In his latest video, "Love The Way You Lie," starring Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan (Charlie from Lost) Eminem raps about what everyone is calling an abusive relationship. Stop. When you hear the words "abusive relationship" what do you think we're about to see?
a) guy beats girl
b) girl beats guy
c) they beat each other
You probably amended your answer as you read the choices, but grant me that most people reflexively choose a. The Huffington Post did: "Megan Fox Abused in [said video.]"
The video is decidedly not about that kind of abusive relationship. Megan Fox throws the first punch-- while Dominic is still asleep. And the second, and the third through the tenth, and pretty much all of the punches. The first 55 seconds of that video can be aptly retitled, "This Crazy Bitch Is Crazy, Why All These Bitches Gotta Be So Crazy?"
This didn't stop a lot of people from holding this up as an example of male aggressor domestic violence, and that is because they didn't really watch the video, they saw a guy in a tank top and went to Defcon 1.
In fact, the only people Dominic Monaghan does hit are a) a wall; b) some American Eagle wearing mofo in a bar; c) a mirror.
Ok, ok, not totally true: he does hit Megan Fox once at 3:45, and if I am interpreting this video correctly, it is because she was asking for it..
Slow down, I hear you, check your prejudgmentices at the door.
What Dominic (and Eminem) do a lot of is talk tough. Threats, yelling, intimidation, punching objects, "I'm feeling a lot!" these are the tools of male weakness, aptly embodied in Dominic Monaghan. I liked him in Lost, but is anyone buying this guy is a physical threat to anyone? Not wearing a shirt only makes you look like a better fighter, but you'll still need to sneak up on your target and hit them in the face with a bottle. This next sentence is 100% accurate: I could take out Dominic Monaghan,
Megan Fox, and Eminem, all together, even if they were all armed with
toasters and I was asleep in a bathtub. This isn't bragging, it's just
that tattoos don't actually make you strong or else every girl I knew at the beach was a superhero.
"I guess I didn't even know my own strength," says (Eminem speaking as) the abusing boyfriend. Nope, that's what you want me to think, because you don't want me to realize that I just witnessed your maximum strength. Bristle that fur, wildman, bristle bristle. "I'm a man, STRONG, yes I hit you and it was wrong but you should also know that I restrained myself because I love you, if I really let my anger out you wouldn't stand a chance." Yeah, yeah, you'd have to sucker-bottle me first.
In these relationships, the hold over the woman isn't physical, it's nourishing. The song isn't about Domestic Violence (capital letters, you are in the presence of a construct) but about a kind of love that substitutes magnitude of emotions for quality
of emotions because that's the next best thing. I don't mean this next part as an insult: toddlers do this. They want you to extra love them up, but if you're watching the Radiation King they'll not hesitate to lick an electrical socket to get attention. They would rather you yell at them than ignore them, and that emotional charge they get temporarily sustains them. Spam isn't ham, but if you're starving it'll do. And yes, eventually you will get used to, and even like, Spam. It is repetition compulsion and it is inevitable. Look, in the video Dominic is strolling through the vodka aisle and he can steal anything he wants and he chooses to steal... Stolichnaya. Freud was right.
This is why it is so hard for women and men in such relationships to leave. Yes they are afraid but the real fear is abandonment, starvation: this is your whole life, how do you walk away from everything you know? You know it got violent yesterday, but you also feel emotionally full: the contrast between yesterday's anger and today's teddy bear gift is so gigantic that your emotions top out, like cocaine or winning at blackjack. The absolute value of that love may be much less than "a good man's," but he can't provide the differential. That's the toddler problem.
Asking them to stop battling each other is to ask them to fast, what should they do when they get hungry? They both feel no one will ever love them as much, and dopamine or whatever is going on in their brain confirms it. While you're yelling from the outside "get away from him!" from the inside they try to deflect with high emotion substitutes: drugs, pregnancy, cheating. After a while, your life is that cycle. You can break up, sure, but each of you will probably repeat that pattern elsewhere, because the problem isn't the specific partner in front of you but the way you sustain your relationships. And when you both work off the same patterns, you'll be together ten years longer than you should be. When you're hungry, you gotta eat, and you may have heard of hunting and cooking and peeling garlic but Spam is SO EASY and you know EXACTLY how to get it. Bonus: it now comes with Stoli.
The only solution I have ever seen work is that one of the people has to change the way they respond to the other. You hate me when I bring up certain topics, so I'll give you a parable; one thing I've noticed about the mutually abusive is their clinging to spirituality because when you live by no rules the psyche demands you to impose them from without:
And when the toddler comes ferociously upon you and yells, "I AM TWO AND I AM UNCONTAINED!" do you beat him like a dog? Teach him that the rest of your life will have to wait while you unleash your anger on him-- so central is his existence? Or rather, do you calmly show restraint, neither do you reward his mania with your emotion? They are filled by your love, but they will settle for your attention. He who feeds a Chaos will raise a Demon.I'll let you work out the details for adults.
Let's just dispense with one thing, formally, right now: hip-hop is not a periscope on the black experience, and Eminem is evidence. This isn't to say that it may not speak to/about blacks, but it speaks to Kansas white girls a whole heck of a lot as well. The myth that Top 40 hip hop is still black is mostly perpetuated by culture writers who a) have no other contact with blacks whatsoever, and desperately need this as a source of information and to pretend to be diverse; or b) culture writers who don't like blacks, don't really know why they don't like them, and need an easy target.
Here's an example, and I hope my terrible writing skills will be able to effectively articulate this because it is extremely important.
Here's how a writer at The Atlantic describes the video:
I suppose I genuinely sympathize with both of them. Rihanna went through a public, awful domestic violence incident that she's clearly tried to work throughNote the exaggerated "awfulness." The only person who would describe it that way is a person with no personal interest in it. How do you know it was awful? I'm not saying Rihanna liked it, but... isn't Rihanna saying she did? Isn't that the whole reason she is in the video in the first place?
Her (the writer's) thinking is infinitely narcissistic, it refuses to even attempt to understand the experience from the other person's perspective because it does not CARE. Of course it was awful, but what, precisely, did Rihanna think about it? This thinking chooses a label, and then tries softening the use of that label by feigning outrage or sympathy. You'll see it often/always when race is the topic; an earnest by self-absorbed white person will reveal their unconscious racism but hide behind their progressiveness and intellect:
"We're being ironic!" No you're not, you're idiots.
Here is the primary difference between The Atlantic's perspective and Eminem's audience's perspective of the video: to the former, the video is a discussion of an issue; to the latter, it is CCTV of their lives. And probably a routine Thursday at the Inem house. It is too real and too usual for them to describe it as an "awful domestic violence incident," any more than they would describe their dinner as "a reliable spaghetti scenario."
The Atlantic writer discusses the song in that same superficial, deeply ignorant, aloof manner.
But this just feels incredibly self-indulgent. Eminem's slow. Rihanna's autotuney.
That's written by someone who needs to pretend to like hip hop music, i.e. a poser. "The wine has a smoky, fruity aftertaste." ? "The painting was minimalist but jarring, an amazing use of color." ?? But why do you have to pose? You don't have to like hip hop, or understand it, to write something about it; you could simply write as an outsider, "look, I have no idea what the hell I'm looking at, but here's what I see" and still give the reader something valuable; but the reason she is writing isn't to teach the reader anything but to convey the impression that she is a serious critic of hip-hop. She's not writing for you, she's writing for herself, for her identity. This is how she began the article:
I tend to be a defender of Eminem's poppier impulses, as long as they make good use of his skill set.
This is when I reflexively bit through the neck of my rum bottle, yes it hurt, but it saved me from a stroke. This woman doesn't really care about hip hop, though I'd bet big stacks she truly believes she does; and she doesn't really care about domestic violence though I'd double down on those big stacks that she really, really, believes she does. It's all a show.
Eminem has no interest in glorifying domestic violence. He is speaking to the majority of his audience who completely, utterly, deeply "get" the song:
- "This song completely changed my life"
- "I love this song"
- "I want a relationship like this, intoxicating just like a drug"
- "I know every word"
- "there's no words to describe how much your music turned my life around and also saved my life"
- "this song, so deep, so awesome"
And that's just the women.
This song isn't about Domestic Violence, it's about people.
Why does the song have to be about "Domestic Violence" anyway? Why can't it just be about two screwed up people, one of whom is a soccer hooligan? Because there are certain themes that are not allowed to be merely depictions-- they have to be about "awareness" and "sending a positive message." Domestic violence is one of those things, and before you say anything observe that homicide is not one of those things. Neither is adultery or cannibalism. We choose our causes based on something other than the cause.
Yet you're going to find a lot of people who can't wait to say: "it's not a positive message to send to kids." Fine, but this is when you pipe up? Someone on the Huffington Post used this video to offer up the warning signs of domestic abuse, here they are for your education: Jealousy, Controlling Behavior, Blames Others, Cruel, Past Battering. I stand vigilant. Prior to revealing these insights, said writer includes this caveat: "remembering that though these warnings are written in the guise of straight man/straight woman, abuse knows no gender or sexual preference boundaries. " That's what she needs to tell you, "I'm sensitive to lots of things, battered women and sexual orientations," that's where her head is at. The article has no value in preventing Domestic Violence, it is all about identifying her.
I may not like Eminem's music, but I am able to see how his lyrics speak to a lot of people that no one else is speaking to, unless it's down to. If you want to know why there's Domestic Violence, that's why.
Maybe you can't feel the song because you don't have a personal connection to that kind of relationship. Ok, let me use a different example. There's an other video, Airplanes, not Eminem's but he does rap on it:
alright lets pretend Marshall Mathers never picked up a pen
lets pretend things would have been no different
pretend he procrastinated had no motivation
pretend he just made excuses that were so paper thin they could blow away with the wind
Marshall you're never gonna make it makes no sense to play the game there ain't no way that you'll win
pretend he just stayed outside all day and played with his friends
pretend he even had a friend to say was his friend
and it wasn't time to move and schools were changing again
he wasn't socially awkward and just strange as a kid
he had a father and his mother wasn't crazy as shit
and he never dreamed he could rip stadiums and just lazy as shit
fuck a talent show in a gymnasium bitch, you won't amount to shit quit daydreaming kid
you need to get your cranium checked you thinking like an alien it just ain't realistic
now pretend they ain't just make him angry with this shit and there was no one he could even aim when he's pissed it
and his alarm went off to wake him off but he didn't make it to the rap Olympics, slept through his plane and he missed it
he's gonna have a hard time explaining to Hailey and Laney these food stamps and this WIC shit
cause he never risked shit, he hopes and he wished it but it didn't fall in his lap so he ain't even hear it
he pretends that...
You can complain about who is glorifying what and how someone is being represented as whatever, but in doing so you ignore the millions of people-- kids-- who are feeling neglected by you and represented only by Eminem et al. If you focus on Domestic Violence and miss their internal struggle, then you will neither stop Domestic Violence nor affect their lives, and they will abandon you. They already have.
Maybe this song doesn't speak to you, fine, okay, but trust me on this: there is someone who is hearing it, and if you are hearing it, it's for you.
More on rap music: Jay-Z