I've been meaning to write this since I saw the video for the first time a couple of weeks ago, but I suppose I haven't been confident enough to really articulate well enough what I feel about this song. So I guess I caught the boat pretty late and then floated around for a bit. What follows is in no way going to take the form of a full review – I'm not up to that. Rather, I'm going to offer some thoughts and feelings on this song/video as it appears to me.
It's fair to say, we all know Eminem isn't a great fan of women, period. Most people know that, right? My feelings on this song are not so much that I feel shocked about the vitriol that is able to emanate from his sour little poor-me-millionaire mouth, but rather that the reception (in the UK at least, of which I am aware) has been so, well... unflinching.
For starters, let's not mess around. This is a song about domestic violence. (In my view, it's also potentially a song about homicide, but we'll go there later). Many of the reviews I've read, even from the Guardian (which has, of late, been covering a few more stories along the lines of 'new feminism', OBJECT, etc.), were very lacklustre in their analysis of the song. There were smatterings of contentions raised that the song "glamourises violence" and so on.
In my view this a) doesn't go nearly far enough, and b) tells us what we already know. Of course it effing glamourises violence, isn't that what it's all about?
Some of the commentary I've read pussyfoots around whether in the video we see Megan Fox's character being hit, or whether she is 'giving as good as she gets'. Since it appears that this video unleashes a strange form of periodic blindness on it's (re)viewers, this is what I saw: she gets hit, punched, pushed, grabbed and strangled, and towards the end of the video, appears to be punched to the ground. Whether or not she offers a slap or two back, the fact remains that this video depicts violence. It just does.
If the video didn't show it, perhaps the lyrics might have given a clue. No?
Some have commented that Eminem's lyrics attempt to offer some elucidation of why one might commit violence against a partner. OK, sure. But it also seems to be proposed that this therefore offers some kind of mitigation, makes it OK, makes it understandable. For me, it certainly doesn't. I don't agree that any violence can be condoned, however volatile the relationship. But most of all I disagree with the idea that Eminem's lyrics condemn the act, or offer some form of apology.
Err... If it does, towards the beginning, or in the middle, well it ends like this:
I apologise / Even though I know it's lies / I'm tired of the games / I just want her back / I know I'm a liar / If she ever tries to fucking leave again / I'mma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.
I'm pretty sure incitement to murder comes pretty far down the list in the relationship guide top 10 ways to apologise?
What scares me the most is not that Eninem personally has it within him to hate women with such gusto. Whilst it's reprehensible that he has personally harmed anybody in this way, what he represents is not just one angry little man, but one angry man in a sea of millions and billions of angry men. Furthermore, he is one angry man with the ability to generate almost 70 million (as I write) hits on YouTube for a song about domestic violence, which as mentioned, proposes homocide as the "final solution to the woman question" (Dworkin, on the concept of gynocide – I apologise if this is too strident a reference).
Furthermore, burning someone alive is surely one of the most horrendously tortuous ways to murder someone – a method used primarily against women, designed to elicit maximum suffering and show ultimate disregard for human life – a fate we know too many women do indeed suffer (for example - see Mala Sen's 'Death by Fire').
What scares me, primarily as a woman, but also just as a human being, is that this song can be recieved so... well, that it is recieved at all.
In the UK 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domesic violence in their lifetime, and on average 2 women per week are killed by a male partner or ex-partner. As it is, domestic violence accounts for a quarter of all violent crime (and that is only what gets reported, it is well known that many women will not and cannot report abuse – on average a woman will be assaulted 35 times by her partner before she reports him to the police).
I strongly believe that if any other group of people (and in this instance I refer to women as a specific group) were attacked and murdered at such a rate, there would be a national uproar, an outcry. As Refuge are quoted as saying on their website: "The cost to society – both financially and in terms of human suffering – is immeasurable".
I'm not even going to get started, on this occasion, on the incidence of sexual violence.
Yet, I don't hear the outcry. Don't get me wrong, I know that groups like Refuge, Women's Aid, Fawcett and many many more groups and individual women campaign tirelessly for this situation to change.
But my point is that given what we know about violence against women in the UK, we still live in a society where a song and music video like this one can triumphantly leap to the head of the charts relatively unscathed by bad press or condemnation. To me, it feels like no-one even sees what's wrong with it, and if they do, they aren't all that bothered – which, frankly, terrifies me.
I guess hate perpetuates hate, and I shouldn't be surprised. This is the society we live in.
Additionally, one of the main things that worries me about this song/video is the sexuality embodied within all of it. More specifically, the message it projects about female sexuality. While the obvious thing to point out would be the sexual activity portrayed on the screen (though numerous women may attest to the known fact that women often initiate sexual engagement to placate a violent partner – I doubt this consideration would be one of Eminem's), I'm rather more interested in Rihanna's role in all of this.
I think we all know what her lyrics are in this song. (And in my opinion, yes it does suggest that she 'asked for it' or somehow enjoys being abused).
But getting straight to the point: what is Rihanna doing with her face? We kind of see similar things in a few music videos, but I'd say given the context this is a case in point. Vacant eyes + rubbing face, particularly faffing around suggestively with mouth = the new sexy face of mental distress.
There's just this weird thing linking women, sex, violence and mental health. In that women in videos project a look that reads something like "I want you to have sex with me", (not, crucially, I might add, I want to have sex with you) but this is projected in such a way - that I can't really pin down - that seems to imply that this shows us something deviant, perverse, or plain ill, about the woman depicted*.
And, although I'm hesitant to use words like "pornification" and "sexualisation" – as I hope I have more nuanced feelings on women, culture, capitalism and sex, which I can only adequately convey when I (hopefully) get to do my PhD – I think it is fair to say there are various recent trends in popular music culture that do involve a lot of sexual suggestion, flesh and, well, women.
But that music video trend + domestic violence makes for a heady combination, I'd say.
Particularly when we add to the mix a woman who has genuinely been a survivor of domestic abuse, playing that strange sexy victim role. While I don't want to get all 'backlash' on Rihanna (see Susan Faludi) – that is not my point – it does seem like a sad day when, for the PR-music-industry-machine-that-goes-by-the-name-of-Rihanna, her 'victimhood' is seen as something that needs to be capitalised upon. That is, something that can be packaged as sexy.
There are so many ideas that could contribute towards understanding this mixture of women, sex and violence (isn't that the basic recipe for misogyny anyway?). There is a vast repertoire of feminist theory and a raft of feminist concepts that could explain this in more detail, but for now, I just wanted to say...
What all this says about our society makes me feel pretty uneasy at best, terrified at worst.
However, I'm going to go out on a slightly terrible note. The annoying thing is, this song has a bloody great beat and it's really well put together. Musically, it's pretty great. I guess it's another case of "I've got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one". Hating women is so damn catchy.
* Of course, this link between women's sexuality and their mental health is age old. Just ask good old uncle Freud.
P.S. Can I just add: "Now you get to watch her leave out the window / Guess that's why they call it window pane" is truly one of the shittest lyrics I've ever heard.
Oh and I'm also aware that Megan Fox donated her fee to a women's refuge/charity. Good on her, but that doesn't change anything for me.