Rihanna’s new video “Man Down” is being criticized as showing “cold blooded, premeditated murder” against a man by a woman.
Naturally, Parents Television Council is outraged. These are the folks who’ve gone after Ellen, Friends, Gilmore Girls, Spin City, Rescue Me, House, American Dad, CSI, Nip Tuck, 30 Rock, Family Guy, raised that fit about Janet Jackson’s nipple, they count the number of times children see premarital sex, and are super concerned about the influence of the gay and dirty words like “boob”. They are a conservative group advocating for larger government control over TV. In other words, “conservative” no longer means “small government conservative”. They hate Glee, for heaven’s sake. If you still don’t know who they are, their founder was Pat Buchannan’s finance chairman in his 1992 presidential campaign. You get the idea.
They’re super upset about Rihanna’s video because she dramatizes killing a man after he rapes her. Parents Television Council described the murder as cold-blooded, though even the violence portrayed is meant to be a response to sexual assault. I think this tells us a lot, but here he is in his glory on CNN:
The video opens with Rihanna using a small revolver to shoot a man on a street, apparently in her native Barbados. The viewers see a graphic view of the man lying dead in the street with a pool of blood streaming near his head. It then flashes back to the previous day, when the shooter was sexually attacked.
“What started out as a simple altercation turns into a real sticky situation,” Rihanna sings.
“Makes me want to cry, because I didn’t mean to hurt him, could’ve been somebody’s son,” the song says. “Oh, mama, I just shot a man down”
“Why did I pull the trigger?” she sings. “Now I am a criminal.”
Here’s the entire video:
“Why did I pull the trigger, now I am a criminal” seems like a bad ending and warning to me, not an endorsement of murder. Or was it murder? In the story, he raped her, so I wouldn’t call that cold-blooded murder. I’d call that the risk some rapists take, and I wouldn’t condone it since it never ends well for the woman. Oh, I kid. Ok, seriously.
How often do we see sexual assault and violence against women portrayed on TV and film? I couldn’t even begin to quantify it, as I don’t have that much time. It’s pervasive, though. Rape, assault, mutilation, and murder of women are considered pulp fiction type fun, a sexual charge for many.
The PTC found that violence against women has increased on TV from 2004 compared with data from 2009. The overall violence irrespective of gender increased 2% and violence against women increased 120%. The PTC also found:
The most frequent type of violence against women on television was beating (29%), followed by credible threats of violence (18%), shooting (11%), rape (8%), stabbing (6%), and torture (2%). Violence against women resulted in death 19% of the time.
Violence towards women or the graphic consequences of violence tends overwhelmingly to be depicted (92%) rather than implied (5%) or described (3%).
Appallingly, the single largest jump was seen in violence against teenage girls, which skyrocketed 400% from 2004.
I suspect that one thing that makes these men uncomfortable with this video it shows the rage of a woman who was sexually assaulted, taking up – oh, heck, they’re right wing conservatives, so let’s use their language – second amendment remedies. The argument could be, the law wouldn’t protect her, so she shot him. She “exercised her freedoms” as the right puts it.
I can see why that makes these men uncomfortable, and I agree that glamorized violence is a problem, but the answer to this isn’t to censor Rihanna. The answer is to have an honest look at sexual assault and violence against women, and compare it to the number of times we see a violence portrayed against women or girls and then compare the amount of violence we see where women are portrayed as being violent against a man and take a look at those numbers. The answer might be to spend as much time going after violence against women and young girls as they do chasing after Glee for depicting gay people.
Much like the conservative position on abortion, these folks did this study on TV shows showing violence against women, but their chief concern seem to be the conservative notion of “family values”. I’m not defending the use of violence; I’m asking what makes this violence so offensive, while other violence (most often aimed at women) is not offensive enough to bring these folks out? Yes, they did the research, but where are the campaigns like they did for Janet Jackson’s nipple? Lord knows how many people that nipple inspired to murder.
Yes, gentlemen, I imagine Rihanna is right pissed off. You would be too if someone you loved beat the crap out of you and the public kept asking you why you stayed instead of asking what in the hell is wrong with this man who beat this beautiful young woman. I imagine the notion of this kind of rage aimed against men makes you uncomfortable, and you’d like to stifle it lest anyone get any ideas.
Rihanna responded to the PTC’s criticism via Twitter:
“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!”
“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 dont turn out like US.”
It sounds to me like she’s trying to spark a dialogue about things that are hard to talk about, like sexual violence and rape.
The barrage of violent images on TV and film can’t be good for kids or for any of us, frankly, but I have to ask, why this video? Why this campaign? And where are the campaigns aimed to stop violence against women that equal the outrage of the JJ Superbowl slippage? Maybe our versions of family values are different, but Rihanna expressing her emotions about her real life through her art seems like an appropriate choice, and I think the TPC is missing the opportunity to have the more relevant discussion about the damaging cultural impact of violence against women and children.
And here’s a hint to the boys at the PTC: It’s supposed to make you uncomfortable.