The first time I watched the Eminem/Rihanna duet, “Love the Way You Lie,” I was bawling so hard I couldn’t breathe. Heck, I can’t even hear the song in a restaurant or bar without either tearing up or just getting the hell out of dodge. I resent the fact that it’s such a popular single, and that I have to hear a song about domestic abuse when I’m just trying to get a bagel.
The song has done its job.
I found myself thinking of this video because one of my favorite bloggers, Tom Matlack, waxed poetic about how Eminem sounds like “raw unfiltered manhood” to him.
Now, Tom—I love you. I love GMPM. But when I hear Eminem, I hear (along with unbelievable talent and occasional humor) hate and rage. That’s why the song is so effective. Perhaps what you’re trying to tell me, by equating Eminem’s hate and rage with “manhood,” is that every man is suppressing hate and rage.
Sure, that’s probably true—most of us are suppressing hate and rage, but I don’t know very many women who would express it the way Eminem expresses it (then again I don’t know very many men who would either). But you go on to celebrate how “It’s about the fundamental disconnect between a man and a woman: about the way we lie to each other.”
Is it? Really? Because in “Love the Way You Lie,” as you so eloquently point out, the lie is that “this time will be different” when it comes to beating up your girlfriend. Is that really fundamental? I’m skeptical of any claim of a “fundamental disconnect” between men and women, as that assumes that there is some essence of men and some essence of women that are at odds with each other, and that lead to some universal disconnect.
That’s bullshit; most of our disconnects are socialized. But, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there is such thing as a fundamental disconnect between a man and a woman. Is it really outlined in this song? Are all men and women in coupledom together going through some version of this relationship?
My guess is no. But, the song also wouldn’t affect me so deeply if I couldn’t relate to it somehow. No, I’ve never been in a domestic abuse situation. But I think most of us know what it’s like to promise, or have someone else promise, to change. And then not change. Or not change enough.
I think most of us know what it’s like to get mad and act on it, and to have someone get mad right back. I’m pretty sure that’s universal.
So perhaps there is some universality here. Some fundamental something. Just not in the way that Tom meant it.
Some people have accused the video of glorifying domestic abuse. What’s glorified about it? Because it shows that people in abusive relationships have sex? Because it acknowledges that abusers do something besides abuse? Because the people in the relationship are good looking and well lit? Please.
If that’s “glorifying,” then any honest discussion of domestic violence will “glorify” it to a degree, because the very problem is that abusers don’t act like abusers 24/7—they have good days like anyone else, which from what I understand is often the whole draw for their partners sticking through the abuse in the first place.
The most important thing is to discourage domestic violence. If this video in any way counteracts that, then yes, we should be concerned. But I’m not so sure that’s the case. After watching this video for the first time, sobbing uncontrollably, I didn’t feel turned on or excited by the sexuality. I felt terror, rage—“oh, fuck, it happened again.” That’s not a sexy feeling. It’s awful.
What do people think? Does it glorify? Is it pure raw manhood? Something else?
Mariah MacCarthy is a playwright. This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on her blog, A Rehearsal Room of One’s Own.
Tom Matlack Responds:
Thank you for your amazingly thought-provoking piece. I think we agree on more than you think. Let me try to explain, in light of your piece, a bit more about why I am moved by this song.
You are right that there is no universal essence of manhood or coupledom. I have only my own experience—as do all the contributors to GMPM, male and female.
In my own experience, as a recovering addict, I know all about making promises that are not kept. At the core of addiction is promising to change and being unable to. This applies to putting down the drink, in my case, but on a much deeper level to telling the truth about myself and being willing to try change those patterns of behavior which don’t serve me and my loved ones.
The crux of “recovery,” which happens to be the name of Eminem’s album, from which this song is taken, is the part where you have figured out all the shit you do wrong and you stand before God (as you understand him/her/it) and ask for assistance to change. My motivation to find goodness in myself, and inspire others to try to do the same, comes from that moment of humility in my own life, and the powerful results it has had to make me a better father, husband, and man.
To me, goodness comes down to telling the truth. When I think about the things I have done most wrong in my life, the times when I have hurt people I love , it comes down to being a liar and a cheat. And yes, I am talking about my inability to love in an honest way.
Eminem hasn’t been a role model; that’s what he is talking about here, too—his own understanding of the need to get honest with himself if he is going to get anywhere. And he is holding up the mirror for the rest of us guys to look at: what lie are you still telling yourself?
Rihanna is also singing about her own struggles here, about what it is to be lied to, about being stuck in a destructive connection to someone who is lying to themselves, and to her, about changing—about the gut-wrenching pain of loving and hating at the same time. It is about her decisive moment too, about getting honest with herself about what is really going on in her life.
The only way she can sing a song explicitly about her abuse is if she sees it for what it really is and is been able to move onto a better place. That is what I find the most moving—an abused woman singing with courage about what it was like to love the lie that was being told to her, and allowing us all into that world to see the pain it caused.
Read Tom’s original column here.