I can appreciate Rihanna’s efforts to highlight sexual violence, but I can’t condone the response she’s advocating in this video.

Singer Rihanna is making headlines again – this time because of the controversial music video for the reggae-themed Man Down from her 2010 album Loud.

The video, filmed in Jamaica, was released on Black Entertainment Television’s 106 & Park on Tuesday night. It shows Rihanna, gun in hand, tracking a man in a train station and then shooting him in the head. His body falls to the floor and the camera lingers on the pool of blood rapidly spreading across the platform. The video then continues with a series of flashbacks to the previous day, showing Rihanna spending time with various island inhabitants, shopping and making the most of the sun-and-surf lifestyle. At twilight, she goes clubbing and is accosted by a young man (whom we recognise from the train station). She spurns his advances and leaves. He then follows her into a dark alley, where a fight ensues. It is implied that she is raped. The closing scenes show her huddled in a corner, crying, while he walks back inside.

Since its debut, Man Down has fuelled the anger of various media watchdogs and parental groups who believe the video should be banned. The Parents’ Television Council, as well as the Enough Is Enough Campaign, united this week to push BET to pull the video off the air.

Pastor Delman Coates, the founder of the Enough Is Enough Campaign, issued a statement condemning Rihanna’s latest offering and the showbiz heavyweights who allowed it to be broadcast. “Man Down is a clear violation of BET’s own programming guidelines shared with the public by Debra Lee, the chairman and CEO of BET Networks. I join with the Parents’ Television Council and Industry Ears in calling on Viacom executives to immediately pull the video from programmes that are targeted to youth and teenagers.”

Rihanna appears to be taking everything in her stride. She wrote on her Twitter page: “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 naive! 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!”

I watched the video on YouTube today. Then I hunted down the song lyrics on the Web. Then I watched the video again. Then I spent almost two hours checking out forums and entertainment blogs. The general consensus is that Rihanna’s devoted fans love the video, while advocacy groups and critics have slammed it for “preaching violence”. One thing is for sure: Rihanna’s supporters, particularly young women, have given her a solid thumbs-up, praising her for bringing the issue of rape to the fore. What astounds me, though, is how many people have chosen to ignore – or simply gloss over – something that hit me like a ton of bricks while watching the video: Rihanna (or the girl she was portraying, I suppose) pulled the trigger and killed someone. It was a cold, calculated act of violence carried out with determination and intent. It was motivated by revenge – revenge for a brutal and disgusting crime, yes, but it was murder just the same.

I can appreciate Rihanna’s efforts to highlight sexual violence, but I think she got it entirely wrong in this instance. I cannot condone the response she is advocating in this video, nor the attitude towards the law she conveys through her words. Consider these lyrics from Man Down

I need to get out of sight / before I end up behind bars

If you’re playing me for a fool / I will lose my cool / And reach for my firearm

Now he’s no longer living / So I’m about to leave town

Unfortunately, in the world we live in, violence is everywhere, all the time. It’s happening in our schools, our communities, our homes. It’s on television, on the road, in the grocery store. It’s glorified in pop culture and both praised and lamented by musicians around the world – including Rihanna. I can’t help but think, though, that the main theme of this video is vengeance. And Rihanna, if that is indeed your message, then I really don’t like what you’re saying. ♦ JP

NOTE: The lyrics reproduced here, from the song Man Down by Rihanna, are the property of the artist in question, and are used for illustrative purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.


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