Rihanna vs. the Parents Television Council: 'Man Down' Video Inappropriate?

BlogHer Original Post

In the middle of a season of crazy tornado weather and political scandals, what was the lead story yesterday on CNN.com? The fact that Rihanna's new music video was being called 'inexcusable' by a parent watchdog group. The Parents Television Council -- known for their definition of "responsible entertainment" being synonymous with "100% sex- and violence-free" -- issued a release after premiere on BET condemning Rihanna's "Man Down" video as a "shoot-and-kill theme song", concluding:

‘Man Down’ is a clear violation of BET’s own programming guidelines shared with the public by Debra Lee, the chairman and CEO of BET Networks. I join with the Parents Television Council and Industry Ears in calling on Viacom executives to immediately pull the video from programs that are targeted to youth and teenagers.

BET has already responded to clarify that the video didn't violate any of their programming guidelines. Obviously.

Let's step back a moment and talk about the video itself (see the official version above or here.) I expect a so-called "shoot-and-kill theme song" to be all about the awesomeness of killing, so imagine my surprise when I settled in to watch the video and beheld a fairly brief video depiction of Rihanna shooting a man, coupled with an entire song about guilt and remorse. Not exactly the "let's all go shoot 'em up" anthem I was expecting. Furthermore, as the video unfolds we're shown that the man Rihanna shot had sexually assaulted her the previous day. (It is worth noting that the PTC harps on the shooting as what makes this video inappropriate, whereas the sexual assault scene -- longer, and arguably more graphic -- apparently doesn't bother them.)

Now. Do I think this video is appropriate for small children? Definitely not. Do I think a teen viewing this video would be inspired to go out and shoot someone? Also no. The story I get from this video is that violence begets violence and no one wins; revenge is not, as it turns out, all that sweet. It's not the greatest music video I've ever seen, but neither do I find the message "irresponsible" as the PTC is claiming. Also, it's a far cry from the most violent thing I've ever seen on television.

Melissa Henson is the communications and public education for the Parents Television Council. Part of the release includes this tidbit:

“No one questions that female pop stars can be profoundly influential in the lives of young girls. A new study in the Journal of Children and Media serves to further underscore that point, especially among girls ages nine to 11. We call on Viacom to immediately stop airing the video,” Henson said.

The study she cites is an important one, I think, because the influence celebrities exert on the emerging sense of self on our children, and our daughters, in particular, is something we as a society need to better understand. I say that in all seriousness. In fact, I say it with the same seriousness I'm going to say this: Who is letting their nine-year-olds watch Rihanna videos? Look, I appreciate the PTC's mission. I think their motivation is admirable. But I think they tend to overlook one very important fact, and that is that it is the individual parents' responsibility to police what our children are watching on television. I agree that this video is inappropriate for 9-11-year-olds. But the difference between me and the PTC is that I don't see that as a valid reason to prevent the video from airing, unless the video is airing in the middle of Sesame Street rather than on a cable channel which your kids probably aren't watching, anyway.

Britni Danielle at Clutch covers the controversy -- including Rihanna's tweeted responses -- ending with a call to parents rather than to Rihanna:

While I understand the need to want entertainers to send positive messages to their fans, especially young ones, I don’t think criticizing an artist’s every move is the best route to take. Instead of decrying Rihanna for showing a woman killing her attacker, perhaps parents can use this as a teachable moment to reenforce the idea that respecting others (and their bodies) is never negotiable.

PopEater's Kiki Von Glinow includes one of Rihanna's responses to the bruhaha:

"[I have] been abused in the past, and you don't see me running around killing people in my spare time." she said. "I just really want girls to be careful. Have fun, be sassy, be innocent and sweet. Be everything that you are but just try not to be naive."

Check out the reader comments on that one, too -- several commenters point out classic rock songs that talk about murder that haven't been nearly so scrutinized. Interesting.

What do you think? A big fuss over nothing? Would you let your kids watch this video?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin is perfectly capable of monitoring her kids without the PTC telling her what to think. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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