not to say i’m great at either, but: so i watched love the way you lie, finally, after actually listening to it straight through while it was on the radio a couple times during today’s service project. i am mad tired, this is not coherent. also this is not exactly about the song specifically, also not about it “politically” (that word seems ill-suited) - i recommend you scroll through bfp’s tumblr for more on that.
this is basically i guess about pop music and how i don’t get what exactly anyone who says the video/song are glamorizing abuse would rather it do? would they rather it pull a movie-version-of-streetcar-named-desire and end with it some kind of explicit condemnation of abuse? because uh the ending of the movie of streetcar named desire sucks. it’s cheap and inconsistent with the rest of the movie and it leaves the audience feeling better, which - i don’t think that kind of story is very interesting when it does that. i think the play (in which stella DOESN’T leave stanley, in which she watches her sister get taken away, partly because of stella’s own complicity in denying the possibility that stanley could have raped blanche, and breaks down in sobs but doesn’t leave, doesn’t make a move to leave - you know she’s not going to) is so much more powerful precisely because it’s not just a downer, but unsettling. it doesn’t wrap itself up neatly, so it stays with the audience, i think, longer, more intensely.
pop music/theater is i think a good comparison to make because to me pop music - well, all music - is performance, and i think sometimes people who do feminist readings of pop music ignore the performance aspects of it. like one time i criticized some (very common, that i’ve seen) criticisms of beyonce’s single ladies, but something i didn’t mention there is that to me, the ache in beyonce’s voice on the bridge isn’t something that can be ignored. you can’t JUST focus on the lyrics in a pop song, any more than you can in opera (the pop music of its day), or than you can focus on the text of a movie without noticing the acting, the cinematography, etc. the ache there is what reminds you that this isn’t trying to be an anthem of any sort - it’s a break-up song, a fuck-you break-up song with a well-buried but still present undercurrent of real pain that this relationship didn’t mean the same thing to the dude as it did to beyonce (seriously okay i don’t see why you would listen to that song and hear “i want to be possessed by a man” and not “i want someone to commit to me the way i demand in a relationship” and this is, yeah, one of those times when i’m like “oookay i know we are all very excited about feminist pop culture stuff, myself included, but let’s not forget nuance okay?”)
love the way you lie is a performance, a story. a story most of us listening to it know has a lot of resonance in the real lives of the performers - but on its own, a story. back when i used to act i heard a lot of people saying, you can’t judge your character. you can be playing the worst most abusive hateful person in the world but if that’s what you’re actively thinking when you’re playing them, you’re gonna turn in a lousy performance, because no one thinks of themselves that way. you have to figure out where your character is coming from, how your character justifies this stuff to him/herself - or in eminem’s case, doesn’t, and if so then why it keeps happening. and the answer can’t be “because my character is an asshole,” even if you think they are. we talked a lot, also, about wants, how you have to know what it is your character wants, on a surface and deeper level, and that’s what it has to come down to because that’s what we all have in common, that’s what’s human, that’s what’s honest.
which is to say, you can’t ask, i don’t think, characters to condemn themselves - and in a situation like this, you can’t ask (for example) rihanna to condemn eminem either, because that’s not the story that’s being told. for a long time, that wasn’t the story of rihanna’s life. it’s not the story of a lot of people’s lives. and it’s the story of rihanna’s life now, but pop songs are, what, four minutes long? they don’t have room for a life story. pop songs are about expressing a moment, and usually, when you’re really FEELING a moment, you’re not reflecting on it. for better and, yeah, sometimes for worse. so i can see where cara is coming from here - but i guess i disagree that i want the song to clearly code abuse as bad. the only thing giving me hesitance here is that it is in fact a top 40 pop song, and a part of me does sort of wonder if mainstream pop should be held to a different standard than other types of art, because of the way it functions in our culture. so i guess, politically i have some reservations. but artistically… i guess i don’t think the point of art has to be to educate. i think it can be also used JUST to express. and what that means is that yes, if you just express something as your character feels it - some people are going to interpret it in some fucked up ways, just like they do in real life. some people are going to read lolita and think it’s a story of seduction by a little girl - in other words they will react to it the exact same way they react to real life instances i.e. roman polanski. but i don’t think that’s nabokov’s fault. he wrote a character that was true to life, which means people will react to him in lifelike ways - which are sometimes shitty ways.
and i mean - as i have mentioned, i recognize the success of his venture but it leaves me 100% cold because of how (with the exception of the father in toni morrison’s the bluest eye, because toni morrison is actually god, and also one specific perpetrator in one specific episode of law & order: SVU) i just can’t sympathize with child molesters/rapists. specifically that, it’s a personal thing for me. i wind up sympathizing with fucking serial killers on criminal minds sometimes, because of how empty and horrible their lives are, but child rapists, nope. so like - abbyjean mentioned how she just can’t care about seeing thing from the side of the abuser, and i think that’s totally legit.
but - i guess i also don’t think that trying harder to code abuse as clearly negative would necessarily be effective. i think the video DOES make it clear that the situation is abuse - if you are capable of recognizing that sort of situation as abuse. if you’re not, then i don’t know what more they could do exactly to make it more obvious to you.
over at the singles jukebox, katherine st. asaph wrote: “the key is the part everyone’s going to quote: “if she ever fucking leaves again, I’mma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” Em couldn’t emphasize this more if he stopped the track and played an ambulance siren. It breaks the meter, jars the ear and allows everything before it to be heard as the morass of rationalization, evasiveness and self-pity that it is.” and i think that’s also a good point - the music underscores the situation. musically that moment kind of sucks - but to me that’s exactly why dramatically it works so well. you’re kind of nodding along, getting caught up in it, and then THAT happens, with a big PAY ATTENTION TO ME marker (much like in shakespeare a drastic break in meter also tells you to highlight something specific), and you’re like, oh shit. and if you’re not… i don’t think it was ever going to happen, for you. ditto the chorus, which - i don’t think this is a chorus sung sexily, or tenderly, or lovingly. i think rihanna was a perfect choice for this even without her background because she has this very odd flat affect to her singing that, to me, lends an air of resignation to it, or brokenness or - something.
i am tired, this is long and incoherent. the point, such as it is (i.e. not very much so), i guess is - i think a person will react to this song the way they would react to a real life description of this situation. i think if you changed the way the characters expressed themselves, you would also change the real life analogous situation - so it’s not like people would be learning anything different. if rihanna said “i hate you and wish you would die,” then people would… probably still say it was her fault for sticking around, and if they didn’t then they would still only respond “appropriately” (ugh not the right word) to situations in which the woman was explicit about hating him and wishing he would die, leaving their reaction to the situation expressed in the song unchanged.
and - if you think there isn’t room in the world of mainstream pop for this kind of expression, i can see where you are coming from and it’s something i struggle with myself. i think about what bfp wrote here, about making space to have these conversations, and also think about how there isn’t space for them, and think about the extent to which pop reinforces vs. reflects, the extent to which it is a contributing factor and the extent to which it is a symptom, and i don’t know where i stand.
one last ETA and then i’ll shut up/go to bed for real: again with the difference between mainstream pop (which is sort of inescapable sometimes) and other things, is - artistically making people uncomfortable sometimes works, i think. but is it different when people who are survivors of domestic abuse are being made uncomfortable by this not infrequently for an extended period of time because of its being all over the damn place? another thing i think about.