relationships - love.
The worst-case scenario is that Eminem just made another song to add to his violent repertoire. How is this substantially different from the lyrics to Kim:
“Sit down b---h
If you move again I'll beat the s--t out of you
Don't make me wake this baby
She don't need to see what I'm about to do
Quit crying b---h, why do you always make me shout at you?”
“Come on we're going for a ride b---h
Sit up front
(Well I can't just leave Hailie alone, what if she wakes up?)
We'll be right back
Well I will you'll be in the trunk”
Or ’97 Bonnie and Clyde:
“Oh where's mama? She's takin a little nap in the trunk
Oh that smell (whew!) da-da musta runned over a skunk
Now I know what you're thinkin - it's kind of late to go swimmin
But you know your mama, she's one of those type of women
that do crazy things, and if she don't get her way, she'll throw a fit
Don't play with da-da's toy knife, honey, let go of it (no!)
And don't look so upset, why you actin bashful?
Don't you wanna help da-da build a sand castle? (yeah!)
And mama said she wants to show how far she can float
And don't worry about that little boo-boo on her throat”
“There goes mama, spwashin in the wa-ta
No more fightin wit dad, no more restraining order
No more step-da-da, no more new brother”
Love the Way You Lie paints a picture of what relationships look like to guys like Eminem. Not just violent relationships, all relationships. They are always jealous, violent, dysfunctional, and destructive to those involved. Both parties are equally to blame. Sometimes she starts it, sometimes he starts it, but each has a horrible temper and the rage controls you both. Sometimes you hate it, but mostly you love it. The emotions are so heightened that being together feels like a high and the passion burns like the flames of a house fire. It’s the new version of a Harlequin romance, complete with sexy young stars. This may be domestic violence, but both parties are equally to blame. The video ends with them curled up peacefully beside one another in bed.
Most Probable Scenario
When it comes right down to it, the intent of this video doesn’t matter. You can say something that hurts someone, but saying that you didn’t mean to doesn’t erase their pain. The intent of this video may or may not have anything to do with how it is interpreted.
Most people, especially young people, will take this video at face value. Most people will draw on their own life experiences and what they have seen in the media as they interpret the song and the video. If this is the only type of romantic relationship you have seen, you won’t know that relationships can look different. If every man you loved has hit you, you won’t know that there are other ways to love. We’re told by popular culture that this is what relationships looks like. Equitable partnerships and mutual respect are boring. Watching this video is titillating. It’s exciting. This is what young people will strive for.
Men’s rights groups will tell us that this video is an accurate depiction of most domestic violence. They say that women are equally violent and that the violence in most relationships is mutual. For the moment, let’s assume that is true. Let’s assume that women aren’t fighting back in self defense, or that they aren’t starting fights because they are tired of waiting for him to snap and just want to get it over with. Let’s pretend for a moment that they are equally responsible for the violence. Some women might enjoy the heightened emotions. Some women might find appeal in the “love is suffering” meme. But never in this song does Rihanna threaten to kill anyone. Even if the slapping and pushing is mutual, Eminem takes it to a whole new level when he says that, if she tries to leave again, he’ll tie her to the bed and set the house on fire. Maybe she enjoyed things until that point, maybe she was equally violent until that point, but men were the killers in 97% of domestic violence fatalities in this state in the past five years. Women are much more likely to kill a partner in self defense
Speaking of women, did anyone notice how this post differs from most of the media surrounding this song? Yeah, we’ve barely mentioned Rihanna. That’s because Rihanna is an adult woman and, no matter her life experiences, she is allowed to make her own choices. She is allowed to participate in this song if she wants. So, instead, our comments focus on the project – the song and video as a whole. By critiquing the project, of course we are critiquing the involvement of everyone who participated. But Rihanna didn’t ask to be the posterchild for domestic violence, and we don’t believe that a survivor’s life should forever be filtered through the lens of domestic violence. We think everyone involved with this song is sending a bad message to those who listen to the song and/or watch the video. But we aren’t going to hold Rihanna to a different standard than anyone else. No one should have signed up for this one.