New Eminem-Rhianna Video-Does It Sanction Domestic Violence Or Does It Speak Out Against Battering?


The new video for Hip-Hop Artists Eminem's and Rhianna's I Love the Way you Lie is stirring up controversy across the country. The YouTube Video has amassed over fifty million hits in a two week period. The subject matter of the video is domestic violence. It includes violent imagery and swear words. Many in the media and elsewhere are asking, "Is this an anti-domestic violence work or does it glorify and sanction domestic violence?"

I am a therapist in private practice working with children, adolescents, adults, victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. I also teach a Healing Emotional Pain and Loss Class to incarcerated men and women at the San Francisco County Jail.

The first time I viewed this video, I was deeply alarmed at the violence portrayed and the message conveyed. The following is my interpretation of what the song and video are about. I understand and honor that others will have differing opinions than mine.

The video opens with Rhianna singing with fire in the background. She sings about being in a state of intense suffering at the hands of another, but excusing it because she either is in denial about the abuse or she is so fearful of him leaving that she allows him to batter her.

A man played by Dominic Monaghan and woman played by Megan Fox are in bed together when the woman notices another woman's phone number written on the man's hand. A physical altercation begins that at times becomes extremely ugly and abhorrent.

The fighting is interspaced with passionate kissing and caressing that seems to depict the cycle of violence where fear, anger, emotional hurt, excuses and apologies come fast and furious. It is akin to watching a train wreck where you want to turn away from it, but at the same time you feel compelled to become engrossed in the film.

The man raping the woman; having sex with her without her permission is not depicted, but is certainly implied here. The video also gives the message that men and women have an equal role in domestic violence. This certainly isn't the case; research indicates that many more men batter women than woman physically abuse men.

The intense scenes played by them are interrupted by Eminem and Rhianna singing most often separately. There doesn't seem to be a connection between the two of them. Rhianna seems pretty robotic in affect while Eminem is all lost in his hostility.

The theme of jealousy flows through this work and the response to it is always rage and violence from both the man and the woman. The video gives the message that the answer to any interpersonal conflict is physical retaliation. There is no subtlety or nuanced approaches here. The message here is: If you feel that you are disrespected, go track that person down and beat them to a pulp. You are not accountable for your behavior and shouldn't even consider the ramifications of your violent behavior.

Towards the end of the video, Eminem sings about if his girlfriend ever decides to walk away from him again he will make sure she cannot leave the house and then set it afire. You see the house ablaze and feel overwhelmed by the fear and hatred.

Here are some responses bout the video that I have heard from folks I work with: "It is real, it's too real". "Eminem and Rhianna wanted a hit record. Money is the record company's motivation for putting this thing out". "This video clearly glorifies domestic violence, it sends out the wrong message." "This song and video accurately describe my experience with being a batterer and being battered". "Eminem was simply telling his story. The video is neither pro nor anti-domestic violence."

I can empathize with all these points. It is irresponsible of Eminem and Rhianna to not overtly discuss the pain and horror of domestic violence. The video needs a lesson plan to be included that discusses the effects of domestic violence and what resources are available for assistance.

I also feel that young children and teens will be watching this video with their peers. They will interpret their hero Eminem to be giving permission to beat up women. They will feel that they have been given the green light to assault girls without a second thought.

What are the young girls going to think about Rhianna here? Will they believe that in order to keep a man that you must allow him to beat on you? Will they adapt the mindset that men are superior to women and they must submit to that belief system?

So, what do we do about songs that seem to advocate violence? Do we censor them? Who will be on the Censor Board? I don't believe in censorship. I believe that this song gives us the opportunity to address domestic violence and we should do just that.

Adults can have round table discussions about Love the Way you Lie. We can learn from each other from these forums.

It is important for parents to be aware of what their kids are watching and listening to. They need to print out the lyrics which can be easily found on the internet. This song, while controversial, can be a great teaching tool. Some of the pertinent questions to ask are:

  • What does I love the way you lie mean?
  • Why does Eminem seem to become unglued when he senses that his girlfriend is leaving him? What is he actually experiencing?
  • What do you think about the man in the video?
  • What do you think about the woman?
  • What is the cycle of violence and what can be done to prevent it?
  • Is it ever OK for a man to hit a woman?
  • What is battered women's syndrome?
  • How do men recover from being batterers?
  • Why do men batter women?
  • How does domestic violence affect woman?
  • How does it affect children?

Editor's Note: This video contains powerful images of domestic violence, and as such may stir up powerful emotions and memories in some viewers, including profound helplessness, anger and rage. Other viewers may be in the middle of such a messy violent relationship *at this moment* and not know what to do about it. Still other viewers may find themselves wondering why anyone would stay in such a troubled relationship. Please refer to our Abuse topic center for information on understanding more about Abuse. In particular, readers may find the following articles useful:

Abuse Defined

Why do people abuse?

Why do adults stay in abusive relationships?

If you or your children are currently experiencing abuse

  • Edris Cooper

    I agree that is definitely irresponsible for them to not overtly address the violence in the video, in the video.

    There is no interpretive value to this video or song - it does not transcend and there is not an aesthetic balance. It simply recreates, for the viewer, scenes of violence.

    By asking us (in Eminem's rap) 'have you ever been', he is asking us to identify this dynamic, which is not a majority of how relationships work, thereby NORMALIZING it.

    On the other hand, it is stimulating serious conversation and I am sure that many young female viewers are disturbed by this and it is a hot topic among them and their peers. Not a bad thing to have happen.

    AND -the level of violence against women on television in general is something to take note of It is the bread and butter of evening police dramas (CSI, Without a Trace, NY whatever - all focus on violent crimes against women. And on any given evening you can turn on your television and see a battered, raped, bruised and abused woman on every channel. Hip-hop, most often, takes the rap for what they do and are held accountable but I think network television promotes more violence against women than any other medium.

  • skohala

    I think your analysis of this video is missing some important contextual information which may help people clarify the musicians' intentions. First of all: Rihanna herself is currently one of the most famous/high profile known survivors of domestic violence within celebrity/youth culture. After her ex-partner (Chris Brown) was convicted of assaulting her she spoke out many different times, in many different contexts against the dangers of domestic violence and urged girls and young women to NOT feel compelled (for whatever reason) to stay with men/boys who are abusing them. I believe (not that I know her or anything but setting her participation in this project alongside this fact) that she chose to participate in this song/video specifically because it depicts and problematizes the way in which people get caught in these kind of relationships and find them difficult to get out of.

    I am not so much a follower of Eminem and I realise he's said many very problematic things about women in his time, but he has also been quite open/honest about the difficulty he has had in relating to women/in his relationships with women (and how this has often resulted in anger towards both individual women and women in general). Whatever you think about Eminem I think it is clear he doesn't spare himself any more than he spares other people. For these reasons I believe/suspect that these two people came together to make this song/video which looks honestly and brutally at the dynamics that can (not always, everyone is different in their own way) occur in some situations where domestic violence happens and to show how unhappy these kind of situations make people (thereby problemtizing and questioning them as useful/effective/healthy ways of relating). You're right when you say Rihanna looks robotic and Eminem looks lost in his hostility -- because that's how it can be when you're in those kind of relationships and that is what they are very effectively depicting. The song/video is a morality tale that shows how far wrong/just how far things can go when you allow situations of violence to occur and don't get out/stop it. The fact that there is no "happy ending" where everybody realizes the error of their ways and comes to lead happy/healthy/more productive lives after many years of psychotherapy/counselling doesn't negate this fact, rather its an artistic decision to tell a different kind of story.

    ps - the other clue that this is at least the artists' intentions (to problematize, not glorify, DV) I would argue is in the song title itself (Love the Way You Lie). No one actually loves being lied to (or how other people lie to them) so they are trying to point out from the get go that people who accept these situations/try to convince themselves it is ok/they love the other person/the other person loves them, are in fact deluding themselves and accepting being lied to (which we all know is a bad thing).

    ps2 - not that I need to, or probably should even, but maybe I'll try to justify my analysis by adding that this comes after nearly 20 years in the anti-violence field in many different capacities and talking/working with many people on all sides of the coin as well....

  • Jahma

    As a survivor of domestic violence, and as a professional who has helped both abusive men and abused women, I can tell you that this song and video captured me, nearly every line resonated so true.

    Music (espeacially lyrical music) appeals to us for many reasons but one reason is that it provides a way that we can feel understood, we feel "attuned" to the song writer and singer when they accurately capture our feelings and put them into words. When that song writer is writing about a lost love, and depicts these feeling accurately, we feel comforted knowing that someone else has felt this way before too. When the song writer is writing about injustice, and depicts these feelings accurately, we feel relief that someone has the same sense of despair and outrage. But for some reason, when the song writer writes about a social problem, such as domestic violence, and depicts it accurately, we somehow call them "irresponsible."

    Both Rhianna and Eminem have not attempted to conceal private portions of their lives that they accurately portray in their song. The way Eminem blames his victim, holds her equally responsible for the problem, becomes enraged at her abandonment, describes how he feels "high" on his anger and loves the feeling of it, even how he demands that she hear the "sincerity" in his voice when he's "talking to you" are so totally accurate, it's shocking. There is no "message" he's trying to convey, he is accurately describing the feelings of a man who abuses women. Even if I knew nothing of his history, I would immediately know that he has an intimate knowledge of an abuser.

    And Rhianna, well she's robotic, numb, doesn't say much of anything at all. A perfect portrayl of an abuse victim. What she does say, is "I love the way you lie" She isn't agreeing with abuse, she's acknowleding that the lies abusers tell are what we long to hear (it won't happen again, I love you, I'm so sorry, you mean everything to me, etc. etc.). Anti-socially disordered individuals are masters of this art.

    I hate that I was abused. I blamed myself at first, thinking as a professional, I should have been able to see or predict this. And as a professional I regret to admit, that I blamed women who were abused, because I didn't understand it. But the fact is, even I could not predict it, prevent it, or stop it. I had to wait until he left me, so that I would not be killed. Every word of this song, remind me of that experience. My experience resonates with each line. When Eminem speaks, I see the face of my abuser with all its contorted emotions. When Rhianna wails, I see myself.

    In short, their song is no different from any other popular song. It accurately depicts feelings that some of us feel attuned to, some of us feel outraged by, and some of us feel vindicated by. It simply depends on your own personal experience what feelings erupt in you. But it is, what it is. Its genious is that it can capture many people's feelings, regardless of whether they are a "tornadao," a "volcano," or a mere observer or student of tornados and volcanos. It is what it is: REAL.

  • Ladonna

    Rhianna may have intended for this to be an anti-domestic violence film considering her recent past victimization by abuser Chris Brown, but I feel this is a misguided attempt that more glorifies domestic violence than scorns it.

  • jessica

    im not a professional.i can only relate to personal experience. its hard to watch this video since it makes me realise the reason why i never left my abuser all these years. i hated and loved him at the same time and i couldnt understand it and havent been able to summarise it. but its true i loved the lies he gave me.

    Dominic Monaghan reminds me so much of my exe in this video.i thank them for this song. it helps me to heal.

  • Paul

    As a profesional working with males, found guilty of different DV charges, I can descrive this video as the best visual

    /verbal explanation of the "Cycle of Violence."

  • Grace

    Editor's Note: The video contains graphic images of women's faces after having been beaten by their partners.

    This is a video, directly adressing the seriousness of the domestic violence mentioned in the song "love the way you lie" by Eminem and Rhianna. THe video is less than a minute and a half long. it is domestic violence awareness month. The song, which talks about abuse, and it feeling "good" could potentially have devastating effects on the anit- abuse movement. This video depicts the reality of abuse, especially for the young women who may have heard this song. Please feel free to share with the people you love.

  • Anonymous-1

    While Rhianna handled abuse with grace and class, I don't find it fair that she was thrust into the spotlight as some poster child. The video is an honest depiction of a violent relationship between two violent people. It was complex and uncomfortable. Eminem and Rhianna are artists, not politicians or therapists.