Less than thirty seconds into the “Man Down” video we learned that Rihanna’s “rum pum pum pum” had nothing to do with Christmas. Critics have attacked the singer’s latest audio / visual effort for perpetuating gun violence. It could be said that art is imitating life here, as surely Rihanna (and other victims of abuse) has had a daydream or two about blasting their perpetrators into the blue sky with their firearm of choice. I mean, I get it. But in context with Rihanna’s status of domestic abuse survivor and with respect to the problem of gun violence in this country, failure to criticize this form of art would benefit no one.
As reported last week by GlobalGrind, The Parents Television Council issued a statement in response to the “Man Down” video: “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.” Not missing a beat, Rihanna tweeted, “”U can’t hide your kids from society, or they’ll never learn how to adapt! This is the REAL WORLD!..We have the freedom to make art, LET US! Its your job to make sure they dont turn out like US.”
Sure, a more thoughtful response could have been offered up by Rihanna or her camp but, moving along…
Later, Rihanna adds, “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!”
Rihanna’s a young woman (all things considered) who has suffered the pain of being the victim of a violent crime. She’s also a celebrity with a public persona, and her persona is now associated with domestic abuse through no fault of her own. Her public trauma, as pointed out by The Parents Television Council, has given her quite a platform on domestic abuse. For her to operate under the delusion that she’s somehow not responsible for her art is denying her own history as well as her influence. Rihanna can no longer “make art” in a context-free space, but as any great artist knows, this can be an advantage. Some of the most noteworthy art and individual expression has been borne out of pain and suffering-gone-right.
What would we’ve thought if Tina Turner had yanked a gat from under her skirt in the “What’s Love Got To Do With It” video and started buckin’ shots?! It would have diminished the dancing goddess we watched onscreen: liberated and light as air (not to mention with an A+ pair of stems and a mega-watt smile). Ms. Turner set a fine example. At the risk of comparing separate instances each with a unique set of circumstances, this is the best example I can give of the public witnessing artistic evolution and triumph on a whole other level. It should be noted that Ms. Turner accomplished this without sending the contradictory message of getting “excited” through the use of chains and whips, as Rihanna has done with her “S&M” hit. I still don’t know how to call that. True, everyone has their own coping mechanisms, and while we thankfully have the right to free speech and freedom of expression, Rihanna may be missing a significant opportunity to do some good with her very high-profile persona.
Then there is the problem of gun violence in this country and abroad. A number of national organizations and community leaders have come together to petition stronger gun legislation in the United States to prevent weapons from getting into the wrong hands – young black males, in particular. We need to address how illegal guns are getting into our communities.
WE, as a culture, are responsible for looking at OUR problem, asking questions and creating solutions when no rational answers are found. Domestic violence is also a problem that, in many countries, doesn’t even have the manpower to be properly addressed in a court of law. Take Rihanna’s native Barbados, for instance. Domestic abuse overwhelms the legal system to the point that cases fall through the cracks, go unpunished and most often aren’t even reported. This puts victims – more specifically, women – in a vulnerable position all over again, adding insult to the injury. There is anger, guilt, fear…all kinds of seemingly justifiable emotions that must be acknowledged. But violence is never the solution.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Rihanna grow as an artist, most notably with her on stage performance and vocal ability. As a woman, rape survivor and media personality, I will always wish her continued success. Natural beauty aside, Rihanna asserts power, owns her image and has branded herself in a way that’s allowed her to take advantage of some lucrative opportunities. It is my opinion that she should stick with that formula and continue to promote life instead of death. Isn’t Rihanna living proof that victims do in fact go on to reclaim their power – bigger and better than before? There’s nothing more powerful than being our best self, without regret or need to ask permission.
Guns are for cowards.