Thursday, September 2, 2010

Femonomics reads the internet so you don't have to: Eminem's Love the Way You Lie

You may have heard that Eminem and Rihanna have come out with a new music video of "Love the Way You Lie." This has generated a lot of buzz, and in some cases controversy, for it's depiction of domestic violence. The video portrays a complex relationship where the abusers aren't completely unsympathetic and the victims are not faultless human beings - in other words it's a lot like real life! Some people are arguing that the video makes violence look sexy, which would be a not-so-great message. Others note that the message seems to be that violence is not a choice, but more like a natural disaster, over which no one (not even the abuser) has any control. This discussion is complicated by the fact that both singers have lived through abusive relationships, Rihanna having been violently assaulted by her then-boyfriend last year and Eminem having been both a perpetrator and receiver of abuse in past relationships. Also, the whole dialog is taking place on the internet, so decency and politeness is at a minimum.

Here's the video. It is not similarly offensive to Eminem's other work, but there is somewhat graphic violence and swearing.

I have to admit, I like the duet, the rhythm, and (so help me) the obvious rhymes. My primary takeaway is that this is not being portrayed as a desirable relationship, but rather as a cautionary tale. And not to equate Eminem with the great playwright in terms of art, but couldn't the same charge of romanticizing violence and death be leveled at Romeo & Juliet? I can see however, where people are misinterpreting this as glorifying (and sexifying) domestic violence. The actors playing the couple are Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox, both of whom are really, extraordinarily gorgeous. These two would look smoking hot at a pie-eating contest - even though pie eating contests are completely gross! Monaghan gave an interview where he explained the intention in creating the video was to both give a believable portrayal of violent relationships, and to send a strong anti-violence message.

Over at Tiger Beatdown, a commenter make the point that the lyrics do misstep in one description of abuse:
Yeah, I’m not at all familiar with the Eminem oeuvre, but I did watch the video so I could make sense of the Atlantic article, and it was strange. I felt like he was saying, ‘The abuse in this relationship is just this thing that happens, like a natural disaster, completely beyond anybody’s power to stop, so you really can’t blame anybody for it, and anyway it’s mostly her fault.
She's referring to the lyrics where Eminem describes the situation as "that's what happens when a tornado meets a volcano." And she has a point - abuse is not beyond the abuser's control, and certainly not beyond their culpability, which is what the natural disaster connection seems to imply.

The final criticism this seems to raise is a legacy issue with Eminem, which is the intensely and shockingly misogynistic nature of much of his past work. I don't think this is news to anyone who remembers the 1990s, but I do think it's fairly tired ground at this point. Rap music has a strong anti-woman strain. For an older but interesting analysis of Eminem's particular brand of misogyny, I recommend this 2002 essay in the Village Voice and here's a more recent 2009 article over at the Huffington Post. To be honest, it's really depressing stuff, and I personally would unlikely date anyone who was a huge fan of the guy. While I think it's important to decry Eminem's anti-woman screed whenever it arises, as the authors above do, I would rather just starve it of consumers. And this piece, in and of itself, is not misogynistic, and so seems fit for consumption. I'm generally in favor of free speech and allowing the market to eliminate the bad stuff. Still hasn't worked with Rush Limbaugh unfortunately...

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