Watchdogs, Outraged Over Rihanna's New Video, Give Kanye's Misogyny a Pass
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Without a visual, “Man Down” is simply one of the better songs on Rihanna’s latest album, Loud. Honoring her Caribbean upbringing and written in the tradition of reggae/dancehall “badman” anthems -- a descendant of what is arguably the most famous, “I Shot the Sheriff” -- it’s the reserved confessional of someone who’s just killed a man on a lush downbeat. The lyrics are in the first person, but other than the refrain describing the gendered name of the gun -- Peggy Sue -- it’s strangely disassociative, as though Rihanna’s reading us a found diary, singing the tale of someone else’s crime. In the song, there’s no indication as to motive, why someone would shoot “a man down in Central Station in front of a big old crowd.”
The video, however, tells a different story. Opening with a cloaked Rihanna doing the dastardly deed -- shooting a man in front of hundreds of witnesses -- it goes back in time and slowly unfolds her motivation. The murder victim, it seems, was in fact her sexual attacker in the video; Rihanna shot him for revenge. It was a poignant storyline, and an impactful one -- in Rihanna’s birth country of Barbados, rape and domestic violence are pressing crises, with 20.35 percent per 100,000 reporting rapes in 2000.
The video garnered a lot of support among women’s health advocates. (The murder, it should be noted, was not that grisly compared to the death depictions seen every day on primetime network television shows like CSI and Bones.) Some rape victims spoke out, including actress and rape survivor Gabrielle Union, who commended its bravery and tweeted that she could relate:
"Saw Man Down by Rihanna. Every victim/survivor of rape is unique, including how they THINK they'd like justice to be handed out. During my rape I tried to shoot my rapist, but I missed.
"Over the years I realized that killing my rapist would've added insult to injury. The DESIRE to kill someone who abused/raped you is understandable, but unless it's self defense in the moment to save your life, (it) just ADDS to your troubles.
"I repeat SELF DEFENSE to save yourself/protect yourself, I'm ALL for. Otherwise victim/survivor taking justice into your own hands with violence equals more trouble for you!!"
Yet almost immediately, watchdog groups condemned the video for the murder aspect. Paul Porter, the cofounder of Industry Ears, released a statement:
The video, which premiered on BET’s "106 & Park" on May 31, shows Rihanna in an implied rape scene with a man whom she later guns down in an act of premeditated murder. "Man Down" is an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song. In my 30 years of viewing BET, I have never witnessed such a cold, calculated execution of murder in primetime. Viacom’s standards and practices department has reached another new low.
Paul Porter is a former program director for BET (who presided during its famously misogynist “Uncut” years), so it’s pretty laughable that the comparatively soft violence in “Man Down” offended his sensibilities so vehemently. The Puritanical Parents Television Council (PTC) responded in equally hypocritical fashion. Said Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council:
Rihanna’s personal story and status as a celebrity superstar provided a golden opportunity for the singer to send an important message to female victims of rape and domestic violence. Instead of telling victims they should seek help, Rihanna released a music video that gives retaliation in the form of premeditated murder the imprimatur of acceptability. The message of the disturbing video could not be more off base.