What’s The Big Deal About Rihanna’s “S&M”?
Rihanna’s latest video for her song “S&M” hasn’t even been out for a week, but it’s stirring up a controversy. Due to the sexual nature of the video and its subject, “S&M” has been banned in 11 countries, restricted on YouTube (it’s only available if you log-in with an account that proves you’re over 18), and pulled from play on some radio-stations until after 7pm. Some radio stations have even changed the name from “S&M” to “Come On.” (Read all about the scandal and watch the full video here.)
But seriously, come on! While some critics and fans are outraged by her sexual lyrics and fetish-filled video, I can’t help but wonder where the boundaries of entertainment actually stand.
Women are seen as sexual beings, but when they express that sexuality in any way that would make someone uncomfortable, it’s not okay. Even recently, the indie film Blue Valentine with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling came under fire for the scene where Ryan’s character performs oral sex on Michelle. We live in a world where it’s OK to fellate a man in a movie, but it’s not accepted for a woman to receive cunnilingus. Although the NC-17 rating was eventually dropped (thanks to Ryan Gosling fighting for it in the press), it shows that double standards still exist in movies and in music. This isn’t 1950!
Rihanna’s “S&M” video plays with two concepts: Rihanna’s public/private life being slung through the mud (thanks to the press) and Rihanna exploring her playful, sexual side that is turned on by sadomasochism (also known as S&M). Scenes include members of the press with ball-gags in their mouth, Rihanna walking celebrity blogger Perez Hilton on a leash, Rihanna wearing latex while holding a riding crop, and a Japanese bondage scene where Rihanna is tied up. It’s a fluffy world of pop art — sexually inspired. The video is colorful and jam-packed with jaw-dropping entertainment.
But that’s exactly it … just shocking entertainment. In fact, there are no whips, chains, and no sex scenes. It seems that because Rihanna is singing about possible fetishes and sexual interests, it’s enough to get America in a tizzy. However, rock and roll videos and rap videos have featured sex scenes for years and years, but they aren’t banned. While some of the topics may be taboo, I don’t think any of them are too taboo to be mainstream in today’s society, especially when men can get away with these things all the time.
Think about it — if Justin Timberlake released “S&M” with a video that featured women bound, gagged, and coated in latex — I highly doubt it would get banned or struck with an 18+ rating. It would be considered “hot,” “envelope pushing,” and the radio would play it all day, every day, on every station, until we couldn’t stand to hear it anymore. Music produced and put out by men often focuses on women in degrading ways (violence and sexualization of women, mostly). However, the degrees of degradation rarely calls for censorship in the male entertainment culture, which is why we seem immune to it when Usher, Eminem, or other popular artists produce songs that would be considered controversial if a woman sang them. We are even immune to it when Charlie Sheen breaks the law and goes to rehab, but not when Lindsay Lohan is in court or at the Betty Ford clinic.
It’s interesting to me how no one seemed to mind when Rihanna and Eminem released “Love The Way You Lie.” The video received a lot of talk about domestic violence, but it was used as a conversation starter. There was no age restriction placed on the song/video and it wasn’t banned. MTV and VH1 ate it up. The radio played it constantly (they still do). It didn’t matter that the subject was ‘adult’ or that the end of the video features Eminem rapping “I’m gonna tie her to the bed and set this house on fire” as the house goes up in flames. That was okay, but singing about pleasure during sex — not so much. It’s weird when society uses “Love the Way You Lie” as a way to talk about domestic abuse when it features a violent, abusive ending. Since when is abuse OK, but consensual sex isn’t?
“S&M” could open a great dialogue about sex, but instead, it’s being used as a way to slut-shame and bash Rihanna. While people cheered her on for breaking the silence of abuse for “Love The Way You Lie” (hello people — the song actually highlighted abuse), they are now calling her a terrible role model who had no business pressing charges against Chris Brown when he physically beat her because she sings “Sticks and bones may break my bones/ But chains and whips excite me.”
No. No. No!
There is a huge difference between wanting a spanking in the bedroom and getting your face bashed in when your boyfriend is mad. A HUGE difference. Permission and consent are just the beginning of what makes it different for her to want something in a sexual context, nevermind what Chris Brown did to her was unexcusable and wrong, not consensual, and not pleasurable. It wasn’t what she wanted — especially from her boyfriend. But yet, we are comparing it like it’s apples to apples.
Perhaps as a society we can’t handle Rihanna expressing herself sexually, especially in lieu of what happened with Chris Brown. But it’s not up to us to discriminate on a case by case basis. The standards need to be set for everyone. If Buck Cherry can release a song called “Crazy Bitch” with lyrics like “You’re a crazy bitch/But you f*ck so good I’m on top of it” and a video that is equally as vulgar (no censorship for it), then top-40 divas like Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Pink should be able to release songs expressing their sexual fantasies or exploitations.
Why are we okay with Usher wanting to “make love in the club” (in front of people) but not okay with Miley Cyrus dancing inside of a cage for everyone to see (remember how shocked people were about “Can’t Be Tamed”)? But even more, why are we okay with the blurry set of standards, the slut-bashing of women, and the double standards pitted against each other time and time again?
It’s 2011 and it’s time to stop. And whether or not you like Rihanna, I sure am glad that she is not afraid to entertain people by pushing the envelope that forces us to take a look at what’s making us uncomfortable and what’s not.
What do you think about Rihanna and “S&M”? Should the entertainment industry make their censorship clear or should it be a case by case basis? Let us know what you think!