Above is a link to the music video to Rhianna’s song ‘S&M.’ If you haven’t already seen it- or if you want to see it again!- please watch. (I hope the link works… This is my first time trying to embed something, so I’m sorry if it doesn’t work!)

In keeping with our superfun class trend this week, I decided to consider a music video for this blogpost.  When I started thinking about what video to choose, my immediate thought was more Lady Gaga since her videos are incredibly complicated and interesting, and also just because I love her.  But then I remembered this video- and how about six months ago I got into a (rather heated, ahem) youtube comment-battle with a girl about whether or not this video should be censored.  Now, I’m sure we’ve all been there- locked in fierce combat over civil liberties with some alternate manifestation of Rush Limbaugh- and the first thing to realize in that situation is that you will never truly penetrate the wall of ignorance that has been built against you.  The second thing to do (after taking a deep breath of course) is to ignore the person’s preaching and enjoy your right to see controversial pieces of media as long as you have it: if it’s up to people like my former opponent, that won’t be for very long.

My initial reaction to this video was just that I liked it; it’s fun and playful and of course Rhianna is super sexy.   My response after a bit of reflection was to be impressed with how she deals with issues of female agency in sex and the practice of slut-shaming.  She walks around in the video as if she is in complete control (unless she’s being restrained by the “media”) and loving every second.  While her bold lyrics proclaim that she loves the smell of sex and is excited by whips and chains, the reporters observing her dramatize the cultural system of checks which works to prevent such ‘licentiousness’ in women: some write “Slut” in their notebooks, at other times newspaper headlines flash across the screen that say things like “Daddy Issues?” and “Whore”.  The message is clear: if you are a woman and you overtly like sex (especially naughty, non-vanilla sex- the best kind, basically), you are subject to social censure.

When I got to the part where the reporters are tied up and she’s in that crazy awesome pink rubber suit thing with the hood, it struck me as being a little fantasy she has of getting revenge on the media:  remember all those news stories about Chris Brown beating her up and how there were pictures of her swollen face everywhere?  If I were her and I had my personal business strewn all over the country by merciless media hounds, I might feel like tying some reporters up too.  Now, this issue of her being a domestic violence survivor is relevant to the public reaction to this video also:  many of the comments underneath the video (on youtube) when I was seeing it for the first time six months ago espoused the opinion that she shouldn’t be singing a song about S&M sex after being a victim of domestic violence.  I think this is very interesting: not only did these people completely miss the commonsense point that there is a BIG difference between semi-violent sex play you partake in willingly and violence enacted upon you by a lover, but this also seems to me to be a classic case of blaming the victim.  It’s as though because Rhianna was the victim of violence she no longer has the right to choose how she wants to interact sexually- because if she chooses something like S&M she is “embracing the system of violence.”

Another interesting thing about this video is that its viewing on youtube is controlled; you have to sign in and prove that you’re over 18 in order to see it.  I think this must be because it talks about and shows some light Sad0Masochistic activities like whipping and wearing ball gags.  Although Rhianna wears some sexy clothes there is no nudity and there is obviously no explicit sex.  Additionally, there are plenty of uber-sexy music videos online that do not require an age authentication- just take Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” from ten years ago with its orgy-esque theme.  And so it must be the scandalous nature of S&M sex that has scared youtube into putting an age restriction on it.  To youtube’s credit, however, the video IS still available for viewing and has not yet been censored by those determined to control the thoughts and behavior of others.   I say Rock on Rhianna!  If “whips and chains excite” you, then go for it!  Live and let live… or fuck rather.


By: Roz Rini