Man Down: Biting Brand Jamaica

Rihanna’s Man Down video is generating quite a bit of chatter, no doubt to the delight and expectation of the Rihanna machine.  However, not all the reviews have been positive as many are questioning the nativizing and stereotypical images of the Caribbean presented, and of Jamaica specifically:

 No seriously now fada gad…why Rihanna leave all di way from Merica come a Jamaica come shoot ar video fi show scar face man inna red holey holey marina a rape ar inna zinc house??? Jah kno, like we needed any more of those stereotypical perceptions of dis ghetto paradise….ah boi…lol.. (facebook user)

Why she had to come to Jamaica to shoot a man and become a criminal. The video highlighted Jamaica as a criminal, illegal haven, showing “bad men” and to make it worst she chnaged her style completely to that of singing reggae/dancehall using a one-drop rhythm. It really peeves me! (facebook user)

A commenter on CODE RED’s facebook page felt that the video represented the “Othering” of Jamaica and Jamaicans which takes place in the Caribbean:

This is ‘Caribbean racism’ at its best. Unfortunately I am not au fait with bell hooks or any other feminist writer to be able to fully deconstruct the video and highlight all the ‘othering’ taking place in it. (Tennisha)

The theme of Rihanna’s inauthentic appropriation of Brand Jamaica (and her negative portrayal of Jamaica in the process) is a frequent one:

1) Like Barbados nuh have nuff zinc and board house she could duh it in kmt
2) A dat me say too. She should tek it to B’dos
3) mi waan kno if rape nuh gwaan a barbados y she affi come a Jamaica fi di rape song (facebook users)

Rihanna is cashing in on the cultural capital of dancehall—the rough, edgy ‘cool’ of dancehall—of course without any of the experiences of being part of Jamaica’s underclass. (And she is by no means the first. Global capital has been cashing in on brand Jamaica and brand Caribbean for quite some time). In part, this perhaps represents the contradiction of how black popular culture is consumed, packaged and sold while many black people are considered expendable bodies (think of the USAID quibbling over how many died in Haiti or were made homeless by the earthquake specifically). The images in the video are indeed nativizing and stereotypical…we’ve seen them before in other Caribbean artists’ portrayal of the region. It is perhaps the music video version of the Caribbean picturesque updated to include sexual violence. This is how the Caribbean represents itself. Think of state tourism ads and how they sell hedonism, sensuality and sex. I sense though that the criticism of this video reflects much of the recent Barbados-Jamaica tension. I would say that within the Caribbean Jamaica is asked to stand in for the best and the worst of Caribbean culture. (Tonya of CODE RED)

The focus on Rihanna’s use of dancehall, however, may in fact overshadow the comment on sexual politics in the Caribbean which the video makes:

I am slightly intrigued that little has been said concerning the actual content of the video in what is the reality far too often in the Caribbean – how forms of women rejecting men’s advances whether directly sexual, or the casual psst through town or otherwise often has violent repercussions- scroll down Code Red’s wall for example, and one has to acknowledge that the Caribbean is too violent a space in some regards. What of the sexual politics of the encounter on the dance-floor which often transcends that moment in the club… (Rashad)

Many Rihanna fans (and it seems Rihanna herself) are claiming the video as a powerful statement against rape and an anthem of “female empowerment.”  The Crunk Feminist Collective reviews the video positively and one facebook user posted the following message on our page:

My reaction to the video has been the inverse of what it seems most people above experienced – it was the inclusion of the rape scene that most struck me. Sexual violence against women is hardly dealt with by ‘mainstream’ artists, & its general absence in public conversation forces the “privatised experience”. All the other discourses evoked by the video are of course valid, but as a Caribbean woman, as a survivor of sexual violence, and having worked with other survivors, I am yet to viscerally move past the emotional – and actually freeing – impact of seeing the experience of rape and it’s resulting mess (for both victim and perpetrator) depicted in popular media. None of it is pretty, but it’s real, and it is refreshing to have the messiness forced into everyday conversation, the messiness that many of us wish we could hide from but can’t.

In the US the video has generated a completely different kind of controversy with some groups calling for the video to be banned due to its depictions of violence.

One CODE RED member considers the video’s subversive possibilities:

Is it violence to be consumed as entertainment? Women and girls who face the very real threat of sexual violence, unequal relations of gender, gang-rape, incest etc typically do not get to “shoot a man down”. Rape becomes the individualised, privatised experience of the woman. It is not considered “public” violence like that of the gun-wielding shottas. So perhaps you could read subversion in Rihanna’s use of the gun. But in the wider context of the video with its problematic images of black working-class masculinity and an exoticized and nativized Caribbean, the everydayness of (sexual) violence and the sensationalism of the video, for me at least, that subversive moment is lost. (Tonya of CODE RED)

Yet, as another CODE RED commenter insists, the lines between advocacy and entertainment cannot be so clearly drawn: “If we only speak to violence when it is a news article, or a study, we miss a huge demographic” (Rashad).

What are you thoughts on the video?   Join the CODE RED collective on facebook and have your say! We’re having a very lively discussion on facebook with varying perspectives, all of which are not captured here in this short post!

13 thoughts on “Man Down: Biting Brand Jamaica

  1. Bob Smith says:

    Pity that they are more concerned about their ‘image’ while the rest of the world is concerned about the violence and the message in the video. Grow up Jamaica, no one cares


  2. Rihanna's Publicst says:

    I agree Bob Smith, at the same time I thought Jamaican’s were ‘Real’ people, shes just being real the statistics show that Jamaica has a high crime rate, people like Jah Cure who is big on their dancehall scene was once a rapist who eventrally paid his dues to society, and the scar faced guy I understand is also Jamaican. Should she have used Super Hype or some other uptown Jamaican? Would that make you feel better? Leave Rihanna alone, she shot a real video portraying authentic Jamaica.

    You know whats funny Nicki Minaj and Sean Kingston go down there and shoot a video and Jamaicans complain about its Jamaican authenticity and now Rihanna goes down there and they complain about the ‘racist sterotype.’


  3. MyTake says:

    In reply to Bob: the concern about their “image” is justified as it is a result of the “violence” and the “message” in the video you yourself referred to the rest of the world being concerned about. It all goes hand in hand. If that wasn’t the message being portrayed in the video then by no means could they even be concerned about their image in the first place… Nevertheless, as much as I believe that people have a right to their creative artistry and as much as I dont see anything inherently wrong with the video, my only problem was I was expecting a different take to the video. I was not expecting the stereotypical portrayal of rustic, ghetto, violent Jamaica. I was hoping for something different. I actually believed the song was not a literal one in terms of her actually killing someone. I thought the lyrics were metaphorical and was symbolizing that she had emotionally hurt someone and that “Man Down” meant the man was hurt because of something she did. So when I saw that the video took the take of a literal crime/murder taking place, I was disappointed in that sense. However, people are in fact entitled to their opinions especially since Jamaicans have been battling with trying to take away a negative image being sowed by the media which does have an impact on their tourism product of Brand Jamaica. The fact is, Tourism is one of Jamaica’s highest earner of foreign exchange which helps to drive their economy. Hence, some Jamaicans will VOICE their opinion if they see where their livelihood may be threatened and that is ONLY FAIR to allow their voices to be heard. But as you selfishly said, “no one cares” so that is why they have to care about THEIR own well being because NOONE else does!!! Anyway, you should know that there are many other Jamaicans who love the video and feel proud that she shot it there so let’s not get it twisted, people are people and there will ALWAYS have different opinions on matters concerning them whether directly or indirectly… On a different note, I’m sure someone else is arguing against you by saying that there is nothing wrong with the message in the video because it is FICTION, a made up story line OR that rape happens everyday in every country so she is just bringing awareness to it. All I’m saying, if some Jamaicans want to speak out because they feel it is showing Jamaica in a negative light then what right have you to tell them to grow up when your argument about the violent message being portrayed is also EASILY debatable…. That’s MY take!!! emphasis on “MY”…


  4. Jah Know says:

    Another JAMAICAN (Youtube video)- I believe you are missing the point. I don’t think the Jamaicans are saying why did Rihanna literally come to Jamaica to get raped – don’t be stupid. I don’t think Jamaicans are so shallow in their thinking. The Jamaicans must be talking about the negative stereotypes that are continuously portrayed in the media. Jamaica is not all board huts and zinc fences and gunshots and scar faced men, yet, every time a video of this sort is shot in Jamaica that is what is depicted. Take Drake’s video for example. The Jamaicans are referring to the continuous negative stereotypes. Nobody is thinking that the video is about Rihanna or whether or not she was literally raped.


  5. Gena says:

    As a survivor of sexual abuse I can tell you that one of my first thoughts was to take revenge.. How dare those advocacy groups tell victims of rape to get help when the court system fails so many victims daily.

    Why does these groups depict this video as being so violent yet dont try to get Law & Order or CSI or all the other cop/justice pictures off the TV as they show violence at its worse… when the victim is dead or incapable of moving on because of the pain and hurt…

    Daily I see violence on TV in weekly shows that children can TiVo or see in a series but where are the voices against those..these are the same people that think that vampires and werewolves are a standard of entertainment..aint that violent?? someone sucking your life through a bite??

    Now on the subject of Jamaicans not liking the protrayal of what others see here’s a question WHY DIDNT YOU PROTEST WHEN THE VIDEO WAS BEING FILMED?? why wait till its out and shout negativity against Jamaica?? or is it that you dont want anyone to see what you and most Caribbean people live through daily… do you suppose if she had gone into the hills and terraces that that part of Jamaica would be a better portrayal of the island. Perhaps the scenario should have been her at her posh home in the hills and he came in a raped her then she went downtown and shot him…

    If one thing should come out of this instead of the whole Barbados/Jamaica war (which is stupid as one aint better than the other) the one thing that should arise from this is help proper help and JUSTICE for rape and sexually abused people (men and women).


    • dbsm says:

      “How dare those advocacy groups tell victims of rape to get help when the court system fails so many victims daily.”

      oooo yes!!


  6. karen mccray says:

    understand, that it’s the image of the “island” itself that concerns Jamaican people, not the act of rape and yes it’s a subject that is ignored universally. she could have very well done the video in her country.

    think of it. each time we’re shown something in the news about everyday life in Jamaica, it’s negative.


  7. Tianna says:

    I’m a female Jamaican. When i first heard the song, i was thinking she was expressing herself metaphorically, which i still think she is. She breaks another woman’s son heart and she feels terrible about hurting him and her conscience is killing her. Why people in general, especially Jamaicans are thinking that a silly, fictitious music video is painting a bad picture of our country or entertaining violence. It ain’t real!!!!!! You know what paints a bad picture of our country? The Tivoli Gardens massacre last year that made worldwide news…that was real. So if you think Rihanna’s video is doing any damage, think again. KMT!!!! Stop bitching about some fictitious video and be heard about things that matters. Rihanna’s intention was not to make our country look bad. She had a song with a reggae vibe and she decided to come to Jamaica, the reggae country, to shoot the video. So what? Build a bridge and get over it!!!


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