Rihanna, like so many stars do these days, has taken to Twitter to defend herself against criticism from the Parent’s Television Council, which described her video for the single “Man Down“ as “an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song.”
The video premiered May 31 on BET’s long-running show 106 & Park and “shows Rihanna in an implied rape scene with a man whom she later guns down in an act of premeditated murder,” the PTC along with Industry Ears and the Enough Is Enough Campaign say. I wouldn’t exactly use the words “premeditated murder” since the action of the video takes place over the course of less than two days, but the crux of it is, yes, that Rihanna shoots her rapist, as Jezebel put it.
The lyrics of the song are entirely remorseful (I didn’t mean to end his life/I know it wasn’t right/I can’t even sleep at night/Can’t get it off my mind), so I wouldn’t describe “Man Down” as a “shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song,” either. I certainly don’t consider Rihanna a role-model for young girls, and I don’t think she tries to reach girls aged 12 and under with her music, unlike Katy Perry. Rihanna’s music is for adults: her melodies are sensual, her drum beats are hard and her lyrics are sexually explicit. (That said, given that her tracks are played on Top 40 radio, that doesn’t mean young kids aren’t listening.) My problem with Rihanna as an influence on teen girls is not that she uses adult themes in her work, but that – based on her song lyrics, anyway – she’s confused about where she stands on the issue of sexual and domestic violence. That may be because – according to rumor – she’s still in love with her abuser Chris Brown.
Dr. Jays.com reports that Rihanna agreed back in February “to lift her restraining order against Brown so they could both attend industry events without complications.” In March, she was quoted as saying, “It doesn’t mean we’re gonna make up, or even talk again. We don’t have to talk ever again in my life.” But last month, Rihanna and Brown started following each other on Twitter, and according to Dr. Jays, “Her fans immediately noticed and erupted with shock and anger, prompting Ri Ri to lash out with tweets like, ‘Its f***in twitter, not the alter! Calm down.’” Amidst rumors that the pair are getting back together, one fan wrote, “I never thought you would go back to him! You better not, its your life but you do have ppl that look up to you. e.g young girls.”
So there you have it. Like it or not, young girls do listen to and watch Rihanna, and she reaches out to them regularly on her Twitter feed. She sent a message yesterday (broken up in more than one tweet) which read:
Thank you for the amazing response on ManDownVideo I love you guys, and I love that u GOT IT!!! Young girls/women all over the world…we are a lot of things! We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naïve! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and #listentoyomama! I love you and I care!
In response to the video’s critics, however, Rihanna tried to make it very clear that she isn’t anyone’s mama, saying:
I’m a 23 year old rockstar with NO KIDS! What’s up with everybody wantin me to be a parent? I’m just a girl, I can only be your/our voice! Cuz we all know how difficult/embarrassing it is to communicate touchy subject matters to anyone especially our parents! And this is why!Cuz we turn the other cheek! U can’t hide your kids from society,or they’ll never learn how to adapt!This is the REAL WORLD! WeLOVEManDown. The music industry isn’t exactly Parents R Us! We have the freedom to make art, LET US! Its your job to make sure they don’t turn out like US.
Points well taken. As someone who was addicted to the kind of love that hurts, I get where Rihanna’s music is coming from. I’ve experienced the desperate obsession with abuse that she sings about in the hook of “Love the Way You Lie,” and I know what it’s like to want to shoot someone who has hurt you. I totally agree with Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart when she says, “This video is not instructional. Viewers should be quite aware that it’s a narrative and not a documentary.” Do I think Rihanna’s music should be played during your toddler’s bedtime? No. The music in and of itself isn’t the problem. The music as it relates to Rihanna’s real life inner-conflict is what I’m concerned about, because Rihanna’s actions do set an example for millions of girls, whether she wants that responsibility or not. If Rihanna does officially get back together with Chris Brown, that will send a shocking message that abusers deserve to be given one more chance, something I’ve learned the hard way more than once just isn’t true.
Rihanna is defending her video using the arguement that it’s opening up a dialogue about sexual assault, which I think is fair to some extent. It’s just too bad that in the video, the means don’t justify the end. Of course it’s a fantasy and Rihanna isn’t encouraging anyone to commit murder, but it’s worth noting that much of Rihanna’s music lives in the space where sex and violence meet.
Twitter user @sophiesgrrl made an excellent point this afternoon in response to Rihanna’s critics: “it’s really ironic how women r always exploited n videos..we watch women b raped&murdered.now a woman flips the coin &look!”
Truth. Unless the PTC is going to send out a press release every single time a woman is exploited in a music video (good luck with that), they need to be open to also discussing what Rihanna’s video does well, which is truthfully portray the ramifications of sexual assault. It is time, as Rihanna herself expressed, for society as a whole to come clean about the complicated world of abusive relationships, because unless we begin to give the abused a voice, the cycle of violence will never end.
Here’s the video. Watch it and let me know what you think: