In the beginning frames of Rihanna's new video, she lurks in the shadows at a train station, spots a man in the crowd, raises a gun, and blows his brains out. The lyrics: "I didn't mean to end his life / I know it wasn't right/ I can't even sleep at night / Can't get it off my mind / I need to get out of sight / Before I end up behind bars."
The video then flashes back one day, and we see Rihanna frolicking in Jamaica. Riding a bike, hanging at the beach, playing with kids, going to a party. At said party, a man — the man, the one we know has been shot — approaches her to dance. They do, and as he advances and tries to kiss her, Rihanna shakes her head. No. When she leaves the club, he follows her. Grabs her. Puts his hand over her mouth. A sexual assault is implied.
Rihanna sings: "What started out as a simple altercation / Turned into a real sticky situation / Me just thinking on the time that I'm facing / Makes me wanna cry / Cause I didn't mean to hurt him / Coulda been somebody's son / And I took his heart when/ I pulled out that gun."
The tune has an island vibe and Rihanna lets her Barbados accent shine, so it's a bit of a nod to "I Shot The Sheriff." But since the song — and video — tell a tale of vigilante justice, folks are upset. Specifically The Parents Television Council (of course), which has issued a statement that reads:
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.
While it's absolutely true that Rihanna was a victim of assault, it's also true that this video is not instructional. Viewers should be quite aware that it's a narrative and not a documentary. So it's not about Rihanna the woman but Rihanna the artist. She is not making the statement that shooting someone who assaulted you is the right thing to do. Like most videos, it's a fantasy. Male artists include scantily clad women, luxury cars and stacks of cash in their videos; Katy Perry is an alien in hers; Kanye West depicted himself having sex with a Phoenix. Kids who sit on the couch playing shoot 'em up video games don't necessarily go out and fire guns afterward. They know the difference. It's pretend. It's a fantasy, a role-play.
That said, the emotion behind "Man Down" comes from a place that is very real. Many women fantasize about inflicting hurt on someone who has harmed them. When I was in college, I often walked through a park where I was catcalled and sexually harassed on a daily basis. I used to daydream about shooting these men in the legs, or turning around and punching them hard enough to break their jaws. I can only imagine what kinds of scenarios and visions a survivor of sexual assault woud have.
The good news is that Rihanna's fans seem to know that while "Man Down" has a message, that message is not "shoot dudes who touch you." One young woman Tweeted: "After seein the statistic that 1 n 4 women will experience sexual abuse by their intimate partner Man Down is clicking 2 me."
Rihanna herself took to Twitter to say:
Young girls/women all over the world...we are a lot of things! We're strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naïve! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us! So ladies be careful and listen to yo mama! I love you and I care!
Honestly, if the video starts a conversation about how often young women are sexually assaulted, how can that be a bad thing?
Oh wait. Here's the answer. When Fox News weighs in:
"She sings that she killed a man when she ‘lost her cool' because ‘he was playing her for a fool.' This garbage from the same woman who publicly bragged to Rolling Stone recently that she likes to be spanked and tied up," [Marc Rudov] told FOX411's Pop Tarts. "Rihanna gets to have it both ways – accuse Chris Brown of domestic violence and be violent herself – because she's a woman."
Emphasis ours. Doesn't sound very fair and balanced, now does it?
Let's let RiRi have the last word:
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!