As many of you reading this may already know, Eminem has a new song out now entitled, “Love the Way You Lie” featuring Rihanna. For the sake of those not familiar with the song, here is a basic summary: The narrator of the song is sharing with the readers the story of his tumultuous, “high of a love / drunk from the hate” relationship with his partner. He depicts their need for each other as almost life and death – he “barely breathes / when [he’s] with [her]” and when he is dying, she brings him back to life.
At the beginning of the song, we learn that he has hit her, or in some way physically assaulted her, but that he promises “never [to] stoop so low again.” However, in the next verse of the song, the narrator confesses to breaking that promise as he basically describes a knock-down drag-out brawl with his partner, which ends with her leaving him. In the final verse, the narrator is begging her to come back. He tells her that it was all his fault while simultaneously claiming, “But your temper’s just as bad / as mine is / you’re the same as me.” He tells her the problem is that he just loves her too much and again promises not to hit her. The song concludes with this frightening line: “If she ever tries to [f-ing] leave again / I’mma tie her to the bed / and set the house on fire.”
In addition, Rihanna’s catchy hook is positioned between each verse of the song, giving voice to the female partner who is on the other side of Eminem’s character’s love/hate. Her character appears almost masochistic as she laments her partner for hurting her, but also asserts that “[it’s] alright / because I like the way it hurts.”
When I listen to the song, I feel transported into the mind of an abuser. The narrative provides me glimpses into his distorted perception of the way relationships work – love is hate, hate is love, and passion is violent. I also see his fantasy that the survivor is “just as abusive as I am” and on some level, she wants and enjoys the pain.
All that being said, the fact that the song is written, in my opinion, from the perspective of an abuser is not something with which I take issue. On the contrary, I think Eminem was quite successful is his portrayal of that perspective. However, here is what I do take issue with: what message does this song send to people who perhaps do not understand the intricacies of domestic violence? How many adolescents (or even adults, for that matter) listened to the song or watched the music video and thought, “Yeah, he’s telling it like it is! That’s what love is really like”? Probably too many, and even if just one person has that thought, then the song is serving only to perpetuate domestic violence and support batterers.
In reading this, some people may misunderstand my contention to mean that no songs, or movies, or other works of art should be made about anything “offensive” such as murder, theft, animal cruelty, etc. for fear that someone will interpret it as reason or permission to commit those acts. Let me be clear: That is not at all what I am suggesting and as a general rule, I do not support censorship. However, there are far less myths and erroneous assumptions about, say, murder. Take the movie American Psycho, for example – a movie about a yuppie businessman who becomes a serial killer. Throughout the movie, viewers are given peeks into the mind of the murderer, particularly through his narration of the movie. We see the world through his eyes, but at no point do we think, “Yeah, that makes sense. This guy is totally in touch with reality.” No, in fact, we are more likely thinking, “Man, this guy is seriously disturbed and unstable.” The reason is that probably at a base level, most people believe murder is wrong, so even if we are privy to the inner workings of a murderer, we do not condone his or her behavior.
This idea is not always true for domestic violence. Two of the many myths that perpetuate domestic violence are that “It’s just fighting and all couples fight” and that if a survivor does not leave the relationship, she must enjoy the abuse – both of which are expressed by the narrator of “Love the Way You Lie”. Consequently, if someone has already bought into these myths, then listening to Eminem’s song is not likely to spark any thoughts of “This is wrong.” Instead, the song is more likely to validate and reinforce those already existing myths, which in turn serves to perpetuate the violence and blame the victims.
Therefore, my problem is not with Eminem’s depiction of a perspective nor is my proposed solution to ban any and all art about domestic and sexual violence that is not made from a survivor’s point of view. My solution would be instead to suggest that whenever the song comes on, we have an honest conversation with whomever we are near at that moment regarding what the song is about and what kind of message it is sending. We tease apart the images and ideas in the narrative and explore how they align with our own views of healthy relationships (and perhaps examine if our beliefs about healthy relationships are actually all that healthy in the first place.)
And finally, if he happens to stumble across this blog, I would urge Eminem to publicly denounce the narrator’s actions and views as wrong and (hopefully) not indicative of his own.