Domestic Abuse in Pop Culture
I can't say I had ever given much thought to domestic abuse before I heard the song "I Love the Way You Lie." If I was honest with myself, though, I really thought that it was all very simple: these women were with men who hurt them. Yes, the men were assholes. But in most cases, it was not altogether impossible for the women to get out of that relationship, and yet they chose to stay, sometimes even endangering children, the latter of whom have no choice in the matter. It was a terrible situation, but the choice seemed easy to me: don't date assholes, and if you do by accident, get out of that relationship as soon as you possibly can.
I remember when this song, "Love the Way You Lie" came out the summer of 2010. I even remember when I first heard it on the radio, and it caught my attention immediately. The chorus was absolutely haunting: a woman singing about her own hopeless destruction, and how that destruction is the very thing upon which she thrives. Like a drug, she's addicted to the pain that she almost can't decipher from love:
"Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
But that's alright, because I liked the way it hurts...
I love the way you lie."
The verses of the song are from her partner's point of view. The thing I didn't expect was to see that, in a seriously twisted way, the two really loved each other:
"Have you ever loved somebody so much, you can barely breathe when you're with them?
You meet, and neither one of you even knows what hit 'em."
And, contrary to what I grew up believing (and as you can see in the video), it takes two to tango. Both people in the relationship thrive on the conflict and abuse. Both people are the abused, and both people abusers. Every time they hurt each other, they promise each other and themselves that it won't happen again, but it does.
"We fall back into the same pattern, same routine,
but your temper's just as bad as mine is, your'e the same as me
When it comes to love, you're just as blinded...
Maybe that's what happens when a tornado hits a volcano
All I know is I love you too much to walk away"
Women are often threatened, like near the end of the song, that trying to leave will result in worse abuse to the women or their children. Then comes the scarring damage to self-esteem, especially in women, who are ashamed of such a twisted relationship, ashamed that they have put themselves (and perhaps their children) through so much for staying with this person. At that point, she thinks, "I am damaged, and I am worthless. No one else would want me, anyway. He is the only one who can truly understand me."
Throughout the video, the imagery of fire is used to represent the destruction caused by abuse in the relationship, but it also represents passion: an an all-consuming love/hate for one another. It starts as a small flame, and it's irresistible to each of them: they almost can't help themselves. But in the end, it destroys everything.
To me, this song is nothing short of a piece of art. Eminem is an incredible writer (come on, who else can successfully rhyme "nintendo game" with "window pane"?), and this 5-minute song singlehandedly changed the way I think about domestic abuse. All that time, I was judging women that I didn't even know, for being in a situation I know nothing about and had never been in myself. My only political belief about domestic abuse as a result is to do what I can to help these women, no questions asked.
In 2011, Rihanna came out with another song, "We Found Love." For some reason, this song, too, absolutely hypnotized me. I couldn't stop listening to it, and I couldn't get it off my mind. When you listen to the song, it sounds somewhat hopeful, a song about finding love in unlikely places. But when I saw the video, I was astounded.
WARNING: This video contains some disturbing images, including drug abuse.
The chorus is simply, "We found love in a hopeless place," and the video shows just what kind of a "hopeless place" the song is talking about. It isn't a pretty picture to say the least.
Like the couple in "Love the Way You Lie, the couple in this music video is disturbing: again we see a man and a woman in a tragic downward spiral, driven by self-destruction. they thrive on hurting themselves using alcohol, drugs, each other.
Fire imagery is also used in this video to symbolize self-inflicted pain. Catching things on fire provides a feeling of satisfaction, of power. think about it: with one little flame, how much can you potentially destroy? The "smoking joint" imagery in this video also represents how good it feels to the couple to hurt themselves: just like the burning joint, whatever you have to offer turns to ashes, to nothing. Whether it's drug abuse, a bad relationship, being an alcoholic, you know that what you're doing is bad for you, but you don't give a shit. Smoking cigarettes, emotional attachment to food that can lead to obesity and other health problems, or anorexia and bulimia. Whatever it is, it makes you feel like you're in control, and you can do whatever you want with your body. and it makes you feel good... until you aren't the one in control anymore.
All of this has new meaning this week when Rihanna is reported to have gotten back together with her abusive ex-boyfriend, famous singer Chris Brown. Leaked photos came out a couple of years ago of Rihanna's face beaten to a bloody pulp by Brown.
In response to critics saying that Rihanna is a terrible role model for going back to her abusive boyfriend, Rihanna came out with her latest hit, called "Nobody's Business", featuring none other than Chris Brown. You can imagine, I'm sure:
"I sing it to the world...
It ain't nobody's business,
just mine and my baby's"
In Sweden, an unidentified activist group has expressed their disapproval recently of Brown by posting the picture of battered Rihanna over pictures of Brown on posters around the city of Stockholm advertising Chris Brown's upcoming concert.
All this has put domestic abuse in the public conversation more than it has ever been before. It's clear that Rihanna is the woman in "I Love the Way You Lie." She is the woman in "We Found Love." I'm grieved by Rihanna's decision, not because she's famous or because I'm a fan, but because every woman deserves better. I'm sorry that she, like thousands of other women, have chosen to be with a man who doesn't respect her, but hurts her and perpetuates her cycle of self-inflicted pain.
In "Love the Way You Lie", Eminem uses some vivid metaphors to describe how someone in an abusive relationship might feel:
"[It's like] there's a steel knife in my windpipe,
I can't breathe but I still fight...
as long as the wrong feels right, it's like I'm in flight
High off of love, drunk on my hate,
it's like I'm huffing paint and I love it the more I suffer, I suffocate,
But right before I'm about to drown she resuscitates me..."
Even if it's in a very small way, we can all relate to the urge to do things that are not good for our bodies and minds and spirits. Fire is an incredibly powerful thing: If you look for it, you can see the ashes of others all around you. Do whatever you have to do to resist that urge in yourself and, lovingly, to help those around you do the same.