Rihanna’s “BBHMM” Video: You’re Talking About it Wrong

Apply your criticisms to violence universally, not just when it’s convenient to your cause

Rihanna’s latest video, “BBHMM (Bitch Better Have My Money)” broke yesterday and people are having Very Strong Opinions™ about it. I went into my viewing of it expecting something groundbreakingly controversial but I didn’t really form any opinions at all. The track isn’t really my cup of tea and the video didn’t blow me away, nor did it particularly shock or upset me. To be honest, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.

Then I made the eternal error of reading the YouTube comments, tweets and general disorganized uproar and unexpectedly managed to form Very Strong Opinions™ about other people’s Very Strong Opinions™. I follow a pretty broad cross-section of people on Twitter, so I got everything from “it’s reverse racism” to “oh great, more violence against women” to “it’s empowering” and “OMG MADS MIKKELSEN”.

Yep, it’s opinion Inception in my house today.

Agreed, the video is a bit violent. It’s not a Tarantino-esque bloodbath. It’s not even as bad as your standard episode of Game of Thrones. As far as I can tell, people are objecting to it because the depiction of the violence is mainly aimed at a woman. Some viewers have found this more offensive because the perpetrator (Rihanna) is black and the victim is white (and if that’s your issue I have literally no time for you and your nonsense). The fact that the victim is suspended upside down, helpless and topless does add a sinister, sexual undertone to it all.

The basic narrative is of a group of women taking and torturing a hostage in an effort to get paid by a man who owes them said “Money.” This plot line is nothing new. We get variances of it in any number of action films, but the majority of the time the focus of the action is on the rescuers, the good guys, the Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson of it all. In those circumstances, regardless of the ordeals the hostages — who are generally women — have to endure are considered a necessary part of the plot, part of the hero’s drive. It’s all okay, because the rugged bloke will save the day, slay the bad guys and get the girl. By virtue of being rescued the woman will be okay, probably. Or maybe the mental health of a plot device isn’t really that important.

The video for “BBHMM” is clearly a lot bleaker. I’m not going to try and argue that Rihanna is a Good Guy of the piece, or that she is a cut-and-dry anti-heroine. You can just watch the video and form your Very Strong Opinion™ about it without a wider view, but like people who take scenes from films in isolation and get outraged for the sake of a rant, you miss the point of the video if you ignore the wider context.

For most of her career Rihanna has been associated with violence. Anyone who has read the police report after her assault by then-boyfriend Chris Brown is unlikely to forget it in a hurry. Even if you only saw photos of her face after the attack, it burns into you. That wasn’t a video, that wasn’t a plot device, that was her life. We all read the story and cast Chris Brown as the villain (and I think he’s a deeply unpleasant person) and made Rihanna our victim, our martyr, our figure of pity. The violence perpetrated against her was deeply shocking and upsetting. But people will still pay to see Chris Brown in concert, they still buy his CDs. As a public figure, his career lives and dies on the tides of public opinion. If we were all as bothered by violence as the YouTube comments on “BBHMM” would have us believe, Chris Brown would be bankrupt.

Just two of the many YouTube comments

All of you who are so hideously outraged at the “BBHMM” video need to look at your DVD collection or your Netflix history. If you have watched or enjoyed any action films, horror films, gangster films, thrillers, or war films but you throw your arms up at Rihanna’s video, you need to have a long, hard think about what exactly you’re so upset about. If you have ever defended, supported or financed Chris Brown, Kanye West, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Emma Roberts, Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Slash (I could go on… really, I could go on for a long time) then you really need to figure out what your beef is.

There is, of course, the argument that videos like this normalize or glorify violence. If that’s your objection then by all means remain on your altitudinous horse. That is, of course, as long as you’re also boycotting the majority of adult video games, films, music videos TV shows and literature. I was far more offended, triggered and outraged by the content and widespread acceptance of Fifty Shades of Grey than I was by any part of this video.

If you’re watching this video and crying “reverse racism” I firstly need to remind you that it’s not a thing. Tyranny of the majority is a thing. Cultural appropriation is a thing. White artists using black women’s bodies as set dressing is a thing. If you find this video racist I find you an idiot.

Honestly, I think Rihanna’s career is probably always going to have that edge of violence because of her history. I also think she has every right to put herself in the shoes of the perpetrator for the purposes of a music video. All of you White Feminists who fist-pump for Lisbeth Salander but take issue with “BBHMM” need to sort out your priorities. If you’re okay with a male-driven film using women as props, but you’re not okay with women doing the same, then sort yourself out.

Ultimately, if you have an issue with depictions of violence for the sake of entertainment, that’s okay if you’re willing to apply it universally. If you are a misogynist or a racist, I don’t know how you got this far, but I did warn you quite near the beginning that I have no time for you. Seriously, I resent the seconds it took me to type that sentence for your benefit. Go away.

“BBHMM” is undeniably a violent song accompanied by a violent video. But there are hundreds of other tracks, videos, films, books and games which are far, far worse. Look at yourselves. Look really, really hard.

Elena is a writer, illustrator and blogger. Find out more on her website.

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