I saw the commercial earlier this week and I couldn’t believe it. Law & Order: SVU was set to do an episode fictionalizing the Chris Brown/Rihanna saga. I instantly thought “Whabckuyetfkjhvdcjh?” Part of me wanted to watch, and that same part of me knew it was going to be a horror show train wreck. Based on the condensed version of the episode Gawker put up today, I can tell I was right.
The episode aired last night and featured characters oh-so-stealthily named “Mischa” and “Caleb Bryant.” As Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak notes, that’s not where the similarities end between the episode and real life. He writes, “the show went on to reference Chris Brown’s apology video, Chris Brown’s bowtie, Chris Brown’s [nude] pic, Chris Brown’s duet(s) with Rihanna, Rihanna’s request to relax the restraining order she was granted, the leaked picture of Rihanna’s battered face, Chris Brown’s tattoo that kind of resembles Rihanna’s battered face and Chris Brown and Rihanna’s voluminous social-media interactions.” There was even a meta “joke” uttered by Richard Belzer about how this fictional couple should go on a double date with Chris Brown and Rihanna. Gag. As if we hadn’t heard enough domestic violence mocking at The Oscars.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that Dick Wolf and his team would try to mine Chris Brown and Rihanna’s unfortunate relationship dynamic for views; the show is known for its “ripped-from-the-headlines” storylines, as Juzwiak calls them. What does surprise me is that Mariska Hargitay – who in her time off from the show works with victims of domestic and sexual violence via her Joyful Heart Foundation – would agree to appear in an episode about a real, live couple going through this real, live drama in real life. Not only does the episode mock the actual pop stars (which as I’ve written about previously is surely harmful to Rihanna’s self-esteem) but it goes so far as to script the Chris Brown character murdering the Rihanna character. God, my stomach turned just typing that. Juzwiak says, “It’s rare that Chris Brown seems unworthy of whatever ire people fling his way, but suggesting that he’s a burgeoning multiple murderer is slanderous. At the very least, it’s a morbid prediction for Rihanna’s future, as she’s back with Brown.”
Feministing featured a post today titled 5 Reasons the Chris Brown and Rihanna SVU episode was both awesome and bad which I am frankly shocked by. While I will admit that it is sort of hilarious in a campy way that canned New York reporter Sue Simmons was featured in this episode, I just can’t see anything “awesome” about it. Entertainment Weekly has a more appropriate and appropriately titled critique here. In it, Hillary Busis writes, “A ludicrous story of rape and bondage inspired by a bestselling erotic novel is one thing — but basing a plot on a real-life instance of domestic violence is quite another, and laughing at “Funny Valentine” would feel wrong.”
The International Business Times reports that “Neither Rihanna or Chris Brown has commented on the episode, either on their oft-updated Twitter feeds or through their publicists. Representatives from NBC Universal declined to comment on the episode either.” The publication also notes that were either of the stars to pursue legal action claiming defamation of character, they likely wouldn’t have a case. The takeaway here is – like with so many of this week’s stories – just because you can write something, that doesn’t mean you should. I’m sure, if asked, the writers of this episode would justify it by claiming that Rihanna is setting a bad example for girls by taking back her abuser. However, anyone who is truly concerned about Rihanna’s well-being and the example she’s setting should know that the best way to help her break away from Chris Brown once and for all is to encourage her to love and care for herself, not to mock her weakness and exploit her romantic compulsion for shock value and a few cheap laughs.