Rihanna’s latest music video Man Down immediately became controversial upon its premier on television. Why is a music video, any music video so polarizing? Music videos and music are after all art and by its very nature expressive and open to interpretation. This particular video portrays the titan-haired singer as a young, coy island girl who shoots the man who rapes her after they shared a flirtation at a dance hall. Various groups are up in arms because they believe the Barbadian pop singer is promoting vigilante justice for her impressionable female teen audience. If we can agree that music and music videos are art, then it follows that Rihanna’s video is not to be taken literally.
The singer inelegantly Tweeted in her own defense that the song was about empowering girls. Girl power then is a much palpable concept for the general public to process and a more accurate description of the motivation behind her music video. It also follows with Rihanna’s personal journey of self-discovery and rehabilitation after being the victim of domestic abuse.
Perhaps Rihanna is fashioning an image post-Chris Brown as a champion of girl’s rights with sets of feministic lyrics set to catchy beats to entertain while educating her fans. It is a noble aspiration and certainly there are not enough positive role models for tweens and teens these days to be found in the Day-Glo nail polish and hot pant wearing celebrities that are spread over glossies these days.
Typically when a woman is a victim of an assault, she can go one of two ways: continued victimization or developing into a strong, independent woman. It is unfortunately very common for women who have been victimized to extend the cycle by surrounding themselves with abusive types, continuing to view themselves as a victim thereby insuring the cycle will persist.
On the other hand, some women become stronger, tougher. They vow to never be a victim again, they take steps to become mentally and emotionally healthy through strong support systems, counseling and a renewed self-confidence and self-image. Which is exactly what Rihanna appears to have done.
Her fans and the media have watched her morph from a sun-kissed teen pop star with innocuous lyrics and bouncy beats into a goth-loving performer who sang of suicide and mental illness among other alarming subjects. Artistically, Rihanna has made a point of showing the world with her choice of hairstyles and color, lyrics and music and even tattoos and wardrobe, that she is no longer a victim.
Fortunately for her fans who were not in love with her previous look and album Rated R, a dark treacherous musical journey into a broken heart and mind, she seems to have had her cathartic moment and found a good place to be, artistically and mentally with her latest disc Loud, a vibrant uptempo collection of radio-friendly hits.
The song Man Down with its addictive reggae beat and plaintiff wailing encourages the victim to take back her life after the attack, stand up and face the situation and the abuser (whether it be literally or in court) and move forward…not pick up a gun and shoot their attacker. Pop stars searching for relevance in a world where Al Quaeda vows to destroy America and men in power display a shocking lack of honor and integrity are usually met with rolled eyes and laughter. But Rihanna has brought to the forefront a taboo subject when sexually assaulting women has become institutional policy in wars across the African continent and standard procedure in the Bosnian War. Rapes were rampant in Haiti before and after their devastating earth quake and continue to occur in the most civilized and developed nations. This list compiles the five worst countries for women to live in. Considering the climate that many women live in, standing up to face and challenge the adversity that pervades the world around them is sadly a novel idea.
Watching Rihanna portray a vulnerable character not only brought to mind such harrowing statistics about how downtrodden and victimized women are around the world, it reminded me of one my favorite books: The Botticelli Secret.
This novel features a beautiful female protagonists who is the least powerful in a society where power is a commodity. The Botticelli Secret is a story about a gorgeous, teenaged prostitute that teams up with a handsome, faithful monk to decipher one of Botticelli’s famous works and solve a mystery of Da Vinci Code proportion.
I didn’t just enjoy this novel because it reads like a travelogue of Italy or because it is set in Renaissance Italy. I found this story most interesting because of the way the main character turned her victimized status into an empowered girl-child all the while utilizing her beauty, sex and street smarts to stay one-up on her antagonists.
Girls and young women all over the world are beaten, raped and abused in various and sundry ways. Females need encouragement to speak up about abuse, need to be empowered to seek justice. In today’s fast-paced, superficial world of reality stars and every life moment uploaded for public consumption, tweens, teens and college students will have to find their role models in the darndest of places.