Rihanna's 'Man Down' Video Makes Parents Step Up

Janelle Harris
5

Rihanna, man down
I’m as grown as the day is long, but I admit I love Rihanna. I appreciate her style, her creativity, and the way she flipped her image from cookie cutter pop princess to rebel with a hot-to-death wardrobe. Owww.

When I heard “Man Down,” though, it immediately became a song that both The Girl and I were yodeling along with at the top of our lungs. It reminded me of “I Shot the Sheriff,” but a contemporary version sung by a girl with an axe to grind. Then I got wind of all the controversy behind the video and zipped on over to YouTube to see what all the hullaballoo was about this time. ‘Cause that girl resides in controversy in some form or fashion.

Gotta tell ya: I was underwhelmed. Not by the video itself, but by the big dust-up because of it. My two cents? It’s not that serious. But more importantly, you’re raising your kids not Rihanna — so a video really shouldn’t be that influential. Should it? 

I actually liked the video. As a creative, I just appreciate somebody telling an actual story instead of forcing another dance sequence down our throats (cough, cough Beyonce). It was an artistic interpretation of a real-life situation. The Girl and I watched it together, made random comments about it, and moved on. I never once worried that it had subtly convinced her that shooting someone guilty of a misdoing was the proper type of retribution.

On the flip side, I get why mothers could be irked over the portrayal of gun play, sexual assault, and vengeance in the video. A warm and fuzzy message it is not. But our kids are subjected to all kinds of vivid images of violence. It’s in the movies, on the news, and in our music. I’m not saying it’s a good thing. I’m just saying it is.

As a parent, I can’t control the media’s oversaturation of blood, guts, and brutality, and my voice hasn’t yet been able to stop society’s obsession with that shoot-em-up posse mentality. (Seriously, did you see how many folks were thirsty for death photos of Bin Laden? And please believe it wasn’t just to confirm that dude was dead. They wanted to see him with his head blown off. Literally.)

But I can raise my daughter to take entertainment as just that — entertainment.  

At the end of the day, Rihanna is a chick with some videos on MTV and a few tunes on the Billboard charts. So while her antics may raise one or both of my eyebrows from time to time, she doesn’t bear as much influence over my child as I do. Folks love to chastise celebrities over their fame-induced craziness, but watching Rihanna shoot a man down in central station in front of a big ol’ crowd doesn’t wield nearly as much impact over a girl as seeing how her mother and father behave on a daily basis.

Much as Skylar likes Rih Rih, she emulates me. She picks up my mannerisms, behaviors, and habits. If I was getting beat mercilessly by my husband or boyfriend nightly, if I was parading a new man in and out of my bedroom on the daily, if I was playing the bitter, woman-done-wrong card and verbally bashing men as no good dogs and cheaters, that would be far more impactful than a four-minute, flash in the pan video. That would be the behavior most likely to affect her. Forget what Rihanna was singing about. Everyday life? Yeah, that’s the real stage. And we should be watching how we act.

Musicians have a responsibility to know who their audiences are, yes, particularly when the bulk of their listeners are kids. Rihanna knows darn good and well that her fanbase is made up of young girls, 10-, 12-, 14-year-olds who flock to everything she puts out, good, bad, or forgettable. And that’s her bad. But we place too much value in what these fallible famous people do, in their personal lives and their artistry, and how that reflects on our kids. And that’s ours.

In a perfect world, the Rihannas and Nicki Minajs and Lil’ Waynes and Kanye Wests of Celebrityville would act like they know kids are watching them. All the time. Still, they’re entitled to their creative license and First Amendment rights. Outside of songs to dance and bop their heads to, none of them should have that much influence over our kids anyway.

What do you think of the “Man Down” video?

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