A dynamic pop duo stormed the radio waves this summer, with their rage, woes, and contrasting inflections. Barring Taylor Swift’s uncomfortable 2010 VMA “forgiveness” performance, Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” is arguably the most disturbing product of the year.
Apart from Eminem’s standard vitriol and bloodcurdling tone, the lyrics about domestic abuse should, in the very least, irk conscious listeners. As a feminist hooked on gender equity and mass media, I just can't sing along to Rihanna’s abuse victim mantra: | Just gonna stand there and watch me burn | Well that’s alright because I like the way it hurts | Just gonna stand there and hear me cry | Well that’s alright because I love the way you lie.
Upon first listen, I saw the symbolism, and reflected on my own relational scars that “burn.” But towards the end of the song, Eminem deflates my understanding that the lyrics are solely figurative. In a fit of passion—or misogynist blather—Eminem threatens: If she ever tries to fucking leave again | I’ma tie her to the bed | And set this house on fire.
The song is a continuous intrapersonal battle for Eminem, as he attempts to navigate and manage his tendencies to beat Rihanna, or the typical, emotional, vacillating female she represents. By admitting her love for the pain and deceit, a subtle naturalizing of domestic violence—and women’s subordinate place in society—ripens.
While I acknowledge the counter claims—that the song actually raises awareness about domestic abuse crime— I cannot ignore the lack of oversight or direct engagement with the issue. The song is a tween, pop phenomenon, not some bold campaign to end domestic abuse. It is a step backwards for women’s social, political, and personal freedom.
In an Access Hollywood interview, Rihanna says, “He [Eminem] pretty much broke down the cycle of domestic violence, and it’s something that people don’t have a lot of insight on.” But it seems Eminem’s “insight” serves a pretty dire purpose: commodification of domestic violence and the apparently “natural” cycle it entails. A chilling cycle in which anger may lead to literal charring, one in which abuse becomes more of a bearable component in “real” or truly passionate relationships?
Although I immediately recognize the patriarchy and rights violations in “Love the Way You Lie,” popular media ask me to suspend my convictions for four minutes and simply enjoy the catchy rhythm. This is what I fear the most; as Marshall McLuhan insisted, the medium is the message.
Now I am all for snappy rhythms on my Pandora station, but I am not for the mindless karaoke-ing of misogyny. This pop number calls for an assertive, critical engagement with media producers, celebrities, and all the 5th-12th graders humming along to Eminem down the halls—back into their own relationships.