I published the last of my summer travel adventure posts last Wednesday and have been mulling over a topic since then. I decided to blow it off for a while. Secretly I was hoping that the entire Midwest would be hit with a blizzard of epic proportions, causing schools and business to close for several days, thus giving me time to crank this report out. Low and behold, it came true. I had two topics in mind. I am reading Ernest Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms and a depressing book about how little undergraduates study these days. Apparently, college students avoid classes that make them “read” and “write,” opting for courses that are entertaining. If a teacher assigns forty pages of reading a week and a twenty-page paper, undergrads avoid the class. I suspect it’s true. I read a self-study report from our English Department that concluded that requiring written Master’s Thesis in the Writing Program was a detriment to enrollments. It seems that students in Writing don’t want to write.
By Sunday afternoon, I decided on my topic. It was my day to clean the house. While my wife started shoveling through mounds of laundry, I grabed the mop, buckets, Windex, toilet bowl cleaner and other implements of destruction, and I cleaned the house from top to bottom. It takes several hours, but it’s my weekly obsession. I am a level ten neat-nick, a bona fide Islamo-fascist, Felix Unger. I can’t stand seeing a messy house. It makes my eye twitch. Maybe it has to do with my rehab or all the alcohol and drugs I used to imbibe, who knows!
To make the work go easier, I strap on my mp3 player, put on the head phones and jam up the music. My mp3 player is a hand-me-down from my daughters who have since moved on to I-Pods. While their glitzy, high-priced Apple Store products have bitten the dust, my cheap audio jukebox has just keep on ticking. It is big, bulky and ugly, but it rocks. This week the girls downloaded a song list for me so I could “get down” while I vacuumed and scrubbed the toothpaste off the sinks.
“Make me want to thro ma hands in the ayer, ayer, ayer!”
The list included several songs I hadn’t heard before. A couple of Motown rip offs by Duffy and Christina Aguilera, followed by an older “jam” by Flo Rida, and a strident tune from a band called La Roux. It was the last two songs, however, that really stuck with me. The songs were haunting duets by Eminem and Rihanna, entitled “Love the Way You Lie,” parts I and II.
At first these songs resembled the simple “love-gone-wrong” ballads, full of the sickeningly sweet “oh, baby come back” verses. But these were different; there was something seriously wrong going on. These were songs about a dysfunctional relationship and domestic violence, and what scared me even more was that I liked them. Was it too much Pine Sol and toilet bowl cleaner?
I have to admit that Rihanna’s voice is beautiful, but the scene she depicts in the song is frightening, especially for a Dad who is very protective of his two young daughters! How could I find myself enjoying the unfolding insanity? How could I listen to a song about a man who beat the woman he loved? Why didn’t she just throw gasoline on the scum-sucking pig while he slept? Those wife-beating screwheads deserve what they get! This was scary stuff; it reeked of sado-masochism, domination, dog collars, whips, chains, bondage, black leather, motion lotion, and edible underwear. Major league creepy!
The song is a duet, but the main voice, the one that exerts power is Eminem’s. It is the classic male ego on the edge of a meltdown, fraught with insecurity. The song is divided into three verses that give us a snapshot of a cycle of violence that begins with self-deception, which eventually falls into violence, self-deprecation, consolation, and repetition. In the first verse, the male condemns himself for striking his girlfriend. The condemnation is so severe that it brings her to console him. His self-deprecation is just another turn of the screw, because it manipulates her into a mothering role. For this reason, he sings, “I love it the more I suffer, I suffocate, and right before I’m about to drown, she resuscitates me, she fucking hates me and I love it.”
The relationship in the song is a constant struggle, a push-me, pull-you game of manipulation, domination, power, and bondage, which is disturbing when there isn’t a safe word. In place of mutual support, understanding and common decency, negative attention takes the place of passion: the pain and suffering of the relationship are what prove that their love must be real. In the perverse mindset, if the love weren’t real, there would be no reason to suffer.
The central contradiction appears in the Eminem’s line that says “wrong feels right.” This means that despite that fact that the he knows that violence is wrong, it feels right. In this twisted relationship, violence is love because it proves that the other person matters. He wouldn’t hit her if she didn’t matter.
The second verse song depicts a scene of jealousy, which is the reason why he strikes her in the first place. Even though he promises never to hit her again, his double talk says he’s not in control of himself. His promise is meaningless because nothing can guarantee it. He says he’ll never “stoop so low again,” but he adds “I guess I don’t know my own strength.” Thus, his desire is more powerful that he can believe, and his twisted love is more than he can handle.
What’s also apparent is that his insecurity is based on the denial of other men (real and imagined) who might receive attention from his girlfriend. Her simple hello or smile is enough to set off his doubt. Is his domestic violence a sign of his weakness masquerading as power? Is the fantasy of the Male Ego based on the denial of the existence of another who could be a better lover, manlier, and more powerful? Is this why males have been so obsessed with virgins? Could they not stand the idea of a woman with experience, one who could compare them to someone else?
The third verse presents the worst of the blame and responsibility dynamic: the loss of their individuality. If initially he accepted responsibility for his actions, he ends up blaming her for provoking him, stating that “I know we said things, did things that we didn’t mean,” “But your temper’s just as bad as mine is, You’re the same as me,” and “a tornado meets a volcano.” The I becomes a we, and by arguing that the victimizer and the victim are the same, his confession becomes an accusation, and the turn of events are justified as something that both participate in.
The alarming climax of the song occurs in the final lines of the song. After affirming how much this woman means to him, he states “If she ever tries to fucking leave again, Im’a tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” It is at this point that Rihanna’s haunting refrain responds and accepts a threat of death. She replies, “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, But that’s alright because I like the way it hurts.” But, what holds all of this together? What makes the pain worth suffering? The female vocalist begins and ends the chorus with the telling phrase, “I love the way you lie.” This may mean that there are two lies: his and hers. She believes that her suffering will change him. The fantasy of the lie that brings meaning to suffering and violence, because how else could she suffer if it weren’t meaningful? The cycle is complete in this twisted logic. Although it is based on fantasy, it is no less real. She realizes the deception, but the pain causes its own meaning because she uses suffering to demonstrate that love must be present, even in self-immolation.
As I finished cleaning the toilets, showers, and bedrooms, I couldn’t help but wonder what other lies people tell themselves to justify suffering and violence. How many other kinds of lies are there that people use to justify their insanity? Probably too many to count.
At any rate, my horse came in on Monday afternoon, and it paid off big time. As I finish this post, Midwesterners are staring down the biggest winter storm of the century. We are expecting anywhere between 14 to 20 inches of snow fall, whiteouts, blowing and drifting, Jack London-style wind chill, lunar landscapes, and power outages. I gassed up the snow blower, loaded up the fridge, and I’ve got plenty to read.