Rape, Murder and Necrophilia--To the Beat.

Over on my facebook page, we're talking about the new Rhianna video, "Man Down," a catchy reggae-inspired tune about a young woman who kills her rapist then feels sort of bad about it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQPVhlMHvvs

I'm really torn about the video. Chris Sosa wrote a piece about it on Gather.com. On facebook he told me, "I thought it was a confusing video for a young audience. Disturbingly graphic, uncomfortable racial undertones, and most importantly, nothing for the young audience to take away from it. Jamaicans were posting on YouTube about the racial implications. And some posters were *blaming the victim* for the rape. If Rihanna wanted to address the issue, she could've done a much better job. Instead she went for "edgy." And the song itself doesn't even mention sexual assualt, it's just a wanton murder tale."

Another follower chimed in: "It strikes me that many popular videos involving male artists just show them being thugs who don't have to be justified to be cool (even though I personally find them offensive). But girls have to be good, even when they are bad. Rhianna has to be justified, preferably by an assault to her lady parts, in order to make her violence cool. Not that I want her to just be a gangster and just have a video be about that. I'd rather see her invent a new form of clean energy or something else admirable. But it seems to be a double standard."

But a third reader, Renee Randazzo brought up an intriguing post on the crunk feminist collective ("for hip hop generation feminists) that said, among other things: "In Hip Hop and pop culture where rape is glorified and celebrated, this is a welcome intervention. The video reinforces a very basic point: the choice to be sexual and sensual on the dance floor should not be read in any way as consent for future sexual activity. For once, the critique of rape is unambiguous. It is wrong; it is not the woman’s fault; and it should be punished."

I find the issue confusing. I don't like the message that the way to be a strong woman is to resort to violence any more than I like that as the message of how to be a strong man. At the same time, there is so much graphic violence against women in videos and it's  often how male artists signal that they are "rebellious" or counter-cultural. Treating women badly or dehumanizing them or even assaulting or murdering them is how male artists often get street cred and who complains?

A cbs news blog reported that a group called "Industry Ears" issued a statement that read, "If Chris Brown shot a woman in his new video and BET premiered it, the world would stop." Really? Did the world stop when Kanye West released his "Monster" video which started with a woman in lingerie hanging dead from a meathook in a slaughterhouse and continued with the artist (ahem) in bed with two other apparently dead women in lingerie posing them like sex toys?


Honestly? I couldn't get past the first 30 seconds or so. It made me sick. And I know that's what he wanted--to gain points with kids, especially young men, by provoking attack from women like me who suddenly seem straight, uncool and anti-sex (as if fetishizing the rape and murder of women to sell records has anything really to do with sexual empowerment).

My nephew loves Kanye West. What effect does that video--even if it is ultimately banned--have on him (beyond the obligatory shrug and eye roll when I ask him about it?). Especially troublesome given the statistics on rape on college campuses. I'm not saying a+b=c, but it's a culture, an environment, a dehumanization that is tagged as cool for guys.

So Rhianna made a shallow video about shooting a man, except in her case the shooting was not something she "wanted" to do--it didn't make her tough or cool and she was agonizing over it (rather than glamorizing it?). And she challenged the idea that being  sexy and flirtatious makes her rape "okay."....So yeah, I get some of the objection. I get that it was confusing and provocative. I get that it was answering violence with violence (then again, have you heard "I Shot the Sheriff?" Not a great message either, but there was no video back then to bring it home). And ultimately, these days, it's so hard to determine a performer's sincerity because the music industry is so commodified and sales-driven that we'll never know if she was trying to make a flawed but authentic statement or if she was just going for shock to boost sales....