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Eminem and Rihanna: what are they telling us about domestic violence?

Eminem and Rihanna: what are they telling us about domestic violence?

Love the Way You Lie made its first chart appearance in July this year, debuting at number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Sung by American rapper Eminem and pop singer Rihanna, it describes a violent and passionate relationship. Kiri Bear, DVRCV’s Partners in Prevention project coordinator, argues that we shouldn’t let Eminem and Rihanna teach young people about domestic violence. [stextbox id="grey"]This article was originally written for the Gippsland Women’s Health Service Summer 2010 newsletter and is republished here and in our Summer 2010 Quarterly with permission.[/stextbox] They say there’s a song for everything, so given that relationship violence is (sadly) part of the human experience it’s only natural that people would choose to sing about it. Violence against women is a taboo issue so I am always heartened to hear it spoken about in popular culture. What isn’t so great is the way that some songs contribute to myths and misunderstandings about violence.

Equating violence with passion

Still shot from Rihanna and Eminem music video Love the Way You Lie equates violence with passion and even suggests that the recipient of the violence somehow enjoys it. In reality, survivors of violence tell us they never wanted to be hurt or controlled, and that they stayed in the relationship in the hope the violence would stop. Love the Way You Lie occupied the top position on the Billboard charts for seven consecutive weeks and the film clip broke YouTube records for the most number of views in a 24-hour period. The film clip shows Eminem and Rihanna singing in front of a burning house interspersed with clips of a violent relationship. While the lyrics show some insight into the cycle of violence:

I apologise even though I know it’s lies


Sounds like broken records playing over

they are peppered with myths which shift responsibility for the violence away from the perpetrator.

Victim blaming

First, blame is placed on the victim:

Your temper’s just as bad as mine is, you’re the same as me

Rihanna’s role is limited to singing the chorus which begins:

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, that’s alright because I like the way it hurts

Anger 'taking over'

Still shot from Eminem and Rihanna video The second big culprit is anger:

The rage that took over

and in the first verse:

I feel so ashamed I snap

Love and violence

The third excuse is love itself

You ever love somebody so much you can barely breathe.

Although Eminem’s lyrics are a frighteningly realistic representation of what men who use violence might be thinking, there is nothing in the song that challenges this. Violence is a choice and the responsibility for violence lies with the perpetrator. It is not a mental health issue, it is not about anger and it has nothing to do with love.

The film clip

The most insidious part of this song is the film clip. httpv:// Visually stunning images depict two attractive, passionate individuals locked in a romantic and violent struggle. One moment they are hitting each other, the next they are kissing. The images themselves are selling violence as part of a romantic relationship. In the background of this collaboration is Rihanna’s own experience of domestic violence at the hands of ex-boyfriend, Chris Brown. Last year Rihanna ‘came out’ as a survivor of violence with an interview on television current affairs program 60 Minutes. In the interview, Rihanna mentioned her responsibility to her young fans as a prime motivator in speaking publicly about her experiences. One can’t help but wonder what happened? Perhaps we will find out next month when her album is released with Love the Way You Lie Pt. 2, a follow-up single where Eminem will sing the chorus and Rihanna will sing the verses.

Conversations you could have

It might be worth starting a conversation with a young person in your life about Love the Way You Lie. Ask:

What do you think? What kind of relationship are they talking about? Is that what love looks like?

Bear in mind that a fan’s relationship to their favourite music can be quite sophisticated – many listeners might pick up on the contradictions in what’s being described. It’s also worth noting that criticising particular styles of music or bands doesn’t usually get very far. Ultimately popular culture is not young people’s most trusted source of information – as long as they are getting better information from school or their family[ref] Smith, A., Agius, P., Mitchell, A., Barrett, C. & Pitts, M. Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2008, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.[/ref] If we don’t talk about domestic violence with the young people in our lives, then we are leaving it up to Eminem and Rihanna.

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