Eminem and Rihanna’s recent chart-topper, Love the Way You Lie, tackles the painful and prominent issue of domestic violence without resorting to shallow stereotypes.
The song follows the story of a violent relationship, narrated by the abuser. We are privy to the twists and turns in logic that run through the abuser's mind as he attempts to justify his behaviour - “but your temper’s just as bad as mine is”, he pleads.
Interestingly though, we also glimpse the moments of clarity - the shame and the galling realisation of what it means to be a woman-beater. And it is this that makes Love the Way You Lie both fascinating and instinctively repulsive - this is not the ramblings of a deluded maniac but of a troubled man struggling to draw lines between love, fear, hate and anger.
Rihanna is noticeably absent for the majority of this track, coming in only for the chorus:
“Just gonna stand there and watch me burn; well that’s alright, because I love the way it hurts.
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry, well that's all right because I love the way you lie."
This is, to say the least, uncomfortable - a song about domestic violence in which the only female voice is reduced to painfully affirming, over and over, how much she loves the beatings.
This has led to commentary that it glorifies domestic violence and makes it acceptable. Indeed, the video (directed by Joseph Kahn and starring Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox) begins with the woman hitting the man, and throughout there is an interplay between sexual passion and violence, which could be seen to be promoting the idea that the victim 'provokes' or in fact enjoys the violence.
This is where the role of Rihanna is key. The photo of her horrific domestic violence was shown throughout the world. She asserts it happened to her; she did not cause it. Initially she went back to her perpetrator, but then left him because, "When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result into some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that".
The idea of the loving relationship is why so many victims return, and through the chorus repeating that she loves the hurt and lies it highlights the psychological hold within violent relationships. Love is used as a reason for both the violence and for staying together.
There is a quiet strength to Rihanna's singing, and coupled with the ironic undertone of the lyrics, the chorus could also be reaching out to perpetrators. Of course the woman doesn't love it, and no matter how much he excuses or gets her to excuse the violence, it is not justified.
From 3.13 in the video there appears to be a a point of no return; it only takes a look from the man to stop the woman leaving, and Eminems lyrics push through his excuses and show his acceptance of his violence and power, culminating in the lyrics,
'I know I'm a liar, if she ever tries to f**kin' leave again, I'ma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire'.
Rihanna's soulful chorus chimes in straight after, and we know the fate of the relationship.
The video ends with Eminem and Rihanna looking at the burning house, and then a repeat of the first clip of the couple lying in bed. This both emphasises the cycle of abuse and the need to leave the relationship at the point where it becomes abusive.
The song and video leaves you with a haunting insight into the cycle of domestic violence and where it can end up- and gives the message to leave the situation before it is too late. The song's message is for both the victim and perpetrator, sung by a victim and perpetrator who are no longer in abusive relationships. It sends out the message that there is a way out.
Rihanna was able to leave her situation because the abuse was in the spotlight and she had the financial means to physically get away. The court took it further than she wanted because it was such a high profile case- and even then Chris Brown felt he'd been let off easy due to his status. Recently a TV executive got only 18 months for killing his wife, after an argument over a joint of beef, because the judge deemed it a 'tragic accident'. For victims to feel able to leave and be safe and for perpetrators to get appropriate help, domestic abuse services and just prosecution are essential.
One in four women and one in six men in the UK will be the victims of domestic violence during their lifetime. Two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. To get advice on or help with domestic abuse you can:
talk to your doctor, health visitor or midwife
call 0808 2000 247, the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline
run by Women's Aid and Refuge (calls from a landline are free)
call 0808 801 0327 for the Men's advice line
call Respect on 0845 1228609 (www.respect.uk.net) - advice and
information for male perpetrators of domestic violence.
call the Mankind Initiative on 01823 334244 (www.mankind.org.uk)
treatment for female perpetrators of domestic violence.
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