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“Love The Way You Lie”

August 8, 2010
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I’m including a Trigger Warning with this post, because I’d like the courtesy.

So, apparently there’s a bunch of controversy around Eminem’s new video for the song “Love The Way You Lie” featuring Rhianna. Not about the song (in fact, most folks agree that it’s pretty damn powerful), but about the video.

The video “stars” Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan (“Charlie” from Lost), and chronicles their relationship—a relationship centered around alcohol, abuse, and sex. And it’s the combination of violence and sex that are throwing people up in arms.

The video starts with the woman waking up and finding what we can assume is another girl’s number written on her boyfriend’s hand; she becomes angry, and then the cycle of violence begins. They fight, he attacks her, she tries to fight back, he apologizes, rinse and repeat. And thrown into the mix are scenes of violent wall-slamming sex, which is causing people to say that the video is glorifying domestic violence by making it sexy.

Frankly, the video makes me uncomfortable, but not because I think it’s making domestic violence sexy. It makes me uncomfortable because I think the video needs a trigger warning(which is why I provided one for this post); I’ve been in a similar relationship before, and I know how easy it can be to let things escalate and repeat the cycle, and how “normal” it can become. The sex is a very minor part of the video for me; after all, there is such a thing as “angry sex” (does no one recall that stair scene from <i>A History of Violence</i>?) and couples involved in abusive relationships do still engage in relations (but oftentimes not consensual, as it appears in the video). But the inclusion of sex doesn’t automatically make something sexy, which is a distinction people seem to be missing here.

Also central to any discussion of the video are the lyrics of the song, of course (found here), and the fact that Eminem’s female counterpart is Rhianna. So we have an abuser and a victim pairing together to provide what I think is a pretty damn good portrayal of one type of domestic violence situation. Couples fight, and can say some pretty nasty things to each other. And after the fallout from that, the abuser will completely change his (or her) tune (“Told you this is my fault/Look me in the eyeball/…There will be no next time/ I apologize”), but things generally go back to how they were. And that’s one thing I thank Eminem for pointing out in the final verse of this song (and the line that I’ve heard people use to say that this song is same ol’ Em): abusers are liars. “I apologize/Even though I know it’s lies/….I just want her back/I know I’m a liar/If she ever tries to leave again/I’mma tie her to the bed/And set the house on fire.”

That’s the thought process, yo. What’s often mistaken for love is the need for control. And that need is what’s suffocating and consuming and dangerous.

But what do we make of Rhianna’s lyrics? Are they victim blaming? I can see how they’re being interpreted that way, but within the context of the relationship featured in the video (and the real-life relationship Eminem drew inspiration from), I think they’re perfectly appropriate and made all the more poignant by the fact that Rhianna is singing them. She is a face of domestic abuse, a highly recognizable one, and one of the things we don’t know about her relationship with Chris Brown is this: how many times before had he beaten her? We don’t know if she ever took swings back, a la Megan Fox in the video. What we can guess is that it probably wasn’t the first time Rhianna was hit/choked/threatened, and that she herself was likely involved in the cycle that’s portrayed in the video. And that cycle is hard to break away from, especially if you feel like you deserve the pain/humiliation that accompanies abuse.

And back to the video itself: the best thing that I think this video does is show how these types of relationships destroy the people in them.  Throughout the video, you see each of the characters being consumed by flames until, finally, the entire house catches fire. These relationships burn you up, they break you, and a lot of the time at least one party doesn’t come out of it. Eminem likens the relationship to “what happens when a tornado meets a volcano,” which I think is clever and insightful—it’s pure and utter destruction. And not sexy at all.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2010 10:28 am

    I think your take on the video is pretty right on and it’s a very honest, unflinching track. I think because everyone in the video is sexy or attractive in some way, people are going to say it’s all glorification of violence and abuse. But aesthetics aside, I think the message comes through that this kind of relationship destroys all involved. I also think it’s a rarer portrayal in terms of a relationship with two people who are violent and destructive and addicted as opposed to the more familiar media we see with a more clearly defined victim and victimizer. Not that those stories aren’t important to show, obviously, but the one portrayed in the video doesn’t get as much “air time” even though I think it’s quite common.

  2. August 8, 2010 11:36 am

    Thanks for dissecting, in an almost surgical way, exactly why I was having trouble getting through a viewing of this video.

    And absolutely, it is anger and control that is at the heart of this sort of relationship. My question: is there an element of pleasure for both parties to continually submit to this situation? Does the chemical release of endorphins that is likely occurring for both in the heat of these moments have some sort of “positive” response and makes the circumstance that much more intoxicating and difficult to escape?

    I never understood the concept of domestic violence, and I have to say I’m glad I don’t.

  3. Q.V. permalink
    August 8, 2010 1:48 pm

    Thanks for the trigger warning. I’m really glad a couple people tipped me to the content so I don’t have to stumble over it unprepared if I choose to watch it.

  4. August 8, 2010 2:00 pm

    I also think it’s a rarer portrayal in terms of a relationship with two people who are violent and destructive and addicted as opposed to the more familiar media we see with a more clearly defined victim and victimizer. Not that those stories aren’t important to show, obviously, but the one portrayed in the video doesn’t get as much “air time” even though I think it’s quite common.

    This! Thank you for the complex exploration of this video. I haven’t been able to watch it, but I’m curious about Em and his ability to position himself as someone with a valid contribution to the DV discourse. I wonder if Chris Brown would be able to do this? It seems Em has gotten a smoother ride both by critics and feminists for his behavior, which in my book is no less disgusting than Brown’s.

  5. August 8, 2010 4:16 pm

    I’ve been avoiding watching the video, but after reading your essay I went back and viewed it. I appreciate your nuanced take on the meaning of the video and the lyrics, which I agree is being ignored in favor of the sexy visuals and the two artists involved in the song. I think I’d find the video more compelling if they substituted the sexy A-listers for ordinary-looking actors, so there’d be no hint of glamorizing the characters’ relationship.

  6. August 8, 2010 6:36 pm

    I also think it’s a rarer portrayal in terms of a relationship with two people who are violent and destructive and addicted as opposed to the more familiar media we see with a more clearly defined victim and victimizer.

    Absolutely. As I mentioned in my post, I have been in 2 abusive relationships. In the first, I was completely and totally the victim, no questions asked. I didn’t fight back, I didn’t raise my voice, I didn’t tell people. It was physical abuse in several ways, but it was mostly emotional. And I fortunately got out before I really made a mess of things (I was gonna marry the dude!). But. My next relationship, I instigated things. I was violent, so was he, and neither of us could leave. It took a horrific scene in public to make me step back and see that there was nothing healthy about that relationship, either.

    My question: is there an element of pleasure for both parties to continually submit to this situation? Does the chemical release of endorphins that is likely occurring for both in the heat of these moments have some sort of “positive” response and makes the circumstance that much more intoxicating and difficult to escape?

    What I got from the relationship I was in (and remember, this is only my personal take on it) was a sick justification of everything that I thought of my self. I’d just come from a relationship where I was told I was nothing, ugly, fat, no one would ever want me, etc etc etc, so I know now that I was goading a guy into treating me that way. I wanted the validation that what I believed about myself was true, and I got it. That, coupled with treating someone the way I’d been treated, was…well…it was pretty heady. And utterly, utterly effed up.

    Q.V.: Like I say, I would have appreciated the warning. Do unto others and all that.

    Snarky’s: I think that the biggest factor in the difference between Eminem and Chris Brown is that Eminem abused a woman who “deserved” it whereas Brown beat up an “inoffensive, sweet girl.” Kim was never a face we saw all over the place, and when we did, it was usually because she had done something horrible. Which somehow makes Em’s behavior ok.

    Popscribblings: I agree about the casting. That said, Megan Fox was able to get more money than a lot of other actresses might have been able to, and she donated that money to Sojourn Shelter, which is a shelter for abused women (it also provides a lot of other services and information, including about dating violence). So that’s a positive from the casting.

  7. August 8, 2010 7:44 pm

    @eieioj: I totally agree with tour take on why Chris Brown has gotten so much shit and Eminem hasn’t. I also feel like there’s this way where Rihanna is wealthy and successful and Kim was always portrayed as kind of “white trash”. Either way, it’s a horrible positioning for either women because it’s so essentializing and ignores the complexity of what happened for both of them.

    And I love hearing that Megan Fox donated her pay for the video to Sojourn Shelter. Despite all of the bad press she gets that is a totally classy move on her part.

  8. August 8, 2010 10:32 pm

    I don’t know much about any of the parties involved. I mean I’m old and don’t really listen to “new” music. After reading a bit about Em, yeah, definitely classism at work as it relates to how Kim was positioned in the media. And Chris Brown – who is a batterer, make no mistake – was also a lot more familiar boogeyman than Em’s potty mouthed rapper who can rely on white privilege whenever he needs to.

  9. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    August 9, 2010 12:25 am

    @NYCPenpusher,

    And absolutely, it is anger and control that is at the heart of this sort of relationship. My question: is there an element of pleasure for both parties to continually submit to this situation?

    Trigger warning for messed up:

    Pleasure is involved, as twisted as that may sound. I am not talking about BDSM play. High risk sex and emotional intrigue are very, very compelling to some people, men and women, particularly those who have witnessed and absorbed a pattern of violence between intimate partners from an early age. The violence may be a combination of physical, verbal and emotional hurt, back and forth, the same poop, forever.

    One can absorb this violence from the culture zie lives in, even if the home life is not overtly violent in any way.

    People who develop an affinity with a dynamic of violence, even if that violence overtly only takes place between the self and the dominant culture, can be drawn to high-risk sex and romance. Trysts with total strangers have been my drug of choice, if that’s not TMI. There is a sense in those encounters that the person to whom one is entrusting life and bodily integrity gets it. “As messed up as I am, as lonely and angry as I am right now and every day of my life, this person cannot be freaked out or hurt by me, and my messed up brain and heart and body stuff, my history, my legacy; and I at this moment do not think zie can fuck me up any further. Also I am sick of being alone and I am willing to take the risk that this might seriously hurt me if it goes wrong.” It’s fucked up, but it’s a kind of trust.

    And this can lead to a relationship between volatile, angry, hurt, complicated people. People who are impulsive, who go off. And if one happens to be physically and/or verbally stronger or quicker or more manipulative, the other one gets the bruises. This means, morally, that the stronger one should be the one to de-escalate so that zie doesn’t harm hir partner, but that often doesn’t happen, because neither of them are emotionally equipped to stop the shit once it has started. But the passion is often still there for both parties, due to the need to bond and find some kind of trust with someone who is also fucked up.

    What happens when the balance tips too far? Aha. This moment is a terrifying point. For both parties. The more harmful partner (who by this point has become the abuser) may realize that the one with the bruises is fixing to leave. The loss of control is infuriating, but on top of that, the loss of relationship with one who up until now has been “the only one who gets it” is so overwhelming. This is when the bruiser is most likely to become a stalker, rapist, murderer. The most dangerous point in an abusive relationship is when the bearer of the brunt of the abuse dynamic makes a plan to leave, and I am very sure that what I’ve just described is the emotional reason why.

    Thanks for the opportunity to think this through and put it in writing. I hope I conveyed what I was trying to. In any case, maybe I should just GMOFB about it.

  10. Citizen Taqueau permalink
    August 9, 2010 12:39 am

    Also, ghod damn, I have watched that video 3 times in a row now, and serious props to all involved, because it is a bad ass and true piece of art. Still crying. Damn. Love to Megan Fox for donating her profits to the Sojourn Shelter, too.

    I would like to hear about Mr. Mathers donating his profits from this to a program that teaches men.

  11. Octavia permalink
    August 9, 2010 12:44 am

    My feelings about this are so complicated. First off I love Megan Fox and how she works with and subverts the Hot Girl role, in general.

    Regarding the video, my mixed feelings are due to the positioning of Eminem rather than the subject matter itself. Because I agree that the dominant discourse of DV shows only one possibility, and as a society we discount the experiences of women in relationships where they fight back. It’s DV, and it’s still just as valid. We need to talk about that, to acknowledge it. DV victim = always passive just plays into the idea that if you can fight back in any way, it’s not really that bad (for I think the same reasons that if you don’t fight back during rape = ‘not that bad / must have wanted it’. We just don’t want to listen and acknowledge the variety in women’s actual differing experiences).

    This fighting back DV was my experience growing up with my father, and my family picked the ‘it’s not that bad’ path precisely because I got up in his face and wouldn’t just ‘take it’ like a nice woman victim should (which is not to at all discount women who cannot or will not fight back, rather the idea that there is a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way of experiencing anything in our lives, associated with expected passive femininity).

    But then with Eminem and Kim (which is what people’s minds will go to) is this unfairly playing him up as contrite / a nice guy really because look he’s admitting he was wrong / painting her as fighting back when maybe she didn’t, etc etc. BFP’s piece on this was really good, and I admire her talking about the forgiveness / how to we get men to teach other men this is not okay angle, but my feelings towards abusive men are obviously not good, so my gut reaction is not positive to him in this.

  12. August 9, 2010 2:19 am

    Wow! Some really very well considered responses here, and thanks to eieioj and Citizen Taqueau for your specific thoughts about my comment. I guess there are larger generalities, types of abuse that occur and then each individual has their own specific form of abuse within those larger fields that make it personal.

    The other interesting element that I was thinking about, especially in terms of a celebrity like Eminem, is when other eyes look at the relationship and either react or judge, and what sort of dynamic that creates… in other words, Em knows that what abuse is wrong; then when other people look at him for abusing, does the guilt of that make him try harder to stop, or make him more likely to continue?

    Ultimately, the men are the ones who need to be taught how unacceptable this behavior is, and early in life. And this is why there is such a movement against corporal punishment, because those cycles do live…

    And eieioj, Thanks for sharing the points about Megan Fox’s donation… many props to her, but Citizen Taqueau is right… Em should be donating to a group that teaches men!

  13. IrishUp permalink
    August 9, 2010 6:04 pm

    I appreciate that Mr. Mathers has Issues(TM). To me, his work reflects a certain amount of self-awareness and willingness to really expose those Issues(TM). I really do appreciate that. HOWEVER, I feel like he’s not so much unpacking his Issues(TM) as taking inventory “whoo, hey, lookit THIS shiny bit’o’misogyny – #439 check!”.
    IIRC, even Freud said “Insight is not a cure”.

    NYCPen – there is a fab discussion over at flip flopping joy that addresses your earlier questions.

    @eieioj, Citizen & Octavia; thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I haven’t quite figured out how to navigate those areas of public writing for myself, but I admire and learn from you guys who have.

  14. Octavia permalink
    August 11, 2010 5:42 am

    @IrishUp: Thanks 🙂 It took me a long time to navigate, I just denied there was even an issue for ages. And then I found I wanted – even needed – to talk.

    And this? “I feel like he’s not so much unpacking his Issues(TM) as taking inventory “whoo, hey, lookit THIS shiny bit’o’misogyny – #439 check!”.
    IIRC, even Freud said “Insight is not a cure”.” That’s exactly how I felt about it, only put more succinctly. I’ve known so many people who can recognise that their behaviour is wrong, but don’t ever change it. So on this issue I’m hella cynical. I’d like to see some action on his part. I like that; “Insight is not a cure.”

  15. August 11, 2010 10:22 am

    Irish Up: it’s a tough area to navigate, and it took me a long time to be able to discuss it frankly (I think working with teenagers made me realize the position I was in to educate about certain situations).

    Re: Mr. Mathers– I found myself a bit conflicted about the fact that he wrote the song, and I think that you guys have highlighted why. Has Em actually learned something and will he stop his abusive behaviors, or is he just acknowledging the problem without changing anything?

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