Love the Way You Lie (Feministing Group Chat)

The new Eminem/Rihanna music video, Love the Way You Lie, has been getting a lot of play lately. We posted the video and you weighed in, and now some of the Feministing crew takes apart the video and whether or not it’s a win for DV awareness… Check out our chat after the jump.

For more takes on the video, read Broadsheet and Sociological Images.

Um, sexualizing violence much? I’m sorry but the fight-turned-into-sex-scene just really pissed me off. DV is not hot and sexy. – Vanessa

Vanessa, agreed.  The message that violence is sexy is not only fucked up, it’s played out.  I think what really annoyed me about this music video wasn’t that it was showing a violent relationship as sexy true love (though that bothered me as well), but that it’s being positioned as a vid that’s taking on the cycle of domestic violence…because it really doesn’t. – Jessica

I hate the way the music video ends in what appears to be a loving embrace. She doesn’t leave, and she doesn’t walk out. And even though the house is on fire, the content on the face of the victim implies that staying is far better than walking out. Fail. - Rose

I may be in the minority here, and I am open to being pushed on this one, but I think the video gets at something important. DV is hot and sexy for some people, sometimes. The relationship dynamic created by someone inflicting pain and then pleasure can be very compelling. People stay in relationships with DV components for a variety of reasons, as we’ve posted about before, but this is certainly among them. Abusers are not violent all the time- sometimes they are nice, sometimes sweet, sometimes hot, sometimes sexy. I think it’s dangerous to just condemn the depiction of these multi-faceted aspects of DV instead of acknowledging the role that this dynamic plays in perpetuating and enabling violence against women.

Yes, intimate partner violence is “bad”. Yes, we condemn it, as feminists, as human beings. But I think our condemnation could be much stronger without a component of judgment that serves to “other” DV relationships as fundamentally different than relationships without a DV component. I think this is part of the problem. People who beat each other up also can have hot sex with each other. And sometimes the fact that they beat each other up plays a part in their sexual dynamic. And when we pretend that’s not true, or place a judgment on that, we just further alienate ourselves from the reality of what someone who is in a DV situation might be experiencing. I’m not a DV specialist or trained in understanding DV so I don’t feel comfortable speaking broadly about the effects of this video on any one group or person, but for me personally, the video rings true as a fictionalized depiction of DV that neither tries to tell the story of every DV relationship nor tries to gloss over some common- if not dangerous and disturbing- characteristics that relationships with intimate partner violence may possess. And as such, it has value in the ongoing and certainly imperfect dialogue about what DV is and how to prevent it. -Lori

Lori, I think that you’re right to point out that there is nuance to a violent relationship – and that a depiction of a complicated DV situation shouldn’t be criticized out of hand.  That said, I don’t think this particular video does a good job depicting that complexity, and I worry given the intended audience of the video, that it will be taken at face value.  -Jessica

Hmmmm, Lori. I think you make an interesting point about the role of pain and pleasure in relationships. I concur that these complex relationships can occur. While I don’t intend to start a semantics war, I think BDSM that is consented to by both parties is completely different than domestic violence that is not mutually consented to. I use the term domestic violence to refer to these images and not a more neutral term because this is how it has been framed by the women directly related to this project. Rihanna herself described Eminem’s role in the project by saying, “He pretty much just broke down the cycle of domestic violence and it’s something that a lot people don’t have a lot of insight on.” Beyond Rihanna’s explicit terminology, Megan Fox, the actress in the video, donated her paycheck to a battered women’s shelter. If this was a thread where images divorced from this explicit context were at issue, I would be totally with you on not condemning these images as a form of othering. But since this context has been provided for us, I think it’s perfectly OK to condemn the violence depicted while also recognizing that people don’t simply lose their complexity because they are in an unhealthy relationship. -Rose

OK Lori. I just reread your comment and now know that when you talk about the condemnation and othering on this thread, you are not referring to images that can be interpreted as BDSM. You are challenging us to go even further  with our analysis by keeping our critique aimed at the role the dynamic of violence plays in perpetuating violence against women and not at scenes in the music video that depict complex moments that can occur in a violent relationship.  With that understood, point conceded. On an additional note, as someone who has been in  a violent relationship, I don’t think I would have ever have had the strength to ultimately leave if I focused on the nuances of my unhealthy relationship (i.e. sexual pleasure.) What kept me focused and resolved about my decision, along with having career opportunities that enabled me to physically leave the city my aggressor was living in, was remembering the worst part of the violence and re-remembering it when the nuance would creep in. While I am no messaging guru, it seems that questions we might ask are: Does the music video present more nuance than grim realities of violence? If so, does it do more harm than good at interrupting the cycle of violence Eminem articulates so powerfully in this song? I just don’t want to see someone who is on the brink of peacing out of a DV relationship focus on the momentary thrill of a great sexual high and decide to stay in a bitch of an unsatisfactory situation. - Rose

When I first watched the video, I really didn’t know what to think. My instant reaction was emotional, and that much I know for sure. I felt tears welling up in my eyes because I do feel that the portrayal was raw and compelling. Especially considering the artist’s (Rihanna) deep personal connection to this issue. Whether this is a clear-cut example of glorifying violence, however, I’m not 100% sure. I do agree with folks that the ending scene is damn problematic because it does seem like a “true love” ending and that staying is a better choice. But it also is just reality. Not everyone leaves their abuser. And for a lot of folks it takes a really long time to do so. I’d love to dialogue more on this, but for me, instantly, I didn’t feel angry at this portrayal. I felt affected. And that unsureness might be a good thing.

What I do think is important though are the lyrics of this song. I’ll admit I hate this song (I don’t like Eminem much period), but the cherry on top of it all is how Eminem ends it with “If she ever tries to fucking leave again/ I’mma tie her to the bed/ And set the house on fire.” To me, only hearing the song, with that last line tacked on at the end, I wrote it off as a deeply disturbing sensationalizing of domestic violence (and gross that Rihanna would be a part of this profiting off glorified DV portrayals) where it seems that violence is accepted and indeed the final step. But now that there is a video, I’m not so sure that I feel such a strong conviction about the song anymore (I’m still not a fan, but you know what I mean). It does seem a bit more complicated and nuanced. It’s interesting how it looked as if Megan Fox controlled that “fire” with her hands and that Dominic Monaghan was being lit on fire. But then so was she at the end. Not so clear, but leaves room for a lot of interpretation.

What really fucking rubs me the wrong way though is this line: “You’re the same as me/ When it comes to love/ You’re just as blinded.” The video reinforces this notion by making the two appear almost equals in this push-and-pull/hate-and-love cycle. They both get jealous, they both beat each other up, they both seem to get aroused by it all!

SAY WHAT!? Ok, sure. Both parties involved in an abusive relationship stand to get hurt. And those outside looking in are probably scratching their heads wondering why either of the two parties stay. But to fucking lump together abuser and survivor as one in the same mentality is a TRAVESTY of justice. A fucking travesty. I believe that’s the most frustrating part of this song because it fails to recognize the ways in which the victim is manipulated and made vulnerable by his or her abuser– not just physically, but mentally and financially as well. And this is especially true in immigrant families. Oftentimes the abuser may cut off the partner from his/her friends and family and make it seem like they are the only person who really cares and the only person that the victim can depend on. And that dependence may very well be true. So, no, I don’t believe that both parties are “just as blinded” because the abuser knows very perfectly well the way this manipulation and control works and the abused may not have much of a choice to leave. So in that instance, I definitely think Eminem fails in portraying the cycle of DV. FAIL.

On that note, I think it’s helpful to also open up the conversation about DV narratives. Who gets to tell the story and how is it told? I think as feminists we are definitely focused on the abused and rightly so! But I also strongly believe in the significance of the abuser’s story (who are majority male). Because as with everything else when it comes to oppression, privilege both advantages AND disadvantages people and it’s important to understand how. I think it was a change for me to see the video portray just how much the abuser was also going through (as opposed to representations like in J. Lo’s movie Enough where the abuser was just thoroughly evil). If, as feminists, we seek to end dehumanization, we also need to reflect on ways that oppressors are dehumanized. With that being said, in no way am I trying to place a hierarchy on who’s story is being told or who’s voice should be loudest. I think it’s helpful though to discuss Eminem’s standpoint and also the privilege that he has in being able to build an empire off hateful, misogynistic, anti-woman music, but also write this and be applauded. It’s complicated stuff. My 2, maybe 3 cents. - Anna

First thing’s first, I can’t stand Eminem. So there’s that.

I do think this song and video is a fairly honest portrayal of a domestic violence cycle. What disturbs me is we’re getting the story of gendered domestic violence in the same way most mainstream pop culture stories are told: the male character has a voice, has complex nuanced thoughts and feelings. The woman’s nothing more than the man’s perception of her (Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are extreme examples of this). This has disturbing implications when the story being told is one about gendered relationship violence.

“I like the way it hurts” speaks to a reality of domestic violence that simultaneously gets too much and too little attention.  There’s a sad history of feminists accusing women who stay with their abusers of “false consciousness.” A lot has been done to refute this paternalistic argument. Feeling responsible for one’s own abuse is a terrible place to be. I agree with Lori, this is a reality we can’t just ignore. I think an exploration of this state is incredibly challenging but also very valuable, if only to know you’re not alone. This song and video isn’t that.

This is about how being the abuser destroys a man. We even see Eminem and Dominic Monaghan consumed by flames before a brief glimpse of Megan Fox burning. As Anna points out, the song and video stress both partners are responsible, it’s really just that the man has more physical strength. I get that hearing the abuser’s thought process sets us up for the moment when he admits he’ll kill her eventually. But it still puts us in a position to understand what he’s going through, without any real understanding for the woman. We can feel bad for her in a distanced, almost paternalistic way, but not much else.

The casting doesn’t help. I actually appreciate Megan Fox as a celebrity who speaks her mind, but she can’t act, while the once and future Charlie Pace is all pathos. I do think Rihanna adds a lot in her nuanced performance, while Eminem’s flailing around in a field, but this is ultimately an Eminem song, a piece of his public image “Recovery.” I fear Rihanna is there to give survivor cred to a song and video by a known abuser.

Ultimately I think the song and video contribute to the kind of culture where Chris Brown gets to be more than an abuser, someone who deserves another chance because of everything else about him. Rihanna must struggle to be defined by more than her abuse experience and seems to have little choice about becoming a DV spokesperson if she wants to keep her career. Men are shown to have motivation and nuance. Women, meanwhile, get to be virgins or whores, a victim or someone who “deserved it.” - Jos

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6 Comments

  1. Posted August 10, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I actually really like this song. I don’t know much about Eminem and haven’t heard much of his music or Rihanna’s. I only recently heard this song and just watched the video here. I think both the song and especially the video serve as a warning against, not a glamorization of domestic violence.
    What I get out of it is that a relationship in which DV is present can only get worse, not better and will only end in tragedy – the final lines of the song, for example, tell the listener that even though the abuser doesn’t want to hurt his lover, the relationship will likely end in her death because he simply can’t control himself.
    The ending shows this – it doesn’t end in an embrace, giving a glamorous light to DV as you claim. It ends with Eminem and Rihanna sadly watching the lovers burn due to their own blindness to the toxicity of their relationship. How is this not a warning to couples going through a violent relationship??
    I think Eminem’s lines, tone and movements in the video show what could be interpreted as an abuser’s self-disgust with his own actions, thought processes and lack of self-control.

    Anyone who has experienced uncontrollable anger at another human being knows what I am talking about. I am bipolar, and without psychiatric help and medications, I would be the one abusing my children and one thing I know is that it takes a lot of guts to admit that you’ve been in that dark place where you would harm someone who can’t defend themselves.

    • Posted August 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your comments! I agree with you, I commented on the other post but it says it is awaiting moderation. I pretty much put in what you said. But I felt like I was the only one to believe this way. So thanks for your comment! :) I believe it is dead on.

  2. Posted August 10, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m totally baffled by the discourse on this video in this and the previous post.

    To me it seems that this song is obviously about the cycle of domestic abuse. Eminem’s verses talk about the issue from the perspective of a person inside of an abusive relationship and someone with critical distance. Rihanna’s chorus is about the way women (and men) end up trapped within an abusive relationship.

    The video is about a couple who are abusive toward one another, the male being controlling and the women being reactive. They act out a routine of abusing one another and others, passionate sex, empty apologies, violent arguments…all the while Eminem is rapping about the way that people in abusive relationships act out these same patterns.

    It seems really weird to me the way people are assuming that the final image is an acceptance of true love or says that it’s better to stay in an abusive relationship. Um, what? Can we please give viewers and listeners a little more credit than that? The video begins and ends with the same image–the couple asleep in bed. That’s the definition of a cycle. The last lyric we hear is something about tying your girlfriend to a bed and setting the house on fire. Do we really lack the critical distance to see that this attempts to show the reality of domestic violence? That people in relationships abuse or are abused, but they love one another in some capacity, they have sex, they yell, they make up, they do it again?

    Not to mention the fact that the chorus is sung by a woman who has inadvertently become the poster girl for domestic violence in the past couple of years. I can’t imagine people are going to hear Rihanna singing over a violent lyric about the realities of domestic violence while a couple of famous actors beat the shit out of one another in front of a burning house and think it’s meant to be sexy or that the message is, “True love is more important than getting hit!” Or maybe I can believe it, because it seems that’s the impression people here have…

  3. Posted August 11, 2010 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Wow, that was intense analysis. This may seem a little simple after all that but here’s my two cents:
    It seems like all the people involved were drawn to the project because they felt that this was a creative project that would have an impact and that is the sign of successful creative work–feminist or not.

    I think that this video represents an attempt to bring this issue into the public’s conscience and I applaud the attempt given that DV can be so easily swept under the rug when it needs to get talked about. I don’t know much about Eminem’s past abuses, but is there a possibility that this video could be a step in the right direction for facing up to past violence? I’m not saying this would erase everything he’s done, I’m just saying having the courage to devote artistic resources to it is encouraging.
    That said, I do agree with a lot of the criticisms made here:
    I was also really disappointed Megan Fox didn’t leave at the end of the video because this would have shown the cycle is breakable. But, at the same time, I thought the embrace at the end was meant to show that even after all the attempts to break it off, she can still be stuck in a bad relationship proving how difficult the cycle is to break in the first place. So I didn’t take the ending as romantic, more hopeless.

  4. Posted August 11, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    When I heard the song I interpreted everything Eminem said to be the ramblings of an abuser, that made the song more acceptable because it was a cautionary tale.
    For me, the lyrics “Your temper is as bad as mine is, your the same as me” hit a little close to home since that was the usual excuse given by my abuser. Normally I do have a temper (but never a violent one). However, in our relationship I was never loud, boisterous or argumentative (maybe in the first few weeks but never after the abuse started). But in his mind in was a tit-for-tat relationship, and that made me stay. So I see those lines not as a statement of reality but an excuse being offered by the abuser to take some of the blame off of himself.

  5. Posted August 18, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    I’d agree with some of the more sympathetic interpretations of this song. I hated Eminem in the early 2000s- with a passion, I still remember teen girls slobbering all over him on TRL in 2000 and remember being horrified ‘don’t you know how misogynistic the lyrics are? don’t you care?’-
    but it seems like he’s changed. There is a lot less misogyny in his lyrics than before.
    I interpret this song and video as downbeat, tragic.
    Like the other commenter(s) I found the lyrics from Eminem as the rant of the abuser, who is trying to maintain this image and argument about why they should stay together but he can’t even lie to himself and in the end the truth comes out. Like, it’s a way of helping you cheat by getting into the abuser’s head. As for the final scene I interpreted it to mean that either (a) none of the video ever happened, or (b) it’s a backstory to their relationship. Yeah Megan’s character is still there, but it’s just not a ‘loving embrace’, it’s just an ordinary embrace. Like, ‘oh yeah, look at them, they look normal’ but the viewer knows that’s not true. Like how even a relationship that seems normal in one moment can be so messed up. Maybe I’m being too charitable.

    I also agree that it’s a trope to have the male voice complex and real, while the woman is just an image there to serve as a foil. I definitely noticed the same thing in both Inception and Eternal Sunshine and it really bothered me both times. But this song, the thing is, once you see Eminem’s lyrics as part of an act and not the real message, Rihanna’s chorus actually strikes a stronger, more authoritative tone; it shows a sort of awareness of irony and that what she’s saying is bullshit.

    But I’m a little older and I don’t know how a teenager would see the nuances of the video, like Jessica said. Perhaps it is glamorizing. You never know what teens will want to imitate. Heck, Michael Lewis wrote Liar’s Poker to warn people AGAINST working for Wall Street (or so he says), and it inspired generations of aspiring investment bankers, including my college roommate who heaped praise on the book.

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