by Conor Friedersdorf
The video above is quite popular, and generating some controversy in the blogosphere. Here's Joe Carter denouncing it at First Things, The Last Psychiatrist defending its message, and Alyssa Rosenberg panning it as art elsewhere at The Atlantic.
I've long been vexed by Eminem, a tremendous talent whose narrow range, stubborn repetition of theme and sub par album tracks caused me to steadily lose interest in his career. Imagine if Dave Eggers had written A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and then included extended laments about the premature death of his mother in 75 percent of all his subsequent writing. Beyond it being tiresome, we'd all have missed out on the impeccably paced You Shall Know Our Velocity, What is the What, etc.
So I credit Marshal Mathers with stretching himself somewhat here. Domestic violence isn't a new theme for him, exactly, but here we're at least confronting a different aspect of it: as The Last Psychiatrist puts it, "The song isn't about Domestic Violence (capital letters, you are in the presence of a construct) but about a kind of love that substitutes magnitude of emotions for quality of emotions." In the same blog post the author goes on to write:
Why does the song have to be about "Domestic Violence" anyway? Why can't it just be about two screwed up people, one of whom is a soccer hooligan? Because there are certain themes that are not allowed to be merely depictions-- they have to be about "awareness" and "sending a positive message." Domestic violence is one of those things, and before you say anything observe that homicide is not one of those things. Neither is adultery or cannibalism. We choose our causes based on something other than the cause.
Domestic violence is treated differently because its perpetrators believe themselves to be engaging in normal behavior, as do many of its victims. It's desirable to disabuse them of that notion, whereas no one thinks that homicide is normal or okay, cannibalism isn't even a societal problem, and adultery is hardly a problem comparable to any of those other things.
This isn't to say that domestic violence shouldn't ever be portrayed artistically. But the video above doesn't render the reality of mutually abusive relationships -- doesn't help us access the truth about them -- so much as it shamelessly romanticizes them. In a way, the problem is that the portrayal is insufficiently violent: a pretend world where punching through a wall doesn't hurt your hand, shattering a mirror doesn't cut you, drunken altercations that come to blows escalate only far enough to make the throws-of-passion sex that much hotter, and punching your girlfriend doesn't result in ever seeing her with a broken, bloodied nose or swollen black eye or concussion or worse.
While we're on this subject, I highly recommend this post by Hilzoy, who the blogosphere is still missing very much.