Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Man Down? Shaping Youth calls Rihanna to Girl Up: Owning Your Influence

Today I’m cross posting with Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth. Amy wrote this blog post in response to Rihanna’s controversial video Man Down. Amy’s argument is that Rihanna seems to be baiting outrage to get attention. She also calls on Rihanna and others to own their own influence on their young fans. The point is, instead of declaring, “this is art, I  can do whatever I want” while at the same time raking in the dollars of young fans, celebrities need to consider their audience.

June 6, 2011 We interrupt our positive picks programming to hand over a pail and a scrub brush so parents can prep for the latest mop up of “young and the RECKLESS”…

This week in Rihanna Redux, she’s once again baiting outrage by splattering revenge fantasies around the interwebs with ambient buzz in Rihanna’s new “Man Down” videoabout a woman who shoots and kills her rapist in a crowded train station.

It’s the sequel to our prior ‘why would she do that’ moment (no not the risque S&M bit yesterday in Baltimore, the domestic violence backdraft I wrote about with her Love the Way You Lie video, which teen dating violence survivor Elin Waldal echoes here). Rihanna’s response, raw and uncut, says it all,

“The music industry isn’t exactly Parents R Us! We have the freedom to make art, LET US! It’s your job to make sure they don’t turn out like US.”

Well isn’t that special. Thanks for lobbing another grenade into the parent lap. I’m not asking Rihanna’s videos to be public service announcements, I’m saying she is in a unique position to use her starpower to expand the conversation with media mindfulness, or at least ‘do no further harm.’

Considering every 2.5 minutes a women is raped in the US, and one in four college women will be raped before graduation (PAMF) it’s quite obvious we’re dealing with a loaded, toxic problem. Instead, we get this simplistic ‘just smoke em’ message. Surreal.

As the study in Journal of Children and Media purports, girls 9-11 are particularlyinfluenced by pop culture icons, with poignant reverb on their own identities, so when Rihanna’s  vigilante revenge fantasies of highly charged violence can slip into teen programming on BET under the guise of “art with a message” it’s readily apparent to me we’ve got shock schlock perpetuation of the ‘outrageousness’ formula, with a broken moral compass going ‘Sproing!’ somewhere.

Rihanna/Eminem have already ‘been there, done that’ with their firey volatility in Love the Way You Lie‘s glorification of relationship abuse…

…Kanye’s misogynistic ‘Monster’video put forth as fantasy included dead women propped up in bed, spread-eagle on the dinner table and hanging from ceilings in chains which launched a full-blown petition on Adios Barbie and thoughtful media deconstruction of the visceral disgust it elicits when these videos brush against our youth.

Every single one of these artists I mentioned are ‘repeat offenders’ in the complicity corral, with sales and ratings attention focused on their ability to create ‘controversy’ despite zero mea culpas for the harm, damage, and lack of accountability in framing helpful outlets and education for those who need to escape such horrific DV situations.

Parents have been teaching that conflict resolution doesn’t resolve through escalation for ages, but sadly, media’s megaphone loudly drowns out rational thought in favor of the almighty drama crescendo with volatile predictability, now in full tilt surround sound.

Now Rihanna’s irked that she’s being called out, brazenly thrashing across the interwebs to address her Twitter fans justifying this video “contains a very strong underlying message 4 girls like me.”

Do tell, Rihanna. What message is that?

Because the way I see it, this kind of ‘storytelling’ needs and epilogue…

Nowhere does it remotely hint at the sad statistics of socio-economic, gender-based injustice when female assault victims DO kill and end up serving life behind bars.

Nowhere does it address color lines and racial inequities in the justice system.

Nowhere does it imply “the end” for the shooter as well as the rapist, because that’s the harsh REAL ending.

It’s imperative that girls and women know the WHOLE truth of a revenge fantasy, not just the chapters that make good video storytelling…

…Especially when that story will seep into the minds of youth in many a tough neighborhood among abused females that have run afoul in multiple scenarios and could’ve used an extended hand of hope and an escape plan.

I personally think Rihanna could’ve (should’ve) raised her voice loud and high using her superstar power to promote solutions-based appeal…shepherding girls and women to thelight at the end of the tunnel rather than the darkness of a cold prison cell.

Whether it’s therapeutic  “Tell Your Story” sites and amazing resources like Love Is Respect.org The Love is Not Abuse Campaign, or Bom411.com (Boss of Me) helplines to hash through teen dating violence, get help and break the cycle of DV…she could’ve done a very creative ‘rewind’ montage to turn that fantasy into a productive ‘win’ —

Ah, but alas, premeditated murder, complete with smoking gun and a whoopsie moment of lyrics contrition equals “sexy badass” for record sales, n’est ce pas? Ugh. And don’t get me started on the whole business and industry backroom deals that paint with a broad brush of‘why things are the way they are’

For that show and tell, here’s the latest from Paul Porter, co-founder ofIndustry Ears and a former BET program director who has teamed withParents Television Council for education:

“It’s pretty obvious what is going on here. BET said no to Rihanna’s ‘S&M’ and ‘Russian Roulette,’ but cut a deal to support ‘Man Down’ for a performance at this year’s ‘BET Awards’ show. While we all agree rape is a terrible crime, ‘Man Down’ offers no positive solution for rape victims except vigilante justice.”

Rev. Delman Coates, Ph.D., organizer of the Enough Is Enough Campaign for Corporate Responsibility in Entertainment and Pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md. added,

“In a letter to me, Debra Lee, the CEO of Black Entertainment Television, stated, ‘BET does not air music videos that contain graphic or excessive sexual activity or violence.’ Then in an interview this April, Ms. Lee boasts the network is ‘more strict in what we allow on the air’ and is ‘looking at it from our young audience’s perspective….

The airing of this and other videos on a program marketed to youth and teens suggests that parents, advertisers, and the general public can have no confidence in the network’s ability to enforce its supposed ‘comprehensive set of standards and guidelines.’  The network says one thing to the public, but does another thing in practice,” Coates concluded.

Hmn, sounds about right to me. So what are we gonna do about it?

These orgs above are calling for youth timeslot video removal, this CNN Opinion pieceargues for a media literacy approach to make it required viewing.

Your thoughts? Here are a few of mine: (and yes, no surprise that I break rank with colleagues I admire all the time)

I’m not a fan of a ban

But it doesn’t belong remotely near  youth programming.

To me, censorship and a plethora of petitions without actionable clipping of the financial purse-strings and fiscally driven behavioral change often serves to just escalate visibility.

It lops off one head of the Hydra which instantly grows a new snake, often even more repugnant.

However, if we wait for childless hipsters and pop stars to ‘get it’ that their messaging is harmfully impacting en masse and amplified with volume, ambient cues and age compression, then we’ll lose an entire generation…

So how can we be solutionary vs revolutionary to bring substantive accountability to industry without artists playing the “hey I’m not a parent I can say what I want” card?

Or using the wisdom of Doug Engelbart:

How can we get individuals to apply collective knowledge to raise the IQ of humanity?

What if we focus on repeat offenders in this genre of ‘baiting outrage’ and do some wallet whacking at a granular sponsorship level?

What if we quit focusing on ‘onesies and twosies’ and ask the industry bigwig institutions to self-rein or be reined?

What is we engage more positive artists, agents, and entertainment industry biggies themselves to help lead the way? (e.g. Spielberg has made some strong anti-violence waves, etc)

What if we shift toward direct ties to digital rights management (DRM) at the contract level noting artists complicity and responsibility from the get go? (a reverse of the ‘hold harmless’ legal clauses we writer/producer folks have to deal with when signing lives away to corporate biggies—)

How can we create a ‘hold accountable’ clause for corporate entities doing harm and tie it to fiscal fitness?

Most of all, what if we call on artists themselves to champion change and help connect the dots for their more clueless colleagues, to fight fire with fire WITHIN the industry using mass channels as the distribution itself?

Grammys. MTV Music Awards. MTV Movie Awards. They want drama? That would be ‘livestreamed reality moments’ fun for sure. Don’t laugh too hard. Last night Reese Witherspoon did just that!

Reese Witherspoon OWNED her influence and used it for the greater good.

She was the highlight of an otherwise banal, sophomoric MTV Movie Awards show that seemed geared to a Nickelodeon ‘grossology’ crowd.

Reese accepted the Generation Award with casual aplomb, empowering girls and women with her outspoken “Enough is Enough” advice to young up and coming stars, she said:

“I get it, girls, that it’s cool to be a bad girl,” she said. “But it is possible to make it in Hollywood without doing a reality show.” The audience gave her a standing ovation.

“When I came up in this business, if you made a sex tape, you were embarrassed,” the 35-year-old told the crowd. “And if you took naked pictures of yourself on your cell phone … you hide your face, people!” For all the girls out there, it’s totally possible to be a good girl,” she said. “I’m going to try to make it cool.”

I dare say, “there’s gold in them thar hills’ if Hollywood is smart enough to see the opportunity to trump the crotch-grabbing, boob-holding, laser-boner-light-sabered, dog-humping electronic media jacket, and foul-mouthed coarseness that left audiences awkwardly wincing and tweeting with devolved desensitization. I was thrilled to see Witherspoon josh around w/colleagues while presenting herself like a wise owl hooting for reason over raunch. A standing ovation’s gotta count, right?

I immediately tweeted out, “Reese Witherspoon knows how to represent: Brains over brash, class over crass at #MTV #movieawards (Hollywood, plz note market potential)”

So again, to me, the key to tide-turning messages like Rihanna’s is to embrace positive handling of similar messages to create a backlash from within their own industry.

It’s wallet whacking, but it’s formed as a movement by the artists, for the artists putting positive peer pressure on the raunch to ‘do no harm’ and be accountable…as it’s hurting the industry overall.

We just can’t leave it all to ‘media literacy’ and ‘critical thinking skills’ for kids to decipher Rihanna’s ‘message’…

…Because frankly, cultural context, environmental desensitization and media proliferation have altered that conversation into a ‘who can say it louder and make it last?’ cacophony of noise.

This is where we need to be circumspect about Rihanna’s Man Down messaging, or Kanye’s Monster or any other ‘yougaddabekiddinme’ media moments that kids barely even flinch about. It gets brushed aside as ‘just entertainment’ while the universal cues are seeping deeper into psyches with fallout only STARTING to surface with problematic impacts on public health.

As this KFF.org research shows, when I wrote Hollywood Health Cues: Ingested for Better or For Worse …We actually CAN make huge changes embedding positive solutions into mass entertainment.

In this limbo game of life, I think we can do a lot better than knocking down kids with negative cues, we need to raise the entire bar for how we as humans want to walk through the world.

How low can you go? How high can you fly? Raise that bar. Higher. HIGHER!

In Part Two,Teen Dating Violence Survivor and Author of Tornado Warning, Elin Waldal shares HER thoughts on the Rihanna Man Down video, and more on Leslie Morgan Steiner’s CNN/Opinion written as a sexual assault survivor. Plus a whole different conversation about Rihanna’s video that’s got many eyebrows raising, called “Why Defend Rapists” (thanks to Nancy at WhereIsYourLine.org for that one) Stay tuned…

Meanwhile, here are some vital domestic violence resources to share…Wish Rihanna did.

(Yes, I realize that’s not her job as a celebrity. But with her level of influence with teens? It sure oughta be. Own up. Girl up. And at the very least…Do no harm. Goes for all the pop culture icons out there…)

Related Resources:

DV Hotlines/Resources

The Safe Space

Break the Cycle

Love Is Respect


Bom411.com: Boss of Me

A Thin Line.org-MTV’s Over the Line (digital abuse/teen control)

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

See It and Stop It! Organization

Do Something Organization

LiveStrong: Teen Dating Violence

Love is Not Abuse.com (Liz Claiborne campaign)

APA: Teens/Love Doesn’t Have to Hurt (pdf)

HelpGuide.org: Cycle of abuse/DV; cause-effect

HSUS/Animal abuse & corollary w/domestic violence

Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness

Fact Sheets

  • Safe Dates 
    This fact sheet describes Safe Dates, a primary and secondary dating abuse prevention program for adolescents, and its targets, content, and outcomes.
  • Teen Dating Violence Facts
    This fact sheet provides statistics on teen dating violence, including prevalence and frequency, parental awareness, teen awareness, incident reporting, contributing factors, and patterns in relationship abuse.
  • Teen Dating Violence Prevention Recommendations
    This fact sheet lists teen dating violence prevention strategies for victims, abusers, family members, friends, bystanders, and professionals that work with teens.

Additional Resources From Safe Youth.org:

Related From Industry Ears

Rihanna’s “Man Down” Video: Dead Wrong
The Truth on BET, Rihanna and the deal cut for BET Awards
Parents Television Council Joins with Industry Ears, to Condemn Rihanna’s “Man Down” Video
Rihanna’s New “Suicide Song”

Related Posts on Shaping Youth

Attention KMart Shoppers, Dating Violence on Aisle 3

Predatory Practices As Sport: (Fantasy Football Sexualization)

What Does A 13-year Old Boy Know About Dating Violence?

Turning Boys Into Monsters: A Foul Taste (Again)

Amy Jussel is the Founder & Executive Director of Shaping Youth, a nonprofit, nonpartisan consortium dealing with media and marketing’s impact on kids. Using the tactics of industry insiders, Shaping Youth is embedding innovative programs that promote healthier, positive values by using the power of the media turned on itself.

Shaping Youth’s programs are deployed via the digital sphere using film, web, and hands-on counter-marketing games in train the trainer format for media literacy and critical thinking skills. With a background in journalism and 25 years in new product development/creative direction, SY is leveraging skill sets as applied science to use the power of media for positive change. 

http://www.shapingyouth.org On Twitter: @ShapingYouth


Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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

Follow Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker on WordPress.com

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,552 other followers


%d bloggers like this: