Last week Rihanna found herself at the center of yet another controversy after the release of her new video for Man Down. The clip depicts the singer being sexually assaulted then shooting her attacker. The cinema quality video struck an emotional chord in men and women, many of whom confess they don't consider themselves to be Rihanna fans; however, Conservative watchdog group the Parents Television Council expressed outrage over the violence which they describe as a "cold, calculated, execution of murder."
The PTC describes itself as an organization designed to "promote and restore responsibility and decency to the entertainment industry in answer to America's demand for positive, family-oriented television programming." It's an admirable cause no doubt, but where does that leave room for creative expression?
At 23 years old, Rihanna appears to still be finding herself as an artist and as a performer. The expectation that her offerings should be PG is wholly unreasonable.
And of course, those who support the censorship do themselves no favors with nonsensical comparisons like the one provided by Paul Porter of Industry Ears who stated, "If Chris Brown shot a woman in his new video and BET premiered it, the world would stop."
Though this is true, Brown's history of abuse cannot be ignored nor can the fact that the overwhelming majority of rapes and domestic violence incidents are perpetuated by men against women.
Rihanna delivered a carefully crafted response to the outcry via BET's 106th and Park. But in the end, isn't this just a video?
Coincidentally, Rihanna wasn't the only crew member of Jay Z's RocNation to push a video that drew criticism in the past few days.
Earlier this week, Kanye West dropped the final version of his video for Monster.
A rough cut of the video leaked months ago and prompted widespread debate about the inherent misogyny of the male rappers cooly performing around hanging, lifeless female bodies while rapper Nicki Minaj crawls on the floor. Sexism is nothing new to hip hop audiences, but the unfamiliarity of seeing eager booty-shaking video models replaced with corpses felt particularly unnerving.
West's attempt to diffuse the situation was an disclaimer tacked onto the beginning of the video that reads:
The following content is in no way to be interpreted as misogynistic or negative towards any groups of people. It is an art piece and shall be taken as such.Well ok.
My initial reaction is to automatically dismiss that statement, but maybe Kanye's right.
What makes Rihanna's "art piece" so much different from his? These are supposed to be fictive representations of the recorded tracks. We seem to have a much more difficult time processing the images than the words. Why is that?
These issues are much larger than a couple of 5 minute videos. Societal inconsistency in calling out violent, sexist messages has rendered us unable to separate fact from fiction and reality from entertainment.
What do you think? Do we take music videos too seriously?