It's here. The music video for Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" featuring Rihanna has arrived, which means I can stop speculating about the potential impact of using a sex symbol like Megan Fox to act out a narrative about domestic violence and actually watch the damn thing (and then resume speculation).
The video, which premiered last night on MTV, stars Fox and Dominic Monaghan (of Hobbit fame) as her tortured, tattooed lover. She's the first one to get violent, after he comes home late at night with a girl's number scrawled on his hand. (Shades here of the rumors that just such an encounter was what "set off" poor Chris Brown.) She hits and screams and clocks him real good. He explodes, slams her against a wall and punches right next to her head. Then they begin furiously making out. It's hot, hot, hot. The intensity! The push-pull! Fox's pillowy lips!
But then, in another vignette, he goes up to a dude she's talking to in a bar and decks him with a beer bottle and pounds his face in. There are more make-outs, screaming, crying, an apology teddy bear, a mirror is punched in. Throughout, there are clips of Fox playing with fire, literally, and the video climaxes with the both of them, and their home, bursting into flames. Get it, kids? Play with fire and you'll get burned.
Part of me cringes thinking of all the teenagers who will watch this and, if they're anything like I was at their age, find it incredibly sexy -- sexy being anything that is extreme, frightening and hard to comprehend. It makes me think of "Fear," that mid-'90s flick starring Mark Wahlberg as an older guy who is romantically obsessed with a high school virgin played by Reese Witherspoon. I was titillated by his predatory, caveman persona -- and, woo boy, the Marky Mark abs didn't hurt, either. But when I recently watched the movie again for the first time in over a decade, I was horrified. Horrified! Dude is an abusive psychopath, as the end of the movie makes painfully clear -- but I didn't care, I just filtered out the part where he terrorizes her family and kills her dog. (Hormonal teenage girls and their immense capacity to forgive bad boys.)
Despite the music video's after-school special ending, it isn't a PSA against domestic violence -- nor should it be, necessarily. It's a music video for a song that honestly and vividly captures the reality of a certain type of romantic mutual annihilation. You can package such stories as cautionary, but teenagers -- the impressionable youngsters we're always so worried about when it comes to depictions of sex and violence, and especially the combination of the two -- are going to see what they want to see, regardless. Ultimately, when analyzing the potential impact of this video, the most important thing to remember is that teenagers are savvy at recognizing, and tossing out, morality lessons that are merely tacked onto a tale that is otherwise designed to be erotic. It's worth asking why Rihanna, the singer of the song's chorus and an actual victim of domestic violence (the brutal results of which we all witnessed) -- wasn't used as the fictional protagonist of this tumultuous love affair. Maybe because it would stop being sexy and start being real.