Author’s Note: This originally appeared on the blog I Fry Mine In Butter.
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.