Backdraft: DV=”Differing Views” on Dating/Domestic Violence

August 9, 2010 Consider this a ‘preliminary post’ to address the Eminem/Rihanna video controversy that’s scorching the blogosphere with the Love the Way You Lie lyrics being deconstructed to a farethewell. (read the comments on EW’s music mix, Jezebel, The Guardian, an important one from the Gainesville Sun/GatorSports angle, and  CB, “where escapism can be smart” just to name a few)

Far beyond the flames of dysfunctional relationships and abusively unhealthy dating drama depicted in the video, the notion of media literacy deconstructing this conversation is an important one to uncork with teens, albeit a tough and potentially traumatic one.

I’m out of my league here, as I feel like it’s all hairsplitting when it comes to violence and abuse in relationships. To me, so-called “common couple violence” is oxymoronic at best (what’s ‘common’ about wailing on each other?) so that’s part of the ‘social norming’ backdraft I’d like to PREVENT entering the lexicon (or heads!) of developing teens who may take a media cue that “rough stuff is passion play”…Turns my stomach, really.

So, I have a call in to Susan Risdon, press liason for the NDVH National Domestic Violence Hotline in Washington and the Love Is Respect National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline to try to untangle the verbiage and lexicon that’s stymied many a social media conversation about what does and doesn’t constitute “DV.” (dating violence? domestic violence? can they be used interchangeably?)

When BOTH parties are sparring with verbal/physical toxicity, does this merit a different category than when the power-base of terrorism whirls through like a tornado coming from only ONE-side of manipulation, control and intimidation? These are the kinds of semantics that I don’t remotely pretend to know, despite having just read the upcoming book Tornado Warning by Actionist(TM) Elin Waldal, her own poignant survivor’s memoir of teen dating violence and its impact on her worldview and her kids.

Elin’s just completed some intensive DV counselor and certification teen training, now on a well-earned vacation having just sent the book to press for fall release, so I’m not buggin’ her on this one. (yet)

For now I’m leaving the nuanced aspects to the pros adding my two cents only when I can shake loose from the analysis paralysis engulfing me from my very visceral reaction to the music’s storyline. (it’s a bit jarring that the ‘million voices campaign’ spreading the word for DV help has already reached 2 million calls to the hotline on the receiving end)

First (NSFW language warning) the Eminem/Rihanna video:

When songs and videos like this hit the airwaves (and top the charts) with muddy media messaging, it can fuel instead of dampen a fire with volatility potential for BackDraft akin to the 90s Ron Howard film.

There are lots of ‘raging fires’ among Facebook friends (I’ll sum some of my favorite comments on both sides later) but the “BackDraft” notion I’m specifically referring to in terms of damaging fallout with teens was summed nicely by a comment made on the PigtailPals FB page, by Jennie Dalcour, who wrote:

“Music videos are a major source of the sexualization of young girls. Mixing sex and violence together desensitizes young men to violence against women and further rape myth acceptance. Since the main characters end up kissing in the end, the take-home lesson to kids is that violent relationships are passionate and exciting. This is definitely not the lesson I want my children to learn”

It gets even more confusing when we factor in whether it’s ‘meant’ to be a conversation opener, since Megan Fox donated her proceeds to a battered shelter, and Eminem/Rihanna have their own intentions and motivations regarding their abuse/recovery/cathartic/mea culpas stemming from their sordid tales, so I’ll dodge the verbal sparring on that for now and instead focus on HOW media like this lands on kids.

What media literacy questions should we be asking to have youthful eyes and ears filter the messaging productively? Is there such a thing?

How can we best give kids the critical thinking skills to navigate our jumbled media/marketing world that blurs the lines between drama, passion, deceit and despair blasting 24/7 on multiple channels of media…

Why are so many media-depicted relationships amped with toxic relational aggression, obsession, or power-based plotlines (teen soaps, dramedies, even peer to peer escapades in ‘mean girl’ mode with secrets, lies, tricks, etc Is it really all about ratings=conflict/shock schlock vs complex character development?)

What shows or media examples can we point to with healthy relationships?

How can we use media to reveal the warning signs of less than ideal personality pairings?

How can we introduce interactive media to help teens sift through what’s drama and what’s danger? Sites like Love Is Respect or The Line Campaign to establish clear cut boundaries and get hands on help safely and fast?

Is it plausible to help discern and dial down coercive behavior from the onset using digital tools to reach kids like A Thin Line or BOM411 (Boss of Me) to prevent controlling patterns and help kids feel less isolated and lonely when  they’re conflicted about what constitutes abuse or annoyingly possessive behavior?

These are some of the questions I’d like to see in the media mix.

I’ve read tons this past weekend about the video controversy ranging from semantics, complicity and pouty-lipped wardrobe sexualization to awareness raising, ,profiteering and PSAs all with varying degrees of self-righteous indignation, including males being whomped on relentlessly by females and media’s coverage (or lack thereof) about same.

After awhile it all seems to be a fouled up blur, particularly having just come from the Global Leaders for Justice session, where much of this gender violence takes place with alarmingly surreal regularity on a disproportionately lopsided scale of violence against women (up to 6 out of every 10 women globally).

The chilling reality of the pop-up “escape” box to erase digital tracks and hacks (screenshot from NDVH above) bears witness to the seriousness of risk pointing to a ‘one way’ upperhand (vs duplicitous/dysfunctional cycle depicted in the video)

It’s the very first screen that you encounter, like a fire drill or a ‘test it’ safety hatch on both the NDVH and Teen Helplines and it made me realize that many will contextualize abusive relationships quite differently, as this commenter on the Jezebel blog,  SenioritaQuemada critiques it as damaging for defining domestic violence with inaccuracy, to add to many of the other concerns:

Caveat, I know nothing about her authority/background, but am including this as an example of  “DV standing for ‘differing views’ in this debate, she states:

“Domestic violence is about systematic, long-term control. It happens emotionally, psychologically, physically and economically. The overwhelming majority of batterers are men, and the overwhelming majority of its “victims” are women. Batterers isolate women from their friends and family, cut off all means of independence and control their every move.

“Many batterers are not physically abusive for some time because they are able to exert such strong control without resorting to violence. They use threats, intimidation, and often abuse others, such as pets and children. It is intentional and pre-meditated. In between bouts of abuse, batterers will use a “honeymoon period” to psychologically manipulate women into believing that the romance of their love overpowers the violence”

“Considering how women are socialized into the idealization of romantic love by every aspect of our society, it should come as no surprise that this tactic works. Battered women do often fight back and sometimes kill their batterers, but it is most often a result of having so few options for escape from this torture. Domestic violence is NOT about anger, tempers flaring, lack of self-control or mutual manipulation of any kind. Our society is so misguided in its view of domestic violence that the most convenient explanations often rely on these myths. Do “volatile, passionate,” tumultuous relationships like this exist? Probably. Is it domestic violence? No. Whatever you want to call it, the relationship portrayed in this music video is not about one human exerting long-term, systematic, intentional control over another, and therefore cannot be called domestic violence. (Amy’s note: What do we call it then?)

What’s more, the fact that Eminem, Rihanna and all others involved in the production process made this song and video, knowing full well that audiences would view it and think, “That’s what domestic violence is,” is irresponsible and reflective of our societal ignorance about this issue.  That’s why this song, and this video make me angry.”

—Seniorita Quemada commenting via Jezebel blog

Mind you, I have several reasons it makes me ‘angry’ (frustrated, really) not the least of which is the misguided potential for teens to see obesession/possession as normative, since that’s what’s portrayed SO often in media moments lately.

The media literacy side of me is still playing ‘spot the spin’ in terms of whether this video is being ‘seeded’ for controversy and celebrity sales versus issue-based awareness raising (after all, the DV offices sure haven’t been staffed to handle the media response to this kerfluffle, when it would’ve been a slamdunk opportunity to have ‘press kit in hand’ if there were DV coordination and altruism in play versus profiteering/personal gain) Sorry, ‘just sayin’…

I’ll close part one with a simple NDVH  “million voices” style of question…

What do teens/youth in your world think about this song?

Or are they even thinking about it at all?

p.s. Interns…this is your ‘FlipVid’ street moment to shine.  Erin, Taylor, Derek, Kayla…bring it!

Related Resources on Shaping Youth

Attention KMart Shoppers, Dating Violence on Aisle 3

Predatory Practices As Sport: (Fantasy Football Sexualization)

What Does A 13-year Old Boy Know About Dating Violence?

Turning Boys Into Monsters: A Foul Taste (Again)

Additional Resources From Safe

Fact Sheets

  • Safe Dates
    This fact sheet describes Safe Dates, a primary and secondary dating abuse prevention program for adolescents, and its targets, content, and outcomes.
  • Teen Dating Violence Facts
    This fact sheet provides statistics on teen dating violence, including prevalence and frequency, parental awareness, teen awareness, incident reporting, contributing factors, and patterns in relationship abuse.
  • Teen Dating Violence Prevention Recommendations
    This fact sheet lists teen dating violence prevention strategies for victims, abusers, family members, friends, bystanders, and professionals that work with teens.

Excellent Resources & Aligned Convos For Solid Guidance/Prevention

DV Hotlines/Resources

The Safe Space

Break the Cycle

Love Is Respect

RespectRx Boss of Me

A Thin’s Over the Line (digital abuse/teen control)

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

See It and Stop It! Organization

Do Something Organization

LiveStrong: Teen Dating Violence

Love is Not (Liz Claiborne campaign)

APA: Teens/Love Doesn’t Have to Hurt (pdf) Cycle of abuse/DV; cause-effect

HSUS/Animal abuse & corollary w/domestic violence

Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness

Here Are Some Blogosphere Convos With Different Takes on The Vid


The Teen Doc

Women’s Media Center

Pigtail Pals

Smart Girls Know

Know of more? Please add ’em; media literacy=deconstructing all points of view



  1. George R. McCasland says

    Now he should consider making one showing that nearly half the batterers are women. Such as the Major League Baseball Pitcher who was beaten on by his girlfriend, a super model, while driving in their car on a California freeway at the same time it was happening to Rihanna. I guess it male victims don’t make all the news. It was just a back page story in the LA Times.

    Annette’s Story: The Other Face Of Domestic Violence

  2. George, it’s fascinating that I’ve seen your comments exactly the same in all of the blogs covering this story…

    Did you even read this? I linked to YOUR point of view on males/back page stories and female DV perps in the paragraph above,

    “including males being whomped on relentlessly by females and media’s coverage (or lack thereof) about same.”

    …Just sayin. 😉

    My follow up piece is also on that very topic as I know several males who ‘don’t tell’ thinking they’re emasculating themselves if they do; a double-edged complication/societal sword men bear all too often as well…

Speak Your Mind