Archive for the ‘Rihanna’ Category

Full disclosure: I am a full-blown, perverse, emotional and sometimes physical masochist.

To be honest, I – and  Freud – think masochism is actually an aspect of all of our psyches and sexualities. Maybe to a greater or lesser degree depending on the person, but on some level or another we can all relate to the lyric ‘it hurts so good’.

Despite (or because of?) its ubiquity,  ‘masochism’ is often presented in our culture in the negative; it is pathologised. The recent reactions to some tweets from young women Chris Brown fans that had been collected together and circulated round the net are a good example of this pathologisation of masochism.

Responses ranged from the succinct:

to the ideological:

But the one I found the most insulting was from a journalist writing in Slate Magazine . He wrote:

“Dude, Chris Brown can punch me in the face as much as he wants to, just as long as he kisses it. (:”

‘The line above is just one of many similarly disturbing tweets that female fans of Chris Brown posted in response to his controversial inclusion in Sunday night’s Grammy Awards performance lineup. Apparently, the fact that Brown violently attacked his then-girlfriend Rihanna on the eve of the Grammy’s just three years ago does not give these women pause—the singer’s attractiveness overrides all that.

‘… others have alreadyastutely pointed out how it exposes our society’s willingness to downplay domestic violence in favor of our fetish for a good redemption narrative…as we puzzle over the psychological misfiring necessary to produce these statements…consider…this kind of dangerous masochism….’

‘Dangerous masochism’ is a telling phrase. It suggests that masochistic urges and fantasies, as expressed by those young women, is a Bad Thing. The article, along with countless other commentators, not only condemn Chris Brown, but also people who show a desire to be dominated and hurt – masochists.

I do not defend the actions of Mr Brown. I do not think he should be committed to a life of isolation as a result of his crime though. And I have no interest in his ‘redemption’ or otherwise. But I do defend the right of people to express their sexual desires without judgement. And, I thought gay men (the journalist is I think gay and he likens women’s masochism to that of gay men) of all people would too.

A gay man who I have a lot of respect for, who runs a cracking tumblr blog, How Upsetting, had this to say about Chris Brown back in Spring 2011:

‘The willingness of people to ignore Chris Brown’s violence is a sad indictment of our society’s attitude towards domestic violence. I wrote on Twitter previously – society will have reached a good place when domestic violence is viewed in the same light as paedophilia. Completely beyond the pale.’

Whilst I agree that domestic violence should not be hidden and treated as a trivial issue, I do not think it should be viewed in the same light as paedophilia. In fact, I do not even think paedophilia should even be seen in quite such a dim light as it is.

This demonising of people’s sexual urges as well as their acts, and making monsters out of men, is precisely the process whereby homosexuality has been presented as a disease and a ‘sin’. Of course, I differentiate between consensual sexual activity and non-consent, but I do not think turning people who are involved in sexual and domestic ‘abuse’ should be turned into a ‘type’. A type that is worthy of judgement and damnation.

And, again, Freud (and Foucault) agrees with me. His work on infantile sexuality has shown that whilst the power dynamics between adults and children are obvious, children do have their own autonomous sexual urges and desires. And, the fact the age of consent is different in different countries and different time periods shows that the very concept of ‘childhood’ is not fixed but changeable.

But I am not here to defend paedophiles or people who beat up their partners non-consensually. I am here to defend masochism.

Somebody else who defended masochism was Anita Phillips. In a review of her book, In Defence Of Masochism, Mark Simpson wrote that masochism has been elevated

‘to a kind of super-heroism; how long before we hear lit­tle boys whin­ing: ‘Mum, can I have a leather har­ness and cling-film cape for Xmas, please?’.

Which almost begs the point of a book with the name In Defence of Masochism. How­ever, a recent Euro­pean Court rul­ing asserted that assault can­not be con­sented to (which means, of course, an end to box­ing, surgery and sup­port­ing Arse­nal) sug­gests that there is still an argu­ment to be made. And, even if most peo­ple who don’t wear wigs and sus­penders for a liv­ing are more laid back about the issue, there are still a num­ber of com­mon mis­con­cep­tions and prej­u­dices about masochism — most of which Anita Phillips dis­patches here with aplomb. Most notably, the idea that masochism is always some­one else’s per­ver­sion. Phillips inves­ti­gates, via Freud and Amer­i­can aca­d­e­mic Leo Bersani the uni­ver­sal­ity of masochis­tic impulses, the thin line between plea­sure and pain, and shows how the cur­dling of these impulses into a con­di­tion and a type changed what it means to be human.’

I think those young women saying they wanted to be beaten by Chris Brown were simply being ‘human’ and the reactions to their comments were presenting them as ‘inhuman’. I have had a similar experience of being ‘dehumanised’ as a result of being the ‘victim’ of domestic violence. Once I was stood in the magistrates court, trying to secure an injunction against my ex who had previously stalked me and broken into my house to beat me up, I could not explain that actually, at one point in our relationship, it ‘hurt so good’. That would have lost me my case. So I had to deny an aspect of myself in order to ensure my own safety.

Now I am no longer in the courtroom I still feel judged about my sexuality. When I tried to explain this to people on twitter who were condemning Chris Brown, and the women who tweeted in support of him, I was told my personal experience is ‘irrelevant’. Well, it is relevant to me. And it is relevant in forming my views on those young women, on Rihanna’s relationship with Chris Brown, and on feminism in general.

As Simpson wrote in response to Philips’ book:

‘Masochism’ is one of the inven­tions of late nine­teenth cen­tury sex­ol­ogy in the Gothic shape of Baron Dr Richard Von Kraft-Ebing. It was only ever intended to apply to men; women were ‘nat­u­rally’ masochis­tic, so plea­sure in pain on their part was not ‘per­verse’ and there­fore not a prob­lem to be explained or pathol­o­gised. This was part of a shift in gen­der roles in the West in the Nine­teenth Cen­tury which was con­cerned with, we are told, insti­tu­tion­al­is­ing women’s sub­ju­ga­tion. As Phillips points out, ‘Dante’s ordeal in the Inferno to be reunited with Beat­rice, to John Donne’s love poetry, sac­ri­fi­cial mas­cu­line love has been a cru­cial theme, only in this [20th] cen­tury has what for many cen­turies seemed the nat­ural, desir­able form of male love been rede­fined as effem­i­nate per­ver­sity, masochism.’

Phillips believes that this refor­mu­la­tion of male iden­tity that excluded masochism made mas­culin­ity ‘bla­tantly misog­y­nisitc, emo­tion­ally inept and homo­pho­bic’. She also believes that it was this new mas­culin­ity which led in part to the ‘cor­rec­tive’ of fem­i­nism. Iron­i­cally, the exclu­sion of masochism from the male psy­che has pro­duced a pub­lic sce­nario of their pun­ish­ment and chas­tise­ment by women which con­tin­ues today. The fem­i­nist is Ms Whiplash.’

So I think presenting ‘dangerous masochism’ as a problem confined to ‘oppressed’ women reinforces the gender binary, and the culture in which men are presented as sadists to victimised women.

Whilst I am sure people reading this might say, ‘yes, but this was a crime, not the consensual actions of a couple engaging in S and M’ I don’t remember seeing those people celebrating consensual S and M relationships. The only time this topic gets raised in most circles seems to be when someone gets badly hurt against their will (usually a woman), or when it results in a court case.

The people who have rushed to pass judgement on those young women, I do not think are helping those or other young people be open about their sexual feelings, which, if Freud, Simpson and I are to be believed, inevitably will include masochism.

And in their crusade against Brown, which, incidentally does not seem to take into account the feelings or voice of Rihanna, they are, in my view, on a hiding to nothing.

Man Down

Posted: June 4, 2011 in Rihanna

The new single and video from Rihanna, Man Down, has caused the usual shitstorm, especially in the feminist blogosphere.

I am just letting the music and images sink in, at the moment. Here it is. Make your own minds up!

Man Down.

What do heterosexual ‘normal’ relationships and family structures look like?

Do they look like this?

Or do they look like this?

And are we allowed to talk about how one becomes the other, quite often, when the cameras stop rolling, the music stops playing and the doors are closed?

I remember waking up frightened next to my partner each morning.

I remember being screamed at for throwing away some spaghetti.

I remember that when I told some people what had happened to me, they looked embarrassed and didn’t want to talk to me.

I remember when I told other people what had happened to me, they looked grateful and sorrowful, for it had happened to them too, but they never told anyone.

I remember his barrister asking me about my history of ‘mental illness’ in front of a whole courtroom.

I remember being terrified of going home.

I remember watching Happy Days on telly as a kid, and thinking ‘families aren’t like that’.

I remember watching Nil By Mouth and seeing myself in Kathy Burke’s character.

I remember my friend sat at my kitchen table, telling me her husband of only one month had been beating her up for ages, but she didn’t cancel the wedding because she didn’t want to let her family down.

I remember my mates being friendly to this cunt even though they knew he had terrorised and assaulted one of our friends.

I remember watching Love The Way You Lie and feeling relieved that the complex ways in which violence enters relationships were being shown on a pop video.

And then I remember being told I wasn’t allowed that feeling of relief. Because I was wrong to identify with something so ‘cliched’ and ‘glamourising’ of violence in a relationship.

But you glamourise relationships all the time with your nice houses and your wives and your holidays to Cornwall or the Algarve. You are a walking cliche with your wine cellar and your DVD collection and your oak kitchen table.

Pornography is ‘other people’s erotica’. And violence is ‘other people’s domesticity’.

He silenced me once, with his threats and his violence. I learned from him, that the only way you can get me to be quiet is by coming over here and actually punching my lights out, kicking me to the ground. Even then I will get up and come back fighting.  Isn’t that what Rihanna did? Do we make you feel uncomfortable? I hope so. I really do.

The Official Video Promo to Love The Way You Lie. I can feel the heat as the fans are burning it onto their various devices as I type!

And here, some fans and non-fans begin to discuss a variety of interpretations of the meanings created by this song, its video and its audiences:  Guardian online

I posted the last piece in haste. It was one of those things that was causing me anxiety by not being out there, out of my head and on the page. Once it was, I just wanted to delete it and hide under a rock.

The personal context of my interest in Eminem and Riahnna I referred to, by linking to this poem I wrote a long time ago:

Now Wash Your Hands

The trick that writers play on themselves sometimes, is that they tell themselves that by writing something down, the problem will be solved, the pain will go away. It doesn’t work like that.

My writing over the last couple of months has taken me down alleyways I thought I didn’t have to revisit again. I can almost smell the stench of piss, and stale alcohol and someone’s breath in my face, all over again. It has also engaged me in conversations I thought I would never have again in my life, not to the extent I have them in my head, anyway. It has renewed my belief that humans can change their circumstances and free themselves from their self-inflicted purgatory. It’s also made me realise I can be a bit of a prat.

I am not as clever as I like to make out.  But if I share my fuck-ups and my fragmented understandings of life, from Eminem to Judith Butler, to Mike and Scott, my boy and me. Then maybe you too will engage in this process and help me out a bit? You all already have. I am very grateful.

Bear with me.

I think there is a chink of light at the end of this grimy urban shithole tunnel. And I can hear music playing. Hold my hand.

Love The Way You Lie is the new single by Eminem, featuring Rihanna.

It hasn’t been  released yet, so there is no official video. But the pair have performed it live and the fans are already busily uploading and downloading recordings of two of their favourite Rap/R and B artists, singing together on stage. And what a song for them to choose to make into their debut duet.

The opening on this rather hazy footage of an Eminem gig in the States, features Rihanna, looking Amazonian as usual, with some impressive pyrotechnics kicking off,  singing the refrain:

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn,

That’s all right, because I like the way it hurts

Just gonna stand there and hear me cry

That’s all right, because I love the way you lie.

So this is a song about a fucked up relationship? Not really a surprise, it being by Eminem. And in this particular performance, apart from the (blurred and distant) aesthetic appeal of both singers, we are drawn to the massive photo backdrop featuring  a man (Is it Eminem himself?) sitting in combats, a gun in is hand, facing the audience. The clues are that this song relates to themes of  violence.

My initial reaction on hearing it was: Rihanna pisses all over Dido when it comes to a believable,  hard and yet vulnerable feminine lyrical echo to Eminem’s staccato ‘macho’ rapping. I also had another echo in my head, of the tender yet macabre rendition of  Henry Lee, in the Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey.  Completely different musical genres, and not as much real sexual tension in the Eminem/Rihanna collaboration I suspect, but an echo all the same. You don’t often hear a man and a woman singing, (let alone talking), together about a shared dynamic of violence within a relationship.

Obviously, this is because beyond the staged performance of representation, real violence is what happens when communication in a relationship has completely broken down. It is not the kind of thing you would phone your ex up about, after the court case, to say ‘hey babe, maybe we could lay some beats down onto a track’ about the beatings I used to give you. I don’t think that would work.

For me, this is why I am interested in this song. It is a depiction of something that is normally behind closed doors. Unspoken. Shameful.  And it is something that the two people involved would not be able to articulate to each other, except through the language of actual violence, actual tears.

Rhianna we know has suffered domestic violence herself. When she released Rude Boy , a couple of months ago, I wrote about how the media seemed to resent the fact she had recovered from that experience, enough to come back fighting and shaking her booty, and enjoying (hopefully?) a sex life, at least imagining and singing about one.  Somebody, somewhere seems to find it in their interests to typecast Rihanna and women like her, as perpetual victims. She rejects this typecast, and I can only say power to her elbow, and her very sexy booty for that.

With this new release, it is the Feminists who seem to be struggling most with Love The Way You Lie, and the complex gendered messages it is sending out. In the Gender Across Borders Blog, a very detailed article featuring an exposition of the actual ‘cycle of violence’ in ‘abusive’ relationships, basically argues that this song is a realistic description of, and a promotion of, violence against women by men. The author quotes lines in the song such as Eminem singing:

‘Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano’

‘If she ever tries to fucking leave again/I’ma tie her to the bed/And set this house on fire’

Stirring stuff indeed. (And, I have to admit I felt a bit of a stirring in my knickers, imagining Eminem tying Rihanna to the bed and leaving her to burn. That is possibly the subject of another post).

But to be serious, should we take the words so literally? Even when critics of Eminem say his lyrics normalise violence, homophobia and hatred of women, they never rely simply on the lyrics themselves to prove their point. This GAB article is no exception as it puts the song in the context of the rapper’s well-publicised traumas as a boy and young man, his comments in interviews, and his tempestuous marriage. This brings us back to that old argument about art and life and where do they meet and does it matter on a moral and political level?  Polanski, Nabokov, Easton Ellis, Orton, Plath, Capote, Haneke. They have all told disturbing stories that have some relation to their lived experience. No matter how imaginative an artist or writer is, they still only have what enters and leaves their own brain to work with.

The discussion on the GAB Blog was quite interesting, as I think a genuine Eminem fan stepped into the comments thread, and related his lyrics to a different context, the context of how they speak to his fans and their experiences. The commenter, ‘b’, says:

‘Its a beautifully accurate portrayal of a love-hate relationship and the dangers of it. But will it teach people to identify these relationships and step away. No, because as the record itself says, “It’s the rage that took over, it took control of both, so they say its best to go your separate ways, guess they dont know you, cause today, that was yesterday, yesterday is over”’

The fans are the ones who buy the records, go to the gigs and pin the posters on the walls. If music speaks to them, for whatever reason, I think it should be valued. The meanings of that link between artist and fan might not always be comfortable, as ‘b’s interpretation of the lyrics shows. But they are probably true. (I am a little haunted by that huge image of the man with the gun (a soldier?) at the gig. For the U.S. has been at war for a long time now, and this kind of iconography is probably just everyday stuff for most young Americans. And that can’t be placed at Eminem’s feet).

Then there is the ‘homophobia’ tag, added to feminist critiques of Eminem’s music. I can’t be sure, but sometimes when feminists cry ‘homophobia’ I think they are being a bit disingenuous. Because, especially when it comes to representations in popular culture, I don’t see feminism examining how men are portrayed or how they express themselves at all, except as way of identifying how they hate on women. Eminem is a male artist who has a massive following, who deals with complex issues of masculinity and identity, including in relation to women and feminine identities. But to wheel out the label ‘homophobia’ when really you want to make a point about his portrayal of gender violence, and how that relates to actual crimes by men against women, I think is a bit low. M Simpson has written more eloquently than I could, about some of the complexities of Eminem’s presentation of masculinity, in relation to other men. I would be interested to hear Mark’s interpretation of the emerging reactions to this song…

Returning to the feminists’ dislike for all things Eminem, this quote from the GAB blog post’s author, made in the comments thread is very telling. The writer refers to an interview with Rihanna:

‘She talked about how Eminem’s song “broke down the cycle of violence” in a way she found “clever.” She also refered to Eminem as an “artist of class,” and said she connected with the song and knew it would be a hit. What disturbs me is the last part of the quote: “It’s something that I understood and connected with, which made me think it was a hit, and I want to be part of a hit. I couldn’t say no to Eminem.” ‘

Of all the things I could find to critique in this article this quote I found the most disturbing. The author is taking a comment by Rihanna, about how much she wanted to work with Eminem,  who she respects. And she frames it in such a way that we are encouraged to think Eminem has some kind of power of Rihanna, beyond his obvious pull as a commercially successful popstar. The writer is leading us to see their collaboration in the same terms as the ‘cycle of violence’ which they sing about. I think that is hateful.

Like I said, artists and writers only ever have what they experience (including in their heads) as their material, at some level or other. (This does make me wonder about the lives of Peter Jackson and JK Rowling, but again, that is for another day).

So I will end by admitting that part of my fascination with this pair, and the dynamic they sing about, stems from my own personal experience of violence in a relationship. The guy I rapped that particular duet with is not available for a reunion gig. But, having suffered something that did leave me feeling ashamed, and confused, and weak, I found Eminem and Rihanna’s rendition kind of cathartic, and, to use a favoured word of feminists, empowering.

I love to analyse popular culture. Because the popular is by definition, the most expressive of the people. The thing I respect most about Eminem and Rihanna, as can be seen in the comments sections of the posts I have shared here, is that their work always garners a response, an energy and a debate (however inarticulate at times), amongst the people who actually love their music.

Anything else, really, I’d say, is pretty academic.

Rude Boy/Rude Girl

Posted: June 22, 2010 in Eminem, Rihanna

Rude Boy is the new single and video by Rhianna.

Apparently it is causing a bit of a stir in the media and with the  ‘parents’.

I don’t know what all the fuss is about do you?

Aside from the fact Rhianna is a gorgeous, strong (not white) solo artist, she sings about  sex that overtly references power dynamics (‘I like it when you pull my hair’ ‘I like it when you tell me move it there’). She is also shaking her booty suggestively and looking directly at the camera with a cool stare. ‘If I ain’t feelin’ it I won’t fake it’. This woman is for real and some people will feel threatened by a woman expressing her sexuality.

But I think there is another reason why her new song and video is causing a commotion in Middle England. The last time we really saw Rhianna spread across our newspapers, she looked like this:

Rhianna Beaten

Rhianna Beaten

It is likely that the media and the parents  find this juxtaposition, of a woman as victim of violence, against a video of a woman regaining her confidence and her sexual assertiveness , difficult to handle.  It’s easier to think of victims of partner violence as perpetual victims, and to dismiss  ‘sexualised’ images of women in pop music as ‘offensive’.

But I love how Rhianna challenges the stereotypes.  I am happy to see her shaking her booty and telling her man to ‘gidee up gidee up’.

You go girl. And enjoy those rude boys on your own terms.