Portraying domestic abuse

Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” music video shows the reality of domestic violence, rather than glorifying it. The success of Eminem and Rihanna’s new single, “Love the Way You Lie,” is a

Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” music video shows the reality of domestic violence, rather than glorifying it.

The success of Eminem and Rihanna’s new single, “Love the Way You Lie,” is a great example of how pop culture equates controversy to relevance and popularity.
For six weeks and counting, “Love the Way You Lie” has been No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and the song’s music video has garnered more than 77 million views on YouTube.

What makes the song and the music video  controversial is that both Eminem and Rihanna have had their own experiences with abusive relationships.

Eminem depicted his relationship with ex-wife Kim Mathers in his song “Kim,” off his third studio album, “The Marshall Mathers LP,”  whose lyrics reflect fantasies about murdering a woman named Kim.

More notably, Rihanna unofficially became the face of domestic-violence victims in 2009 when R&B star Chris Brown, Rihanna’s former boyfriend, was sentenced to five years of probation and six months of community service for assaulting Rihanna just before the 2009 Grammy Awards.

The real success of the song and music video is due to Rihanna’s haunting words that she sings in the song’s hook:

“Just gonna stand there/ and watch me burn/ But that’s alright/ because I like the way it hurts/ Just gonna stand there/ and hear me cry/ But that’s alright/ because I love the way you lie.”

Marjorie Gilberg, the executive director of Break the Cycle, a nonprofit that works to end teen violence, told the Washington Post in an Aug. 10 article, “The danger is that pop culture defines our social norms. We don’t want the message of this song to be that this kind of relationship is acceptable. So this song has to be viewed in the context of real information from adults, like parents and teachers.”

On the surface, the song’s lyrics seem to justify or glorify domestic violence, but after another listen, it’s clear that the words are meant to be sarcastic. They sound as if they are trying to dissuade those who want to stay in an abusive relationship by making them realize that their partners’ promises that the abuse will stop are lies.

As one might imagine, the music video for “Love the Way You Lie,” is very disturbing. Megan Fox and “Lost” actor Dominic Monaghan depict what some have speculated is Eminem’s real-life abusive relationship. However, the video’s director, Joseph Kahn, said in an Aug. 10 interview with MTV, “It’s a story specific to two characters I created.”

The video shows the couple going through the cycle of domestic violence. According to domesticviolence.org, that cycle begins with an incident and then leads to tension, which is followed by making up and, finally, a period of calm before the cycle starts over.

Fox and Monaghan graphically kiss and then fight, and, in the video’s final seconds, a house goes up in flames after Eminem raps:

“I apologize/ even though I know it’s lies/ I’m tired of the games/ I just want her back/ I know I’m a liar/ If she ever tries to f—ing leave again/ I’mma tie her to the bed/ and set the house on fire.”

Rihanna’s participation in a music video like this was shocking at first. It seemed both artists were just using the former victim of domestic violence to drum up controversy and boost the video’s popularity, only to make money. But this may not be the case after all.

“It’s something that needed to be done,” Rihanna told MTV. “And the way [Eminem] did it was so clever. You know, he pretty much just broke down the cycle of domestic violence, and it’s something that a lot of people don’t have a lot of insight on, so this song was really, really – it’s a powerful song.”

It seems Rihanna wanted to use the controversy she likely knew would ensue by being a part of the song not only to make money, but also to put the issue of domestic violence on people’s minds. Mission accomplished.

I guess selling a few million records doesn’t hurt, either.

Karen Blyton can be reached at karen.blyton@temple.edu.

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