I believe the year was 1992. I was an undergraduate at the University of Southern California taking a Feminist Theory course with Dr. Nancy Vickers. Another student in the class – a dual Gender Studies and Film major – had created a short film that she had shared with our Professor, which dealt with the topic of father/daughter incest. Professor Vickers screened the film for us; it was painful. No words. No sound. Just images. At the end of this film, the teenage character who was being sexually abused by her father took her own life. After we processed this powerful piece, Professor Vickers screened the David Fincher directed music video “Janie’s Got A Gun,” by Aerosmith. If you aren’t familiar, the song “Janie’s Got A Gun” also tackles the topic of father/daughter incest. And in that video, the teenage incest survivor takes a gun and murders her father. Fincher – who directed numerous other music video masterpieces, but is now best known for films like Aliens, Fight Club, and The Social Network – provided provocative and graphic images to accompany Aerosmith’s scathing narrative. It is widely considered to be one of the most well-theorized and brilliantly auteured music videos in existence. And I don’t remember there being any significant backlash regarding the message of this piece, which was abundantly clear: Men Who Molest Children – Especially Their Own Children – Deserve To Be Killed.
When a man narrates a girl’s incest narrative, all rage is directed at the perpetrator, and the girl avenges herself; when a woman narrates a girl’s incest narrative, all rage is directed INWARD, and the girl kills herself. These are the “appropriate gender-based reactions” to this scenario in our culture. This was a lesson I was taught 19 years ago. And clearly, it needs to be taught AGAIN.
Fast-forward to 2011, and the release of singer Rihanna’s “controversial” music video, “Man Down.” You can watch the video and glean the subject matter here:
So let me get this straight: people are up in arms because they feel that Rihanna is promoting and condoning murder (the murder of her rapist), and they want the video pulled…but male artists have, for YEARS, produced music videos promoting murder (for no discernible reason whatsoever) with little recourse?!? GTFOH with that!! Eminem can write a song and produce a video wherein he brags about murdering the mother of his child – and folks call him “Genius.” But Rihanna enters into an ALREADY ONGOING conversation about female rage and vengeance fantasies…and she is promoting murder?!? I have HAD IT with this bullshit double-standard, people. And speaking of Eminem AND Rihanna, MTV seemed to have no problem airing their video “Love The Way You Lie” – which is chock full of graphic and sexualized violence. But again, since a man is the narrator of this piece – and since both Rihanna and Megan Fox are present as the obligatory “eye candy” (and let’s not forget one of the HOBBITS from Lord of the Rings!) – this video gets a free pass:
Consider this: If men were more likely to be raped, and/or if male survivors of rape chose to write a song and make a video wherein they murdered the man who raped them…do you think anyone would have a problem with that?!? I have had male students admit to me that they believe they are well within their rights to KILL a Transwoman if they have KISSED her without knowing she was born biologically male. IMAGINE how men could go on murderous lyrical rants if rape was something they had to fear on a daily basis, or if their rapist went free?!?
Murder is all over music videos. It’s just that when men are the perpetrators, no one complains.
To add insult to injury, folks are acting like Rihanna is the first female artist in existence to ever cover female homicidal fantasy in songs and music videos. Female Blues artists of the 1920’s routinely wrote and performed songs about killing abusive and/or philandering lovers. But we have also experienced this phenomenon in the last several decades and I feel that I need to share a few of these gems. At least two of these music videos were banned (either by MTV or by other music video channels) and all have sparked controversy and conversation. I won’t ramble on about this, but will end by reiterating two points: (1) Men have been able to explore and enact homicidal fantasies in music videos for YEARS, but when women do so we have “crossed a line.” (2) We have such short memories in this culture that folks are acting like Rihanna broke new and taboo ground with this music video. She did not. Please check out these four OTHER songs/videos by female artists over the last two decades that engage issues of female homicidal/vengeance fantasies:
And let’s not forget – it is the 20-year-anniversary of the film Thelma & Louise. Once again though, this film was written by a woman (screenwriter Callie Khouri) but auteured/directed by a man (Ridley Scott). We just accept these stories better when men control the telling of them.