August 12, 2010

Domestic Violence Is More Than Just a Burning House (trigger alert)

In the modern music industry’s bid for our bucks, the music video has become an almost necessary advertising tool. And in considering the video for “Love the Way You Lie,” it’s important to remember that its whole production – song and visuals – is an advertisement for Eminem’s album, Recovery, not a public service announcement. While it’s true that we’ve been witness to both Eminem’s and – much more graphically – Rihanna’s struggle with abuse and violence, and while it’s true that Rihanna is an artist musically and publicly coping with a traumatic incident, none of it comes altruistically. There is still a patriachally oppressive industry orchestrating the movements of both Eminem and Rihanna, and in the end, they all want your ninety-nine cents at the iTunes checkout screen.

Nonetheless, the “abuse ballad” has become a high point of discussion, and it is in this way that it becomes a social activist tool. So let’s talk about it.

Since the single’s release, there has been great anticipation for its high production video, which was uploaded and unveiled August 5th, 2010 to 6.6 million hits in its first twenty-four hours. Directed by Joseph Kahn – who is also responsible for Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” and Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy is Mine” – the video stars Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan, and is cinematically rather gorgeous and coated in golden hour tones. The video further muddies the song’s controversy over whether or not it glorifies domestic violence.

With a BA in Cinema-Television Production, I can’t find a job right now, but I can say with some authority that almost all cinema – movies and music videos alike – glorify the human condition in a sensationally oversimplified and male-centered way. And therein lies the true problem with the video for “Love the Way You Lie.”

As someone who has sung both Rihanna’s chorus and Eminem’s rap, I feel that domestic violence and abuse isn’t as black and blue as a couple repeatedly slapping and dragging each other around. From middle school until my first year of college, I was emotionally abused by a boyfriend, my self-esteem so low that I stayed because I feared no other man would love me. The first of many times he broke up with me, he told me it was because he was “embarrassed” of me, which eventually led to a brush with disordered eating that put me at ninety-five pounds and dry heaving into the toilet. He pressured me to have sex with him and then told me that vaginas are “ugly.” When I did something “wrong” – which was unpredictable – he yelled at me or withheld affection, mirroring his treatment of his mother. Our “honeymoons” included diamond necklaces and fireworks at a beach side hotel in Malibu. When we finally broke up, he followed me to work and sat outside my dorm room, and I had to seriously consider a restraining order. Attending the same college, whenever I glimpsed him on campus, I would become sick with panic. Though he never touched me, I am burdened with scars of insecurity, mistrust, and saddest of all, a habit of abuse.

In my most powerless rages, I hit my next boyfriend, not once, but a few times, one time in public to the jeers of onlookers. Though we are friends forgiven now, I see how I diminished his sense of self-worth. Recently, I’ve asked for space from my current boyfriend after a moment of relapse wherein I used pointed words to undermine him. I don’t want to promise “Never again” ever again. It is a complex cycle of learned behavior that requires time, effort, and support to overcome, and for a woman such as myself, who has internalized the actions perpetrated against her, it is a difficult and sometimes puzzling process to recognize yourself as someone who has been abused and who is an abuser in a world where violence is the male normative.

The video for “Love the Way You Lie” is so far removed from some of the realities of domestic violence and abuse that it seems almost satirical. Kahn’s vision, though well crafted, clumsily stumbles through a sequence of visual clichés that reveal no real contemplation of the subject matter. Acting as beautiful paradigms, Fox and Monaghan slap, hump, and finally set each other on fire, devoid of any context. Monaghan is simplistically vilified (he steals a bottle of liquor) and Fox is still a representation of Hollywood’s unrealistic and damaging expectations (as she stalks like a runway model through the house, her profile is slender and fashionable) which, confusingly, won’t allay her the tabloids’ slut-calling. The video’s settings and dingy, cluttered production design seem to evoke a lower social status, relegating the song’s subject matter to a class that Rihanna did not inhabit when Chris Brown hit her.

Moreover, the video is a reflection of the larger film industry’s male gaze, where “chick flicks” stand as an exception to the normative explosive blockbuster. Since its inception, Hollywood has established and perpetuated a patriarchal line of assembly, starting with the salaried studio system. American cinema’s brief and modern history still lacks a strong female presence. “Love the Way You Lie” was written by Marshall Mathers and two other men, who then approached Rihanna with the song. Considering that one of the song’s two producers is a man and the video’s director is also a man, Rihanna’s role in “Love the Way You Lie” becomes more decorative than declarative, and in the video, Fox never really confronts her situation (she smiles with fire in her hands, but then we watch Monaghan strike her in slow motion), and the last image we’re left with is her scantily sprawled body. It’s still a part of the same grotesque male-interpreted fairy tale we’ve been cultivated to believe in.

“Love the Way You Lie” is no groundbreaking anthem, nor does its video glorify as much as simplify the complex realities of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse. It is, however, a tremendous avenue of dialog, though not down our familiar streets of controversy. Kahn’s video and its tedious triteness is proof that there is still much to uncover regarding violence in a world that continues to lord one narrow sex and gender expression over all the rest. More importantly, our romantic visions of domestic violence and abuse are in desperate need of a reality check so that its diverse range of victims can more easily identify with each other regardless of our differences. Whether we’re women, men, movie stars, pop singers, or just broke college students, the true scars of domestic violence and abuse are deep and powerful, and it takes a lot more than a burning house to understand and heal them.


  1. this is a great post. typically speaking, i happen to appreciate eminem and the fact that he has the moxie to address things in a way that no one else will. however, the video happens to be fairly realistic (i say this from watching 30 seconds, but upon reading the rest of your post, i get that it may not be)

    i did, however, find the video triggering and with no initial warning of that probability, i was unable to prepare myself. i unfortunately suffer from ptsd as a result of my abusive marriage and when i watched it, or tried to watch it, i immediately burst into tears and stopped breathing. not really ok. at the time i initially read the post, there wasn’t a trigger alert (thanks for adding one!). i follow and look at issues concerning DV regularly because i want be able to affect change, be of service, while also maintaining a sense of awareness about it. it helps, in that case, to have a trigger warning up so that survivors can prepare themselves sufficiently if they intend to watch it. ptsd is unpredictable…

    i do appreciate your honesty, however, and really felt that you uncovered an oft ignored factor in videos and their propensity for glorifying domestic violence. the scars are “deep and powerful” yet sadly, there is a prominence of denial and ignorance surrounding DV from a world level. i can’t tell you how many people, women included, that said “are you sure you really want make that accusation? i can’t see him doing that” to me. it’s shocking and at the same time, indicative of how violence has saturated our environment and imbibed us with denial.

    Comment by sarit — August 12, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

  2. Hey there…I can definitely understand the trigger. I hate to credit a music video or a popular song with this, but while dissecting its lyrics, I too felt triggered. Until then, I had never considered my experience abuse, but once I did, I had to also confront how I’d perpetrated it myself. It’s true, there is a world denial of it, in others and in ourselves, for I too had someone telling me, “But I can’t see you doing that.” Oh, but I can and I have. Of course DV and abuse can look like the video, but there’s lots of times when it does not, and I feel that oversimplification has contributed to denial. Sorry about the trigger – there is now a warning. Thanks for reading and good luck with everything.

    Comment by Liz — August 12, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

  3. Triggers can come from anywhere, really, as can lessons and understanding of one’s own situation. Not much triggers me anymore in the way this video did, and I attribute that to being aware and conscious regarding my surroundings. I’ve had a lot of healing as a result of that type of awareness as a result of my meditation practice.

    Since my original post, I have gone back and watched the video in its entirety. It was shot well, with beautiful use of light, shadow, angle, etc.; at the same time, it was also clearly shot from a male perspective in terms of those same angles and lighting styles. Fox seems persistently under golden light, most flattering to anyone, right? She’s suggestive with her looks, almost as if she’s “asking for it” at times, which we know isn’t true in a DV situation. What the video does do, however, is illuminate the mind-twist that is so prevalent in those situations: the placation of gift-giving, the constant presence of alcohol, the intrigue, the desperation to try and change the situation with one’s sexuality, the tug of war, and the isolation. Those things DO happen, and most people who are lucky enough to walk away are too afraid to admit to them. It’s a means of survival in a world where domestic violence is looked upon more often than not as an irritation or something deserved. Our media tells us over and over again how “hot” it is to be afraid, cowering to some dark shadow. I’m glad you talked about it, and I’m grateful for Feminist Fatale in general for persistently shining light in dark corners.

    Comment by sarit — August 12, 2010 @ 10:57 pm

  4. Thanks, Sarit 😉

    Comment by Melanie — August 13, 2010 @ 2:17 am

  5. Liz with yet another fabulous,think piece 🙂

    That said,I can’t stand this song.I love this song.That pretty much sums up how I feel about this song.It takes abuse,a very serious,dangerous and sometimes deadly subject and makes it pretty and golden.Literally.They apparently live in the land of the eternal late afternoon sun.The video features 4 very attractive people telling a story that almost can’t be heard for the imagery.Let’s face it,Megan and Dominic are hot and the effects are cool,most people won’t/can’t see past that.And that’s wherein the problem lies like you said.

    But on the flip side,I give Eminem cred for pushing envelopes and buttons yet again.I may dislike 80% of what he says but he says what no one else will,even when it’s really not PC.And he does it with wit and speed.It’s art.The inspiration and even the execution may be questionable,but i can’t deny the boy’s artistry.

    Barring those things,I have to agree with Liz,in the end it’s not about proper portrayal or PSA status.It’s about a known abuser and a known victim making a vid about the exact (extremely high profile) situations they were in.It’s a way to sell records.Not the most high brow way of doing it,but that’s the sad fact of the matter.

    Comment by Cleo — August 13, 2010 @ 12:03 am

  6. Thanks for inspiring me to update my blog and post about this video. I have been fascinated by it for quite a while. It’s become a theme song to yet another relationship I am trying to end…

    Comment by Mariko Passion — August 19, 2010 @ 10:35 am

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