Not an Odalisque

I’m Slightly Annoyed By The Way You Misinterpret

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Everyone is posting about Eminem and Rihanna’s song ‘Love the Way You Lie’. I’m not going to give you a whole load of links, because, frankly, the discussion has already begun to bore me.

Here’s my confession: I love the song. I liked it on the radio. I loved the more explicit version which I downloaded and listened to thirty times in a week. It turned me on, and made me feel slightly sick. For two days it put me into a delicate mental state in which I was ready to flee, cry or fuck at any moment.

The song is, apparently, about domestic violence. The problem with typing “about domestic violence” is that it puts it into a space that’s about funding refuges and using phrases like “cycle of abuse.” It reduces it to a social issue. That’s like describing ‘Lolita’ as “a book about child abuse.” It is, but anyone who has read it knows that it is much more than that.

Some people are saying that the video is good, as it will raise awareness of domestic violence. What this raised awareness is meant to do, I’m really not sure. If there’s a surge of donations to shelters and interventions to protect women from their partners, I’ll stand corrected, but I can’t see it happening. Some people say it’s terrible, glorifying violence and putting women at risk. Perhaps there’s something in that. I doubt that people are so easily influenced as to begin beating up with girlfriends because they heard a song, though, so if it has such an effect (and, really, I doubt it) we have to look at culture more widely for explanations. Others are in between, saying that it’s good to raise awareness, but Rihanna should have been given more lines, or we shouldn’t be told the perpetrator’s side of the story, because we should focus on the victim. There’s also a lot about the history of the singers, but I can hardly keep track of the personal lives of people I know, so I’m not giving headspace to random celebrities.

It all misses the point. It’s a song. It depicts part of human experience, and it fulfils its obligation to honesty and to beauty, in my opinion, as a work of art. You may think it fails, that it doesn’t communicate an experience or that the words and music are badly arranged. Those are valid criticisms, unlike the one that it doesn’t read like a Refuge information leaflet. You like the topic but prefer your violence committed by women? I recommend ‘Goodbye Earl’.

I have an interesting story about ‘Goodbye Earl’, actually. I know two very responsible, socially aware parents who worked hard to keep their children out of gendered roles, and, being pacifists, never gave them toy guns or allowed violent games. One day they asked what their little girl was playing with her friends, and were horrified to hear that their game was to act out the murder of a man by his wife, taking it in turns to be the wife and come up with imaginative murder techniques. ‘How did she get such a thing into her head?’ they asked themselves, and then her. She’d heard her mother singing along to ‘Earl Has to Die’ once, in the kitchen.

It made me giggle. It also made me see why some parents want to protect their children from things which they aren’t going to understand, and which may influence them. So I entirely comprehend why ‘Love the Way You Lie’ had to be edited for the radio. The edited version, however, troubles me much more than the explicit one. What happens if you take all the sex and violence out of the story about a relationship full of sex and violence? You get a very sinister love song. We don’t know why he’s lying to her. We don’t know why she’s burning. We don’t know that he hits or, or pins her down, or what he’s going to do to her if she leaves. We do know that they have a tempestuous relationship and she loves it. That is something much more dangerous.

Written by Not an Odalisque

August 7, 2010 at 10:25 pm

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