Tom Matlack thinks a little too deeply about the Eminem duet with Rihanna, and it sparks a conversation about manhood and domestic abuse.
Confession: I can’t stop listening to Eminem’s hit duet with Rihanna, “Love the Way You Lie.” I realize it’s unseemly for a 45-year-old businessman to enjoy rap, but I can’t help myself. Sometimes art is so good it transcends boundaries and illuminates a truth far beyond its intended audience.
I first heard the song live on the MTV Video Music Awards, as I waited for my comedy idol Chelsea Handler to take the stage (she descended from the ceiling with a miniature house on her head, mocking Lady Gaga’s style). I realize “don’t ask, don’t tell” should apply to the television habits of middle-aged men—my 16-year-old daughter volunteered her disdain for such awards programs—but understand that I never wanted to like Eminem’s rap about drinking, fights, love, and remorse.
In the course of traveling the country talking to scores of men, I have come to see our problem rooted in our unwillingness to speak about our own manhood.
Eminem is a train wreck of a human being, and his songs are much more directly autobiographical than most artists. What comes through in his lyrics and music is raw unfiltered manhood. It’s like the guy crawled into my brain—and the brains of many of the guys I know—and was willing to expose it to the world.
At a time when male angst is running at epidemic levels, the song is about more than angst; it’s about the fundamental disconnect between a man and a woman: about the way we lie to each other.
I may be unduly imbuing this song with meaning, but it beautifully illustrates the paradox of truth-telling—that it often requires a confession of duplicity before anything productive can happen. Denial is a tried-and-true way to protect against a deeper reality that is too painful to confess. It’s true of addiction to booze or drugs—in which the central lie is that “this time will be different,” when the addict actually is getting ready to go on another bender—and it’s true of manhood too.
Men are in denial. We’re afraid to talk about our problems, in case just speaking about them will somehow make them more real. But it’s impossible to make something more real; we either ignore our problems or we face them. That’s why I often find myself gravitating to men who have made horrible mistakes of one form or another; they have been forced to see the truth of their situation, and they are left with nothing to protect, because the false edifice of manhood has been forcibly stripped from them.
I don’t condone Eminem’s behavior—just like I don’t condone the crimes committed by the men I’ve visited in prison—but they have something to say that we can learn from. We are all lying about something.
Of all the men who have inspired me the most—from a war photojournalist to the father of an autistic son to a Hall of Fame football player—the one thing that is undeniable is that their manhood isn’t skin deep. They face the truth about themselves and they live out that truth in every part of their lives.
To read Mariah MacCarthy’s response to this column, and Tom’s response to her response, click here.
♦ ♦ ♦
Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.