Rihanna's "Man Down"
By Rachel, age 26, Connecticut
Rihanna is a public figure many people are familiar with, including her large contingent of teen and young adult fans. Rihanna is probably most well known for the headlines involving the intimate partner violence assault, where she was the victim. In February 2009, Rihanna was very seriously physically assaulted by her then boyfriend Chris Brown. After the media got word of what had taken place between her and Chris Brown, Rihanna became the poster child for the current teen generation for teen dating violence and abuse.
For a while she was a great spokesperson. Teen girls especially could and are still able to relate to her. In the interviews she gave to the press, Rihanna expressed how wrong teen dating violence is and the importance of teen girls learning and knowing the signs of teen dating violence, and getting help to get out of the relationship. Rihanna has done well using her celebrity status to raise awareness about teen dating violence and violence against women in general over the last two years.
Sadly, it seems that with her last few songs and videos there has been a disturbing trend in Rihanna's music. This trend began with her song "S&M." The term S&M relates to sexual gratification through inflicting or receiving pain. In my opinion, Rihanna's song "S&M," which glorifies inflicting physical pain on others and receiving physical pain, pushed the envelope, but her newest song, "Man Down," crosses the line. In an interview, Rihanna says the video is meant to be a depiction of a "victim" of abuse killing her abuser in public. She goes on to say that she created the song and the video to send the message that survivors deserve a voice.
In the opening scene of "Man Down" a man with a briefcase is seen walking down a busy street. As the video progresses Rihanna is seen emerging in front of an open window. Her arm comes up and we see her aim the gun at the back of the head of the man with the briefcase, and she fires. The bullet strikes the back of the head of the man with the briefcase and he falls to the ground ... he is dead. Then the song begins.
In the song, Rihanna talks about how she did not mean to kill him, and she knows he was someone's son, but she goes on to say that she can't take it back and needs to get out of town so she doesn't go to jail. The song continues:
It's a 22
I call her Peggy Sue
When she fits right down in my shoes
What do you expect me to do
If you're playing me for a fool
I will lose my cool
And reach for my fire arm
In my opinion, nothing in the lyrics or in the video even comes close to suggesting that she is remorseful for killing the man. The tone of the lyrics and what the scenes in the video depict is Rihanna glorifying her violent act and the criminal lifestyle. The song clearly makes light of gun violence by saying 'I was played, therefore I am justified.' We don't find out the reason for her shooting the man until the last two minutes of the video when she is at a party and this man sexually assaults her, which still does not justify her killing the abuser.
There has been a good deal of controversy over this song and music video - which is not surprising. Rihanna states that this latest music video and song is "art with a message." She claims that the video is sending a message to survivors that they should regain their voices and allow their voices to be heard.
I think the message itself that Rihanna is trying to share is one that survivors need to hear, that they deserve to have a voice and should use their voice to take back their power. As a survivor myself, I struggled to accept that I had a right to have a voice and that I had a right to be heard, and it took a long time for me to regain my power, so for this I applaud Rihanna.
However, I feel that in her attempt to send this message through "Man Down" she came up short. I fear that the only message she is really sending to survivors, especially teen and young adult survivors, is that it is ok to fight violence with violence. She is sending the message that violence is the solution to the problem of abuse.
For our readers, especially those who (like me) are survivors of abuse in any form, hear me loud and clear when I say that violence is never the answer. Fighting violence with violence will not solve the problem of abuse, be it physical, verbal, emotional, mental, psychological, financial, or sexual. The only thing that will solve the problem and end the epidemic is when we as survivors and allies of survivors come together and talk about the issue, discussing how we can end it. Where Rihanna fell short was in using her status as a celebrity to promote the myth that we need to use weapons and violence and become vigilantes, taking matters into our own hands to end abuse.
The truth of the matter is that the best weapon we have, and the only weapon we should ever consider using, is our collective voice. We can take back our power simply by speaking up and speaking out about how wrong abuse is. Another "weapon" which we have at our disposal is the justice system - law enforcement and the courts. We can take back our power as a society, whether we are survivors or allies of survivors, over this insidious monster by holding rallies to organize a "Take Back the Night" event or a walk to raise money for a local crisis center. We can take back our power by just being ourselves and doing what we love to do, and by never ever giving up on our dreams, and by not allowing abuse to define us as individuals.
I hope that Rihanna will realize that her video is going to do a lot more harm than good and is going to continue to send the wrong message unless she speaks up. My hope is that as a celebrity spokesperson for ending abuse and as a survivor of abuse herself that she will find a more positive way to use her music to send out a very positive message for survivors.