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Rihanna’s “We Found Love” video draws a dangerous line between love and violence

Let’s be honest, people — as delicious as pop music is, it has some serious sexist potential. There are only so many times I can hear about “pimps” and “hos” and “smacking that” and other musical vulgarities without getting thoroughly sick of it all. Don’t get me wrong. Hating on pop stars isn’t my cup of tea — but they do make it so easy. As much as I dig Rihanna’s music, it’s about time somebody addressed her most recent hit’s top-rated music video, “We Found Love”:

It’s catchy. It’s upbeat. It has a touch of dubstep and it makes a great workout jam. What’s not to love? Those were my thoughts when I first heard the single that dominated the top of iTunes’ top chart list for weeks. There’s nothing wrong with “finding love in a hopeless place.” My qualms aren’t with the song, but with the music video; the music video that has close to 90 million hits on YouTube and is being viewed by boys, girls, men, and women worldwide.

The video starts off nicely enough. Rihanna and her man play in a skate park, run around in a field, and get fast food together. But as the video gets hotter and heavier, some dangerous undertones come into play. From 1:51 to 1:56, we see Dudley O’Shaughnessy — the guy in the vid — push Rihanna up against a wall and literally throw her down on the bed, violently.

From 3:37 to 3:46, we see Dudley tattoo the word “MINE” upon Rihanna’s exposed backside, while she screams in protest. From 3:45 to 3:50, we watch as Dudley screams at Rihanna while she covers her ears in anger. At 3:57, the two are in a car and Dudley crudely grabs Rihanna’s chin so she is forced to face him. Anyone else see the problem here?

Aside from the blatant displays of male violence and domination, we see other tell-tale signs of sexist stereotypes. For over half the video, Rihanna is more than half naked. She wears a bikini, a shirt, and no pants, another shirt and no pants, another… Well, you get the picture.

Since when did our pop culture decide that female artists need to remove their clothes in order to produce a successful music video? And the list goes on: Drug use is rampant. Alcohol is omnipresent. Rihanna passes out in the street. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Now, granted, this music video is by no means reminiscent of a 1950s, male-dominated relationship. Rihanna engages in arguments, steals food, and retaliates when confronted. The scenes are passionate and raw.

One could argue that the borderline-horrifying images portrayed — a.k.a. tattooing “mine” on a lover’s rear end — are merely an artistic, hyperbolic portrayal of a modern relationship, complete with impassioned brawls and substance abuse.

However, we as attentive viewers need to consider not the artsy intentions behind the video, but how the video is being perceived by the masses. We can’t forget that “We Found Love” was iTunes’ number 1 hit for weeks; the video was watched by all people of all ages. And whether they’re artsy or just plan horrific, many scenes from this video abide by sexist stereotypes and gender-stereotypical behaviors; behaviors that we do not want the younger generation of viewers to aspire to or emulate.

So what’s the solution? Do we censor heavily sexual images? No. Should videos that portray even the slightest hint of sexism be banned? No. The real objective in combating scary, powerless portrayals of women is to raise awareness and alert the masses that though this song and video may have been number 1, it does not mean that all of the messages portrayed therein are acceptable.

Besides, how are viewers supposed to sift through the conflicting messages portrayed in this video? Half of the time we see the couple happy, kissing on the beach, and having good-natured food fights in convenience stores. The other half of the time is consumed by masochistic tattoos, drunken stupors, and physical/sexual violence. I’m convinced I can’t be the only one struggling to differentiate between the “love” and the “hopeless place” portrayed in this video.


6 thoughts on “Rihanna’s “We Found Love” video draws a dangerous line between love and violence

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  1. The video struck me too. When I first watched it, I couldn’t help but think of how much that guy reminds me of Chris Brown, and I thought maybe this video somehow relates to what happened between them and the nature of their relationship. That was just my assumption. It may actually have nothing to do with Chris. I recently read somewhere from a source I can’t remember, I think it was a review on someones blog, that suggested that the video is about how love can be like a drug, with all the extremities and highs and lows, which does make sense. And if I am being completely honest, I admit that their behaviors and way of their relationship in this video didn’t also remind me of a mixture of relationships I have had and some of my friends have had. This video was scary for me to watch because everything in it is so…manic…and it reminded me so much of my own experiences and things I have witnessed, and it’s hard seeing it layed out so plainly in something like this. Sometimes you don’t realize how crazy things are until you see it depicted in a music video or movie.

  2. Oh and I forgot to mention that I agree with your point, that we need to remember that although this video may depict real life situations, the sexism and violence that lies within it is not acceptable behavior.

  3. This is one of those videos where ideally, parents would watch it with their kid/ teen and then have a long discussion about the behaviors in them. What seemed okay? What seemed not-okay? And then go into a conversation about dating violence. I worry sometimes that kids & teens who are trying to figure out exactly what love is, and often looking to music videos, get a very skewed idea that can lead them to accept behaviors from dating partners that are really not okay. I don’t think censorship is a solution, but I hope that families are talking to their kids about messages like this and how “finding love” has nothing to do with control, abuse, or violence.

  4. i just see this video as glamouring a dysfunctional relationship and drug use.
    It is flat out disturbing and unhealthy to watch anything like that. Call me an old fashioned prude, but I don’t want that kind of imagery in my consciousness and I don’t like thinking it is going into young peoples minds.
    It is a toxic video in my opinion. Just because it is art does not make it worthy of attention.

  5. Awful. Sad. Sad that it’s so popular. Our families solution is there are certain artists we don’t listen to, at least not in our home or on our playlists. And many many videos they just don’t watch, some arent allowed. To the naysayers, even if my kids do choose to watch the video somewhere else, that doesn’t mean I have to help make it available in my home. We teach and hold up the standard in our house what’s acceptable and why, because we believe in valuing people and respecting ourselves. So entertainment at home is not going to include something that goes against that. I personally don’t think I need to see the video with them to discuss these issues, doesn’t mean I would never watch it with them as a teaching tool when they’re older. But i dont hold the belief that “they’re going to see it anyway, so I might as well watch it with them”. We can teach our kids to be discerning without having to watch sad things like this. gladly, as mine are older now, they’re making good judgment calls in their own, most of the time.

  6. I agree with your assessment of the video. It clearly has disturbing undertones and it was hard for me to watch it without being utterly affected. And I actually saw it as exactly that – a warning sign to young women about how quickly a relationship that starts out fun and thrilling can go down a slippery path toward possessiveness and abuse (presumably based on Rihanna’s own experience, though we don’t know for sure). I hope others see it as a cautionary tale about unhealthy behaviors and sexism that are so prevalent in our culture.

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