Eminem video prompts discussion about domestic violence

    “Love the Way You Lie,” a song by Eminem and Rihanna looks at the issue violence in relationships, but people disagree over the message.

    “Love the Way You Lie”  has topped US charts for several weeks. The recently released video for the song has more than 48 million hits on Youtube. The song and video look at the issue violence in relationships, but people disagree over the message.

    [audio:100820mseminem.mp3]

    As Eminem and Rihanna rhyme and croon about lies, love, leaving and forgiving, the video tells a story of a young, passionate couple. Actors Dominic Monaghan of “Lost” fame and Megan Fox of “Transformers” go from hugging to hitting in rapid-fire succession. Images of passion, violence and a house fire flash by. After watching the video, a group of teens said they liked the tune, but were confused by the message:

    Four teens speaking: “I had heard the song before, but had never seen the video up until now, and it was kind of shocking.” “To me, the message wasn’t clear, seems like it’s being glorified, rather than saying, when this does happen go get help.” “It if it was my relationship, I wouldn’t be having it!” “It seemed to portray Megan Fox as the weakest link, they’d fight, but then they’d make up, and in the end she was back with him!”

    Fans like 15-year old Tony Thomson have speculated whether the video refers to Rihanna’s own experiences. Last year, the star was beaten by her then boyfriend, singer Chris Brown: Thomson: Kinda looked like she was getting her revenge back, I guess.

    Either way, the video has left some people fuming. Witherspoon: Frankly, it was very very disturbing.

    That’s Marcy Witherspoon from the Institute for Safe Families, which provides education and advocacy around family violence.

    Witherspoon: It makes people think – young people think – that in a relationship, this is what happens, this is what should happen.

    Witherspoon says the video is devoid of positive messages, and she hates the idea of impressionable children watching it.

    Witherspoon: When they see a video that lasts a couple of minutes and the only time somebody does something sweet, like handing a teddy bear to his girlfriend, is right after he beats the crap out of her.

    Ivan Juzang of MEE Productions works with urban youth around issues of health, relationships, violence, and sex. He says poor city kids are the biggest consumers of entertainment media, and are thus bombarded with misleading messages.

    Marcy Witherspoon spends her days creating and distributing messages like "Men Can Prevent Family Violence." Juzang: So they just assume that the way to be in a relationship with a girl is to keep your girl in check.

    Girls, says Juzang, often mistake abuse and violence for affection, or just assume that relationship violence is inevitable. But while these messages may be reinforced by pop culture, Juzang stresses that it all starts at home: Juzang: They may hear it and see it in media, but for any of the kind of stuff, it’s more important what they hear and see in their community or in their homes and schools that actually makes the most difference

    Paul Bucovec works with “Menergy,” a Philadelphia program that counsels male domestic violence offenders. He agrees with Juzang that upbringing and community norms have the most influence on behavior. But he likes the song, and thinks the video makes for a good conversation starter:

    Bucovec: I’m glad – that’s what arts about, or even what pop art is about, to get people roused up, and maybe even a little confused about what the message is you know, make you look, and read….

    He says over the course of his long career counseling male abusers, films like “The Burning Bed” or “Sleeping with the Enemy” have inspired discussion about relationship violence. He feels the benefits of pop culture messages, flawed as they may be, outweigh the negatives:

    Bucovec: I feel a little bad for people who might get the wrong impression, or might use it to justify their crazed abusive behavior but by and large, I feel like those people are going to be fewer than those who are stimulated to think and talk about it

    Ivan Juzang says parents have to counter media messages.

    Juzang: Celebrities don’t have as much power as we think. Our research clearly says that young people want information the most from their parents, and they are not giving it to them!

    Marcy Witherspoon spends her days creating and distributing messages like “Men Can Prevent Family Violence”.

    Witherspoon: …but unfortunately, that’s not the message that young people gravitate towards, it’s not sexy.

    She says that fact that millions of kids will sing Eminem’s lyrics is frustrating, but it won’t stop her from trying to reach children with a different message:

    Witherspoon: Respect and responsibility in relationships, so that they learn healthy conflict resolution and we as adults start modeling those for them, then maybe this will just be music that they dance to, and think has a funky beat…

    But not a beat they follow in their daily lives.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.