Saturday, June 11, 2011

Man Down

Trigger Warning for sexual assault described in video and text.

Rihanna, an artist I adore, is in the middle of controversy right now due to her latest video for her
song 'Man Down' off of 'Loud'. First, the video and a breakdown of it's content.

The video opens with Rihanna shooting a man in a train station, then breaks to the previous day's events. Rihanna is happily spending her day in her community, visiting children, the community elders, and the local 'bad boy' hang out. She is smiling and enjoying herself. The video cuts between these joyful scenes of a girl enjoying her life and community, and Rihanna sitting on her bed looking haggard and in an emotional state. We find out why when that night, she goes to a dancehall gathering and is approached by a man who dances with her. But when he pushes for more, she turns him down and leaves. He follows after her and proceeds to sexually assault her in an alley. She runs home afterward and searches for a pistol. The scene at the video's opening is now explained.

The controversy came about when BET aired the video, and a press release was put out condemning the video for being "an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song," according to Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears. He even compared her to her abusive ex, saying "If Chris Brown shot a woman in his new video and BET premiered it, the world 
would stop. Rihanna should not get a pass and BET should know better. The video is far from broadcast worthy."

Except that the difference between Chris Brown and Rihanna is the context in which their violence is depicted. Brown's music features the brutalization of women, perpetrating abuse from one individual to others, glorifying it. Rihanna's video shows a desperate girl, coping in whatever way she can to a horrific act of violence perpetrated against her. The video does not glorify Rihanna's actions, but shows them in an honest and unapologetic way. Her response is not portrayed as ideal, right, or as a healthy way of dealing with her assault. What the video does show, is how gendered, sexual violence can destroy a person, transforming their psyche into one unrecognizable in the light of who they were before their attack. The content of the song itself shows a deep remorse for her actions.

It seems that many many people are weighing in on the powerful content of this video. Luckily, it appears that there is an outpouring of support that is starting to overcome the voices of outrage. A deep and serious misunderstanding is occurring on the part of Paul Porter and others who are attempting to condemn a woman artist that has experienced violence, for portraying and dealing with issues of violence in her work. Thankfully BET is standing by the video and defending not only its content, but the channels through which the video was approved for airing.

I love the song, the video, and Rihanna for using her popularity to address very serious and common issues that exist in our society. She deserves our support.

1 comment:

  1. As someone that comes down hard against vigilante justice, I was prepared to have something negative to say about the video. But, I thought this video was damn good and Rihanna shouldn't change a damn thing. I couldn't imagine anyone dealing with a tough issue like this in a better way.