While we’re busy defending Rihanna’s “S&M,” the Barbados native has caught even more flak for her new video, “Man Down.” In the much-hyped video, Rihanna responds to an attack from her boyfriend outside a club by getting a gun from her dresser and shooting him down in public (rum-pa-pa-pum, rum-pa-pa-pum). The video hits especially close to home considering its source, as Rihanna was of course on the receiving end of the most highly publicized case of domestic abuse in pop music since Ike & Tina Turner, when then-boyfriend Chris Brown assaulted her before she was supposed to appear on the 2009 Grammys.
Many social groups have seen thus seen Rihanna’s new video as a message from the artist condoning responding to such domestic violence with even further violence, and have called for Viacom (which owns BET, the station that first aired it, among other music video channels) to stop showing it. The Parents Television Council, the Enough is Enough campaign, and “entertainment think tank” Industry Ears all have called for the video’s removal. “Instead of telling victims they should seek help,” explains Melissa Henson of the PTC, “Rihanna released a music video that gives retaliation in the form of premeditated murder the imprimatur of acceptability.” Industry Ears co-founder Paul Porter condemns the video for being “a cold, calculated execution of murder” and claims “If Chris Brown shot a woman in his new video and BET premiered it, the world would stop.”
Porter certainly has a point with that last statement, and it’s true that both song and video seem uncomfortably comfortable with the idea of vigilante response to domestic abuse. But then again, are these same groups also writing to VH1 Classic and insisting that Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” also be pulled from video rotation for their respective endorsements of violence for the purposes of evading law enforcement and just for one’s own general amusement? This is still pop music, a storytelling medium, and regardless of whatever echoes it contains of past headlines she was involved with, it’s presumptuous and ignorant to assume that Rihanna is doing anything but playing a character in her song and video, one that has little if anything to do with her real life or her beliefs. (Not to mention that you never actually see Rihanna holding her gun in the video, an edit seemingly designed to skirt controversy such as this.)
Perhaps a compromise can be reached—a disclaimer at the beginning of the video, explaining that the video is just a story, and that Rihanna does not approve of a murderous response to sexual assault. It’s a little sad that we still need such disclaimers in this day and age, but it’s certainly preferable to the video getting yanked entirely for its supposed violence endorsements.
For lots more pics, videos and up-to-the-second dish on Rihanna, be sure to check out her Popdust Artist Page.