Given the intense publicity given to Chris Brown’s violent beating of singer, Rihanna, and the subsequent release of her domestic violence-themed single, Russian Roulette, it’s hard to interpret her partnership with Eminem on the new song, Love the Way You Lie, as anything but symbolic. Unfortunately, it’s also hard to interpret this video as anything other than the message that true love is violent.
Eminem sings about how he hates the woman he loves, and alternates between expressing shame for his violence and describing how badly he wants to hurt her. Simultaneously, Rihanna’s beautiful vocals tug at the heart strings, representing the love side of the coin against Eminem’s angry voice. Add to this the acting by Lost’s Dominic Monaghan and super-sex-symbol Megan Fox, who alternate between beating each other and appearing to be deeply, profoundly in love. Eminem closes by threatening to kill her if she ever tries to leave him and, in the end, they lie in each others arms.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a beautiful song. Rihanna’s vocals are gorgeous; it’s was hard to not feel heartfelt while listening to them. And that’s the problem. It’s a powerful form of socialization. That we might internalize the message that passionate love and incontrollable rage go hand-in-hand is really very scary. It suggests not only that you should tolerate interpersonal violence but that, if there is no violence in your relationship, perhaps you don’t really love one another. Better go out and find someone who will beat you.
I’ve never been in an abusive relationship of that sort but as a young adult I thought I knew what love felt like. To me, it felt like fear. I knew that I was in love when I became deeply frightened that someone would leave me. It took me until around my 30th birthday to realize that a strong, loving relationship should make me feel secure, not terrified. These messages are insidious and ubiquitous and I do believe they shape real relationships.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.