Guest Blogger: Brook Nasypany

Is Rihanna Glorifying, Romanticizing, or Doing Good?

Recently Rihanna has been blowing up headlines concerning the issue domestic violence. In early 2009 the pop star became a media craze when Chris Brown had beaten her badly. After this incident Rihanna ended up returning to her abusive partner. Realizing this was wrong and scared of the example she was setting on the youth she went public with her story.

Rihanna has been since criticized by many for several different reasons. She has been criticized for responding to her abuse by releasing a “darker” album, becoming more sexual, and having a violent edge towards her. Many have criticized her by saying she is teaching women to become violent after a domestic violence experience. She also has been criticized for her part in Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” song and video.

The video is criticized for glorifying and romanticizing an abusive relationship. The song/video obviously being about an abusive relationship involves two singers who have been involved in abusive relationships. The video also involves to attractive movie/TV stars that have many steamy scenes which could romanticize the relationship to some. Many are saying the song is giving evidence that true love hurts and also that it portrays woman in the relationship is asking for abuse through her own behavior. The second perspective is that it is a story of which both partners are both to blame. In this approach Eminem isn’t glorifying abusive relationships; he’s portraying the agony of a love-hate relationship neither partner can fix.

Even though there are many critics of Rihanna and her response to her own abuse experience and to the song and video, I believe she is doing a good job raising awareness, but can also understand her critics.

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14 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Brook Nasypany

  1. Grace B says:

    I think that the backlash Rihanna has received as a result of her abusive relationship with Chris Brown is outrageous. Through an edgier sound and look she is teaching young girls to become violent? Really? Rihanna is an artist, not a politician, and she is not trying to turn her struggle with domestic violence into a model of what to do and what not to do in said situation. I think that through her new image and funkier sound she is just trying to progress with her life and her career. Not that that’s our business anyway…
    Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” video, in all of its controversy is an interesting look at domestic violence. I had a best friend who was in a mutually abusive relationship and I just could not understand why she didn’t make a beeline for the door. It took her explaining all of the wonderful aspects of their relationship to understand why that was such an impossible thing for her to do. Although they did eventually break up, it was an extremely difficult tie for her to sever. This video demonstrated this to a tee. Domestic violence is not a cut and dry issue. It is not all bruises and black eyes and busted lips. Most relationships are also simultaneously and erratically, extremely loving. I think the dichotomy this video presented with regards to the bi-polarities of these kinds of volatile relationships is very accurate.
    The characters in his video are both the victims of the others rage, but they are also both the abuser/instigator. This video is not depicting gendered violence or violence solely towards towards women, and despite the sexual content of the video, I didn’t think it was sexy; the open mouth kissing was more disturbing in light of the context. To me this love story was poignant, tragic, honest and beautifully captured. It is a piece of art, and as such I understand how some could interpret it in a negative way, but that does not mean that their interpretation was the artists intent.
    Furthermore, Eminem wrote this song about his checkered past, not Rihanna’s. It is a part of his road to recovery for his sins. To surmise that after Rihanna’s horrible experience with abuse and violence, she would be advocating and sexualizing domestic violence through her music is cruel and misinformed at best. Hasn’t RiRi been through enough already?
    Although I think it is worth looking at these issues and examining what the media is feeding us, I think many celebrity critics in their effort to sound sanctimonious end up sounding a lot more sancti-ignorant.

  2. Oh man, I followed this story from the start. Ok, there are a lot of things to talk about.

    I’ll start with the video. For me, it’s all about the marketing. I really like the song, but feel the video does glamorize domestic violence a little bit. Choosing Fox and the guy from Lost were clearly for eye candy. It was a mistake to choose them because it doesn’t come off as unsettling as it should. Their fights remind me of the fight scene in Mr and Mrs Smith. While that movie did involve Brad fighting with Angelina, it wasn’t meant to be considered domestic violence–which could warrant another post in and of itself when it comes to femme fatales. Anyway, for the video, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Megan has remarkably beautiful skin for a domestic violence victim.’

    Now to Rihanna. I remember there was outrage directed towards her; people saying she asked for it. I think silence played the biggest role in this. normally we expect our celebs to do a sit-down interview with Oprah. Rihanna didn’t. She stayed silent. And because she did so, people began to let their thoughts run wild. She didn’t set the story straight like we expected her to. Instead, we saw her go back to Chris.

    Anger towards that can be justified. but it’s more anger out of frustration. People can’t understand why she would go back. Well, bruises fade. And, it’s important to remember she did not fall for that side of Chris. It most likely didn’t emerge in the beginning. SHe gave him another chance, but after looking at it objectively, ended it.

    She’s human, and we forget that. She was not the abuser, so we must always remember that. She has not taken the actions we would normally expect. Usually we’d have a feel good anthem–instead we have ‘Rude Boy.’ Um, how dare she? It’s her prerogative to choose the music. Every artist has artistic license. And sometimes our artists go through particularly dark times, even if it’s a commercially tough sell. Kelly Clarkson was raked across the coals in 2007 for her darker turn on My December. But, like Rihanna with Rated R, it’s a cd she felt she had to make to help herself. While I don’t care for the style of Rated R, I applaud Rihanna for making the cd she wanted to make and not caring what some suits above had to say. Isn’t that the empowered woman we’ve been looking for?

    Still, I think Chris Brown fans–tweens mainly who do have a lot of power and ppl who don’t understand domestic violence–will blame her. She seems unaffected by it and knows her true fans will stand by her. In that way I don’t think she’s romanticizing domestic violence like the music video is. She’s making careful choices, ones that consider not only her fans but herself. That’s pretty rare in an artist.

  3. Becky says:

    After the incident between Rihanna and Chris Brown took place, it was hard to imagine the two of them becoming close again. BUt with any highly publisized incident in hollywood, we never really know the circumstance or what exactly has occurred. I do not think that Rihanna’s actions condone domestic abuse, but rather, show the way in which people sometimes react to these situations. She obviously had never experienced something like this in her life. She obviously thought she was in love and sometimes it can be hard for people to snap out of the reality of things if the reality has become a harsh and unrecognizable truth.

    In terms of her music becoming more edgy, sexual, and dark- that could just be her way of allowing her feelings to flow out. She isn’t singing about loving someone who hurts you and running to them, but she is expressing the torn feelings in circumstances like the one she experienced. I bet many young women can relate to the aftershock of domestic abuse. She, in turn, seems powerful and a strong woman. Her choice to express herself in her music seems the most appropriate and whatever she were to do afterwards would have been a public matter, she never truly gets the privacy to grieve.

  4. Chris Bramwell says:

    When I look at the video I happen to agree mostly with Grace. This is a close to accurate portrayal of domestic violent situations, or at least what the average person might expect. I almost feel as though the days where domestic violence depictions in mass media as being solely one-sided, where the male completely dominates the relationship, are over. If anything, given the seemingly progressive society we live in, it would be a marketing failure to not have the domestic violence situations be two-sided, where both male and female are victims and instigators. I try to always consider who the target audience is, and in this case you have young “progressive-minded” boys and girls listening to this music; why would a marketing agent choose to isolate the female demographic with outdated cliches? Cliches are important here, but so too is the context. Studies show that children learn more form theirs peers and pop culture around the age where they are listening to Rhianna and Eminem. So what should we as a society do? Prevent musicians from discussing such controversial topics as domestic violence? What then does that say for those discuss suicide or other serious topics, would there even be a Nirvana? I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we cannot censor mass media, and we really shouldn’t either. If all we allow our children to listen to is songs about love and other things from 15-25 year olds (pop stars), are we really sending the right messages? Are these pop icons even a credible authority (I jest, OF COURSE THEY ARE).

    We have to expose our children to the issues that exist, censorship is never appropriate. Once exposed to these issues, it is then our responsibility to educate them if there are problems or inconsistencies with the images depicted. I say put the blame on parents, not Rhianna or Eminem for doing what they’re doing.

  5. Courtney Notte says:

    I think we’re missing the point. Here is a young woman who was subjected to an attack by her partner, and she’s being criticised for how she reacts to it? Maybe the pressure of living this experience in a fishbowl forced her hand in a lot of ways. Coping with something as personal as a physical attack at the hands of your partner or someone close to you, someone trusted, isn’t something that many people would be happy to do with spotlight on them. I’m no expert, but I’m fairly certain that after what she went through, she would have been feeling a lot of things – angry, hurt, confused, bitter, maybe violent, maybe like she wanted to reclaim some power, some part of herself that he damaged when he attacked her through dressing provocatively, or singing about sex or getting a gun tattooed on her. Maybe she is a young confused woman who will process what happened to her in time and find a different (less controversial) way to work through her torment, but for now is puzzling through the experience the only way she knows how. Maybe, we should direct our gaze at the man who beat her, at the fact that she was beaten and at the fact that most of the people criticising her are in no position to tell her how she should behave or act or dress or speak or sing. Have the grace to respect a person’s right to behave in the way they feel is appropriate and necessary to cope. So much judgement was heaped on her after the attack. She didn’t run into a door. She was beaten by a man she trusted. I’m not advocating violence, hyper-sexuality or senseless nihilism as a means of coping with a damaging experience, I’m just saying that a little understanding goes a long way.

  6. Nick says:

    I am not someone that really cares about celebrity relationships and issues, so what Rihanna and Chris Brown do is between them. And I think that Bramwell made a good point in mentioning that we cannot place too much emphasis on what the appeal of a music video is. It is a music video and that means it is supposed to be enjoyable to watch on some level. It is important to use other venues to educate and help people understand the real issues of domestic violence. And I think Chris was right in saying that it is not as one sided as it was once understood to be. In order to help remove the gender aspect of this aspect we must realize that abuse can be enacted by both men and women.

  7. Isabella Comstock says:

    I agree with the understanding aspect of your argument Courtney, but I think the criticism with Rhianna here is that something terrible happened to her, yes, and she has every right (and we condone) her coping with the situation in however she sees fit and to take however long she needs. But the issue is that she is a very public figure and when you have the power to influence a lot of people and when your moves are watched very closely you have to be mindful of what you are letting be seen by the public. This goes for everyone in the public eye, not just Rhianna (nor am I blaming Rhianna here). It is not appropriate to let the whole world see your issues (even if they are breaking down the doors to get at it) when it might mean that impressionable young girls will see it and use it as a model for themselves were they in that particular situation.

    That being said, I think that this is actually a meaningful video and does not deserve the criticism it is being given – although I feel that such criticism was intended by the video. I see it as sending a message to people saying that – “yeah I see you are all pissed off that this relationship looks romanticized and is intriguing in this video” (what with Rhianna being half dressed and the two very attractive movie/tv stars portraying the relationship) “but that is what a real relationship of this kind looks like.” As Grace pointed out, an abusive relationship contains bipolarities. Manipulation plays a huge role in the inability of one partner to leave their abuser (in this case the girl leaving the guy). He gives her presents, holds her close when he needs to, makes her feel that she is wanted and special and then defies all that by abusing her. Its a mind game – the abuse is not purely physical and this is what is so distressing about the situation. Thus I think the criticism of this video is something to smile upon because it is justifying the message of the video itself.

  8. Brooke says:

    I didn’t really follow this story intensely when it all went down, but I am doing a research project on this subject and how victims of domestic abuse view the Rihanna story as well as Rihanna fans and feminist. I have refollowed the whole story and find it quite fascinating. She did chose to remain silent until the whole thing blew up and then did a sit down interview on 20/20. I really admired her throughout this interview. As a Rihanna fan I find it hard to knock her and how she responded but after reading multiple feminist blogs I can completely understand their argument. I think in the end of the day she is a humanbeing and can’t be held on a pedestal and criticized for her actions. I think any vicitim of abuse would struggle to find themselves again and Rihanna had to do that with millions of people watching, possibly making it harder for her to move on. I think as the Love the Way You Lie video I am not a fan. Picking a good looking actress and actor kind of bothered me and the scenes just seemed to make abuse sexy. I think the director could have made a better message be sent across. Though I do like how domestic abuse information comes on after the video plays on TV, shows that it is a very serious thing. Loaded topic, lots to say.

  9. oliviacarb says:

    I absolutely hate Rihanna… and I have since that “Come Mr. DJ” shit and so my disdain for this song/music video does not stem from her situation with Chris Brown but just her overall behavior since she emerged on the pop music scene. In regards to the Chris Brown “incident” I can only regard the entire direction of her career post-abuse as a marketing ploy. Her album immedietly suceeding the “incident” was an absolute flop, and was also released at a rather awkward and tumultuous time. The album after that has done smashingly well and I can only attribute it to the, in my opinion, blatant exploitation of the situation in which she has emerged from. Yes she is “darker” more “sexual” and “edgy” and this “image” could be the result of her reclaiming her independence, sexuality, autonomy, and denial of the societal construction that has relegated women to the inferior, less powerful position – but it can also be argued that this was a grand public relations ploy in an attempt to re-envision Rihanna as a “survivor” and not a “victim” (considering when she was seen as a victim her album failed). Her survivor mentality is working in her favor, but are young girls even seeing this? Or are they merely being presented with the scenario of man having control and power over a woman physically and emotionally. Her new image and being open about her experience are all great motives in her “recovery” from the abuse she experienced… except she’s forgetting that while she is expressing herself and “confronting the issue” of domestic violence, she’s is a highly influential person in pop culture and thus is being ogled by millions of young girls who aren’t tuning into Oprah and Ellen Degeneres, and who don’t quite understand the meaning and intention behind her video. They’re busy watching MTV where the emphasis is not on Rihanna, the “survivor,” but rather Rihanna, the “sex symbol.” For the immature and inexperienced girls watching this video, they’re being shown that despite being abused by a man, she should still go back to him because he provides her with material and economic needs and the bond of love trumps violence. Is domestic violence the new indicator of sexiness? Are we backtracking everything feminists have worked towards? Or is she merely reclaiming her sexuality/femininity/denied autonomy by presenting herself as an empowered and sexual woman capable of confronting taboo topics?

    It’s a double-edged sword, to the older generation, our generation, who read the gossip magazines and occasionally tune into Oprah and Ellen and the View (for educational purposes and social commentary purposes of course) we understand what Rihanna is trying to do, and it’s liberating, and it’s bold and brave. But to the young girls who are watching MTV, reading J14, and going to the mall – mostly (not all) ignorant to the severity and prevalence of domestic violence in our society – they’re being sent a completely different message: dominatrix attire is hot, Rihanna is sassy, Megan Fox is skinny and hot (and so is her boyfriend in that video OMG). Essentially, I regard this video, and Rihanna in general, as a money-making attempts that result in exploitation and glorification of domestic violence while making Rihanna and Eminem (& Co.) richer, reinventing Rihanna’s image from the innocent Barbadian island princess to a sexy, edgy, dark seductress, and ultimately teaching the naive and inexperienced that violence can be sexy and thus further reinforcing patriarchy.

  10. Allison says:

    At first when I heard this song, I was shocked that Rihanna would partake in something that seemed to show weakness in regards to domestic violence. The lyrics “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s alright because I like the way it hurts” really stood out to me and I was surprised that after her incident, she would feel okay singing these. However, after watching the music video and reading other comments, it seems that this song is her way of calling attention to domestic violence. I just wish they hadn’t chosen those two actors to be in the movie because it makes the issue seem almost glamorous and like a scene from a movie, rather than a horrible situation in which help is needed.
    When only listening to the lyrics, it seemed as though the abuse was more directed towards the woman; but after watching the video, I recognized that both the characters are victims of each other’s rage. They are both the abusers and the instigators, which seems to be happening more and more in our society.
    While the video and the song may not portray domestic violence in the right way, I agree with Isabella on the fact that because the video was so controversial, attention was definitely brought to the issue, and hopefully more people will realize the affects and consequences of an abusive relationship.

  11. Kyle Tritten says:

    Where to start on this subject containing two seperate topics? I think ill start with the video, the video no doubt portrays, domestic violence. But if you know anything about rap, alot of the music these artists make come from real life, harsh or not harsh occurences. It’s obvious that Eminem has been through a life time that most of us can’t compare too. To me this song is portraying a a life story of Eminem’s nothing more is to come out that. It’s a catchy song, people love the song, and with Rihanna singing the corus after what she had been through is simply perfect. Their both bringing awareness to this topic, showing that even famous people deal with this issue. I do agree with the fact you can look at this video from two ways, half full or half empty your choice. Just like it was Rihanna’s choice to agree to sing the chorus.
    On the other note with Rihanna’s situation dealing with Chris, i believe she handled it perfectly. Silence i feel was the key, people need to deal with things in ways that will make themselves better. The only person they have to look at and feel good with is theirself in the mirror at the end of the day. Her new album and music, like her song Rude Boy, just resemble a phase of her life. It expresses herself in way to maybe make her feel better. To me her new music means more to me in understanding her than what a sit down interview at the time of incident would have done. She is expressing herself through her music. As one person said earlier, her true fans will stay loyal to her even in this time of speaking out in a different voice.
    We the consumer, and public feel that because people are famous they owe us an explaination for everything, the fact is we need to let these people try to live a normal life as possible if they want. Their choice.

  12. Eliss Manon says:

    Rihanna has been through a lot and as an artist she wants to express herself which is very understandable, so I don’t get why is it that critics are trying to say that she is being a bad influence to women when she is actually helping empower girls in relationships and letting it be known that they are not alone. Her songs may be seen as “violent ” but if that’s how she felt after everything happened to her then so be it; no one can speak for her and singing is her way of speaking out.
    Like Stephen said she is human, and human makes mistake and they learn from them, so when she did decide to go back to Chris Brown she was still in love with him but she realized that it was a mistake which is why she broke it off with him and started to “change” and in critics eyes this was a bad thing? Well that’s BS, she is in control of herself and if “changing” was what needed to be done for her to move on and be happy then I’m happy and proud for her, it’s not every day where a women who has been in a domestic violent relationship can move pass that and still be happy.
    Now about this song, I really love it! I feel like it really speaks for both artist and everything they been through, therefore I think Eminem chose her to sing the chorus for a reason and that’s because she can actually relate to the song just as well as he can. They both have been in abusive relationships and know how hard it is to get out of it because they still love their partner. I really believe that the fact that he chose her helps women around the world see that it is hard because that’s what love is and when you are too deep in it, it’s harder to get out especially in an abusive relationship.
    Rihanna is doing a great job in moving on and spreading awareness to women everywhere. And to the people who don’t understand her, I guess you have to be in her shoes to see why she has done everything she has to become strong again;)

  13. Kelly- Ann Smith says:

    Being a fan of both Rihanna and Chris Brown, it is true that the incident did give Rihanna more limelight and she did work it to her advantage. Chris Brown became a monster while she became the victim , which she was after all, (we all did see the picture of her face right?). However, to say she has become more “edgier” and “sexier” because of the incident I see that as a stretch. Her prior album that dropped before the incident was titled “Good Girl Gone Bad”, where in her “Umbrella” video she was nude covered in silver paint, so she was already morphing into a more mature and “edgier” artist before the Chris Brown incident. A lot of the music on her “Rated R” album was “darker” and it should have been. After realizing your boyfriend just beat the crap out of you and you are now under the critical eye of the whole world who are all pretty sure they knew what happened that night, your next album is not going to be about rainbows and unicorns. Her album was “darker” and more raw because of the emotions she had at that point in her life and as artist, she should be able to convey that through her music to connect with her fans that have also felt the way she has in that situation.

    Her choice to be apart of Eminem’s song “Love The Way You Lie” I thought was brilliant. To have someone like Rihanna sing about domestic violence shows the courage she had and it shows her fans and others who look up to her that they aren’t alone. I am positive Eminem could have gotten anyone to have done that chorus for him but I don’t think it would have gotten the recognition it did with Rihanna because she’s been through it and so she knows how it is to be in a violent relationship with someone you love. I don’t think Eminem and Rihanna were romanticizing domestic violence in the video but, was showing the reality of it. People just need to stop paying attention to how beautiful Megan Fox is and all the kissing scenes and see the video in a bigger picture; which shows how difficult it is to leave a abusive relationship when both partners are so madly in love with each other that much. The video shows how these strong emotions of love and anger can be detrimental for both people in a relationship. It can be seen as romantic because they are in love however, the video and song sheds light on the harsh reality.

  14. Tom M says:

    First off, I would like to say that the likelihood of me buying a Rihanna CD is about as likely as anyone finding my Kidz Bop 2 CD from the 4th grade. Moving forward, I think this is a classic case of the ever-critical media being upset over someone’s personal life decisions. Every time A. a celebrity goes into rehab, B. a celebrity is going through a divorce or separation or C. a celebrity goes through some personal shit, the media turns around and wants them to play into projected ideals. In the case of Rihanna, the media seems to have labeled her a “victim” and wants her to be an advocate for domestic violence awareness. Although I completely understand the need of awareness for this cause, I think it is ridiculous for external forces to subjugate their ideology on people who do not wish to fill a projected role.
    Take Britney Spears for example, after playing into the whole American virgin, don’t think my school girl outfit is sexy just because I look like I belong in anime porn look for three years the media loved her. The second she actually decided to become who she actually was, a college aged dancing super-freak, everyone decided she was a whore. So she decided to beat some car with umbrella. You know why? The girl was pissed. People wouldn’t leave her alone. You can’t win with the media. One minute your America’s girl, the next minute, people are pissed you had sex and your in some hair salon cutting off all your hair. Rihanna is not playing the “victim” because she does not see herself as a victim. She is a 23 three-year-old girl who had something shitty happen to her. She is moving on with her life. Now I understand that as public media figures, it is a celebrity’s job to convey a moral message to America’s youth, but at the same time isn’t everyone these days projecting that you should be yourself and embrace your inner beauty? Do what you want because you “were born this way”? I think Rihanna is doing that.
    In regards to the video, I felt like the responses should be separate, I think it is a solid artistic interpretation of the lyrics. The video does exactly what it was set up to do. Have people stare at Megan Fox, and pay attention to the lyrics. The sequence of events taken place in the video run parallel to the lyrics being discussed adding emotion to the video, rather than seeing a bunch of booties giggling next to some guy wearing a lime green top hat. I do not believe the video or lyrics are advocating or glorifying domestic violence. I think they both showcase the ability of some to put into words and visual some uncommonly projected human emotions. Everyone isn’t perfect, people’s lives aren’t perfect, but Eminem’s song, either by personal intention or by accident, is bringing much needed discussion and attention to domestic violence awareness.

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