4 Thoughts About Rihanna and Her “Man Down” Video
1. The rape-revenge fantasy that takes place in “Man Down” is one of the oldest and most effective ways to tell a story. A person is wronged, and they spend the rest of the story tracking down and paying back those who’ve wronged them. We root for the protagonist, and the villian’s comeuppance is cathartic to the entire audience.
In fact, two of my favorite movies — the Kill Bill series (which I count as one movie) and Inglourious Basterds — revolve around this concept.
What separates “Man Down” — and what is probably causing much of the negative attention it’s receiving, not racism or sexism — is the fact that the villain’s payback comes at the beginning. When his gruesome murder is the first thing you see when watching the video, it’s hard to sympathize with the hero. Yes, we eventually see that he was responsible for a rape, but he’s already a dead man so we just don’t care as much.
Just imagine if Kill Bill began with The Black Mamba slicing and dicing through O-Ren and the Crazy 88. The entire movie changes, and Beatrix goes from a wronged woman on a mission to a mass murderer with a stupid name in a stupider jumpsuit.
Still, it’s a f*cking five minute long music video. Who the hell cares if it sends the wrong message about…anything. Maybe the story should have been shown in a sequential order. Maybe Rihanna could have had the guy arrested instead of murking him. Maybe she shouldn’t have gone to a party dressed as Cubana Lust and twerked on a guy with a buck 50 across his face. Maybe they could have included 5 minutes of gratuitous boob and nipple shots instead of three. Who f*cking cares?
Just enjoy the video…or don’t enjoy the video, but don’t call for it to be banned because one idiot out of the billion people who’ll watch it might decide to go Charles Bronson on a rapist.
2. I have to admit that I don’t watch very many videos. In fact, before “Man Down,” Kanye’s “Runaway” was the last one I’ve watched in its entirety, and I honestly can’t remember the last one I watched before that.
I wonder if this apathy is unique to people like me — people who’ve aged out of the music video target audience range — or if videos themselves have just lost a bit of their cultural relevance. They just don’t seem to be the same star-making vehicle that they were a decade ago. More importantly, I’m not certain if kids today anxiously await videos the same way we did for the premieres of songs like “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” “California Love,” and “Triumph,” but it really doesn’t seem like they do.
Anyway, I’m making this point because what happens at the 26 second mark is the most graphically violent thing I’ve ever seen in a music video, and I can’t tell if this was unusually graphic or just par for the course with today’s fare.
Sure, I’ve seen videos with implied violence — “99 Problems,” “Many Men,” and “Stan” immediately come to mind — and I’ve seen hundreds of videos where the artist rapped about violent acts, but I’ve never seen something as graphic as when Rihanna steps out of the shadows and shoots a man her rapist in the throat; a shot that clearly jerks his head back and splatters his blood before it kills him.
(Also, Rihanna — or, rather, this character Rihanna is playing — must be a Navy Seal or some shit, because those are the only people on the planet skilled enough to be 20 feet away and still hit a moving target in a crowd with a freakin revolver. When she’s done serving time for murder, we need to send her ass to Afghanistan)
3. Rihanna has slowly become everything fervent Beyonce critics have always (and unfairly) wanted Bey to be. Basically, she’s, well, interesting, and this interestingness (even at the expense of actual talent) makes her compelling in a way that the ridiculously talented and hard-working Beyonce can never be.
She has an interesting voice, she dresses in an interesting manner, she makes interesting videos, and she says interesting things (her “Cuz I’m black bitch!!!” Twitter take down of a critical fan might be one of the most surprisingly awesome things that’s ever happened on the internet) But, her appeal mainly lies with the fact that she’s a moth — a pretty girl attracted to the flame.
Unlike uber-attractive women who appear to be completely vapid (ie: Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, etc¹) completely normal (ie: Nia Long), or completely burdened by their beauty (ie: Hallie Berry), the moth (ie: Angelina Jolie, Marilyn Monroe, etc) resonates and transfixes through sheer force of personality and the fact that their knack for questionable decision-making humanizes them. They are “The Blower’s Daughters,” the women we just can’t take our eyes off of because we don’t know if they want to f*ck or murder us (or both)
In Rihanna’s case, this even affects how we perceive her music, which, despite her megastardom, remains relatively “eh.” We all know that she doesn’t have the best vocal range or sing the most compelling songs, but her Rihannaness has a way of making her songs interesting by osmosis.
I mean, “Man Down” could have easily been a throwaway track on any of the several Reggae Gold CDs I owned in college, but because Rihanna and Rihanna’s boobs are involved, this song will probably be a hit.
Speaking of boobs…
4. One of my favorite “Seinfeld” episodes revolves around whether Jerry’s girlfriend’s boobs are fake. He finds out that she frequents the same gym as Elaine, and he asks Elaine if she can somehow verify for him while they’re in the locker room. Elaine agrees, chaos ensues, and the episode eventually culminates with Jerry’s girlfriend finding out about Jerry and Elaine’s plans.
Obviously upset, she storms out of Jerry’s apartment, but not before leaving one parting shot.
“And by the way, they’re real, and they’re spectacular“
Those who remember my 181 word ode to Erykah Badu’s death-defying ass are probably expecting me to write something similar about Rihanna’s boobs. But while tempted to expound, all that really needs to be said about them is they’re (hopefully) real, and they’re f*cking spectacular.
¹To their credit, I think this vapidness is an act
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