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New Eminem-Rhianna Video-Does it Sanction Domestic Violence or does it Speak Out against Battering?

Bob Livingstone, LCSW

“WARNING! THIS VIDEO GRAPHICALLY DEPICTS AND/OR GLORIFIES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE INCLUDING ASSAULT. RAPE IS STRONGLY IMPLIED. DO NOT PRESS PLAY IF YOU MIGHT BE TRIGGERED BY SUCH MATERIAL”

The new video for Hip-Hop Artists Eminem's and Rhianna's I Love the Way you Lie is stirring up controversy across the country. The YouTube Video has amassed over fifty million hits in a two week period. The subject matter of the video is domestic violence. It includes violent imagery and swear words. Many in the media and elsewhere are asking, "Is this an anti-domestic violence work or does it glorify and sanction domestic violence?"

woman holding her hand out to say noI am a therapist in private practice working with children, adolescents, adults, victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. I also teach a Healing Emotional Pain and Loss Class to incarcerated men and women at the San Francisco County Jail.

The first time I viewed this video, I was deeply alarmed at the violence portrayed and the message conveyed. The following is my interpretation of what the song and video are about. I understand and honor that others will have differing opinions than mine.

The video opens with Rhianna singing with fire in the background. She sings about being in a state of intense suffering at the hands of another, but excusing it because she either is in denial about the abuse or she is so fearful of him leaving that she allows him to batter her.

A man played by Dominic Monaghan and woman played by Megan Fox are in bed together when the woman notices another woman's phone number written on the man's hand. A physical altercation begins that at times becomes extremely ugly and abhorrent.

The fighting is interspaced with passionate kissing and caressing that seems to depict the cycle of violence where fear, anger, emotional hurt, excuses and apologies come fast and furious. It is akin to watching a train wreck where you want to turn away from it, but at the same time you feel compelled to become engrossed in the film.

The man raping the woman; having sex with her without her permission is not depicted, but is certainly implied here. The video also gives the message that men and women have an equal role in domestic violence. This certainly isn't the case; research indicates that many more men batter women than woman physically abuse men.

The intense scenes played by them are interrupted by Eminem and Rhianna singing most often separately. There doesn't seem to be a connection between the two of them. Rhianna seems pretty robotic in affect while Eminem is all lost in his hostility.

The theme of jealousy flows through this work and the response to it is always rage and violence from both the man and the woman. The video gives the message that the answer to any interpersonal conflict is physical retaliation. There is no subtlety or nuanced approaches here. The message here is: If you feel that you are disrespected, go track that person down and beat them to a pulp. You are not accountable for your behavior and shouldn't even consider the ramifications of your violent behavior.

Towards the end of the video, Eminem sings about if his girlfriend ever decides to walk away from him again he will make sure she cannot leave the house and then set it afire. You see the house ablaze and feel overwhelmed by the fear and hatred.

Here are some responses bout the video that I have heard from folks I work with: "It is real, it's too real". "Eminem and Rhianna wanted a hit record. Money is the record company's motivation for putting this thing out". "This video clearly glorifies domestic violence, it sends out the wrong message." "This song and video accurately describe my experience with being a batterer and being battered". "Eminem was simply telling his story. The video is neither pro nor anti-domestic violence."

I can empathize with all these points. It is irresponsible of Eminem and Rhianna to not overtly discuss the pain and horror of domestic violence. The video needs a lesson plan to be included that discusses the effects of domestic violence and what resources are available for assistance.

I also feel that young children and teens will be watching this video with their peers. They will interpret their hero Eminem to be giving permission to beat up women. They will feel that they have been given the green light to assault girls without a second thought.

What are the young girls going to think about Rhianna here? Will they believe that in order to keep a man that you must allow him to beat on you? Will they adapt the mindset that men are superior to women and they must submit to that belief system?

So, what do we do about songs that seem to advocate violence? Do we censor them? Who will be on the Censor Board? I don't believe in censorship. I believe that this song gives us the opportunity to address domestic violence and we should do just that.

Adults can have round table discussions about Love the Way you Lie. We can learn from each other from these forums.

It is important for parents to be aware of what their kids are watching and listening to. They need to print out the lyrics which can be easily found on the internet. This song, while controversial, can be a great teaching tool. Some of the pertinent questions to ask are:

  • What does I love the way you lie mean?
  • Why does Eminem seem to become unglued when he senses that his girlfriend is leaving him? What is he actually experiencing?
  • What do you think about the man in the video?
  • What do you think about the woman?
  • What is the cycle of violence and what can be done to prevent it?
  • Is it ever OK for a man to hit a woman?
  • What is battered women's syndrome?
  • How do men recover from being batterers?
  • Why do men batter women?
  • How does domestic violence affect woman?
  • How does it affect children?

Editor's Note: This video contains powerful images of domestic violence, and as such may stir up powerful emotions and memories in some viewers, including profound helplessness, anger and rage. Other viewers may be in the middle of such a messy violent relationship *at this moment* and not know what to do about it. Still other viewers may find themselves wondering why anyone would stay in such a troubled relationship. Please refer to our Abuse topic center for information on understanding more about Abuse. In particular, readers may find the following articles useful:

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