Revenge Killing In Music Is Nothing New!

Rihanna’s new video for her single “Man Down” is developing a lot of controversy because of her portrayal of killing a man after he sexually assaults her. While on Tumblr, I read some conversations that I find interesting and agree with, so I decided to post them here instead of posting my argument, which can be found at my other blog, Reese’s Ear Candy.

Before reading this, to clarify, I do not support murder, but I do think it is interesting that people tend to criticize the violence of the murder and not the violence of the sexual abuse and sexual assault in which someone’s body is violated. His murder became a consequence of his actions, even if she was wrong in doing it. Also, I question why many are criticizing Rihanna, and a song in which the main character is obviously showing remorse for her actions, so much, when they may like these other songs and artists (ex. Tim Mcgraw’s Between The River and Me).




All this backlash about Rihanna’s Man Down video sounds a lot like “Think of the Poor Rapist” with a side of “How Dare She?” and it highlights (for the nth time) the influence of racism in rape culture. If this video had featured a dainty young white woman it would probably be getting hailed as a anthem by everyone from the NRA to Sarah Palin for showing a woman fighting back because she was empowered by owning a gun. Don’t believe me? Think about Independence Day & Goodbye Earl.

But a black woman who both enjoys sex and thinks she has the right to say no? Pfft, rape culture already thinks women in general can ask to be assaulted, but for WOC there’s the extra layer that claims that we never say no. We’re not just sluts for wearing tight clothes, we’re supposed to be sluts on demand for anyone that wants us and once we are in our “proper position” we can only redeemed by becoming Mammy. Sexual agency is never an option for us.

Goodbye Earl celebrates the murder of an abusive husband, and Independence Day is all about a woman remembering her mother freeing her through a murder suicide. The lyrics & the tempo of both songs is upbeat, catchy, with no sign of remorse or grief. In stark contrast Man Down focuses on her regret and highlights that having acted in the heat of the moment Rihanna regrets taking the life of her rapist. Yet, it is her song that is blasted for promoting violence. And for added…something, her abuser’s name is brought up as though his actual violence against women is less important than the fictionalized revenge of a rape victim. Interesting how the message after all these years is still one of “You don’t own your body, so how dare you try to defend it?”

ETA: A friend on Twitter hipped me to the fact that there was some backlash against Goodbye Earl for encouraging women to resort to murder in order to escape domestic violence. I tried to find links, but the song is old enough that all I can find is the stuff about the Chicks being Anti-American and some references to their being some complaints about the song. Anyone remember the size & shape of the uproar against Goodbye Earl?

Yup to all of that.  I do remember a bit of the uproar around Goodbye Earl; if I remember correctly I think it was more about the celebration surrounding the murder.  So there was definitely some hand-wringing.

That said, I think you are spot on about the dynamics involved in the Rihanna video. The uproar makes no sense to me; the woman does not take joy in what happened, she expresses regret all the way through.  This is why we see the whole story.  This is not an“enticement to turn to violence.”  I think you are right – if this video had not shown R dancing in the club and enjoying herself people would feel differently.  In Goodbye Earl, sweet little Wanda “behaved” herself.

As for gender – Hey JoePapa loved MamaBohemian Rhapsodyanyone?

re: how race/gender plays into the reaction, i would use Aerosmith’sJanie’s Got A Gun (link goes to original music video on YouTube) as exhibit A. i may be mistaken, but i don’t know that it created any controversy. (unfortunately, it also failed to raise the kind of awareness they intended it to. but i also think that people see incestuous and presumed-pedophilia rape very differently than the kind where a woman “chose” to be with an abuser.) i am quite sure that has something to do with: 1) Janie being white, 2) Aerosmith being white, 3) Aerosmith being men.


Janie’s got a gun
Janie’s got a gun
Whole world’s come undone
Looking straight at the sun

What did her daddy do?
What did he put you through?

They say when Janie was arrested they found him underneath a chair
But man he had it comin’, now that Janie’s got a gun
She ain’t never gonna be the same

Janie’s got a gun
Janie’s got a gun
Dog day just begun
Everybody is on the run

Tell me now it’s untrue
What did her daddy do?

He jacked a little bitty baby the man has got to be insane
They say the spell that he was under the lighting and the thunder
Knew that someone had to stop the pain

Run away, run away from the pain, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Run away,run away from the pain, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Run away, run away, run run away

Janie’s got a gun
Janie’s got a gun
Dog day’s just begun
Now everybody is on the run

What did her daddy do
It’s Janie’s last I.O.U.

She had to take him down easy and put a bullet in his brain
She said ‘cause nobody believes me, the man was such a sleaze
He ain’t never gonna be the same

Run away, run away from the pain, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Run away, run away from the pain, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Run away, run away, run run away

oh, and hey, who knew that Pink also has done Janie’s Got a Gun? (link goes to video on YouTube of Pink performing the song live.) i bet no one made a big deal about her singing it either.

full disclosure: i happen to love Aerosmith and Pink.

First, I enjoyed this song. I’m not a Ri fan by any means, but I enjoyed the song as a good quality song. I like seeing her get back to her roots. I appreciate her bringing attention to rape and intimate partner violence. I appreciate it especially because of what it going on in countries where rape is being used as a weapon of war.

Second, I don’t recall uproar against Eve’s “Love Is Blind”. In fact, I remember her being praised for bringing the issues of DV in the Black Community to hip-hop. However, I agree with the assessment that Black women are the most likely to be “slut-shamed” because the assumption is that we’re hypersexual. I just read an article that said Black teens are more likely to be tested for STDs at routine doctor’s appointments than White girls, without asking for them, even when they say they’ve never had sex. There is just a general assumption that we’re all whores. There is an assumption that our bodies are up for grabs, literally. this is why street harassment is so rampant andwhy girls get shot for not giving out their phone numbers

There is also an idea that we’re too strong to succumb to violence. Black women are often seen as strong, almost animal-like… workhorses even. We are so strong that we should be able to fend off rape and if we say we were raped, we’re probably lying.

Update: Here is an article from Ms. Magazine’s blog also discussing the Rihanna video in relation to violence in Rihanna’s past videos and media in general, and sexual assault cases in recent news. The writer also mentions Rihanna referencing of early 90s dancehall culture in the Caribbean and the femme fatale type in the video. This is why these things to be discussed in context because if it is not, we will get response like this, as Jen on Tumblr mentioned:

This quote from the Fox News article is my particular favorite:

“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,” he 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.”

Yes, because obviously if you are into anything remotely “kinky” you must also like to be beaten and/or raped.  It makes me so angry that in his entire argument, he never mentions consent.  He just implies that if you give consent to do one thing that could be considered violent, then you are giving consent to be attacked.  Just because I enjoy being handcuffed does NOT mean that I can no longer say no.

4 thoughts on “Revenge Killing In Music Is Nothing New!

  1. Ignoring your expected to the point of being trite race-baiting and racial angst, there were issues raised about several of the songs you listed and there seems to have been more issued raised about the Man Down video than the song itself – just as there were issues raised when Farah Fawcett made a movie about a wife burning to death her abusive husband in his sleep.

    Race and gender have nothing to do with this, except for the concerns raised by the unwholesome level of influence Rap and Hip-Hop “musicians” have on their Black fans.

    The issue is the glorification of vigilante killing, which is an understandable concern – though one I don’t share.

    1. If you think I am a race-baiter, then go right ahead. But as a black woman, it is hard for me to separate racism and sexism; they intersect for me. You cannot look at Rihanna and only say she is a woman; she is also a black woman and that should be discussed. Also, as a society we should focus more on getting rid of the causes behind why these women do these things, like rape and abuse, and do not put all the blame on Rap and Hip-hop (if you haven’t noticed there is good Hip-Hop and Rap, not just the garbage that big corporations pay to put out there) because our society as a whole has its faults as well and Hip-Hop is influenced by the rest of society’s issues too.

  2. very interesting. i was on facebook and i’ve talked to some male friends about this and the reaction is one referencing her use of a dark-skinnned black male in her video to make her point.
    but the problem, i think, is that there’s almost this idea of never “airing out dirty laundry”. but the laundry is dirty and has been soiled for too long. men of color are raping and sexually abusing women of color. this happens. it’s as if men of color don’t want this to be said, and when a woman puts that out, she’s saying something that shouldn’t be said. apparently she’s showing the white media how black men are.
    to some degree, they’re right. however, these issues need to come out. it’s unfortunate that someone like Rihanna who lacks any serious critical race or sexism theory is the woman to bring this topic up, but it is what it is…

  3. I did notice that in the video. She was, I think, one of the few light-skinned people in the video, so she stood out more than usual. I agree with you on the problem of rape between men of color and women of color. One of the problems is that women of color are dealing with the intersection between racism and sexism. Often men of color want us to choose our skin color over being women, but we want to also be respected as women in addition to being respected as black people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s