So I came across this article by Mia McKenzie yesterday evening. Shared by one of my FB friends. I wrote a long comment wanted to turn it into something slightly less losable than a response in an FB thread. When I have more time, I want to start writing about this sort of thing more regularly.
Let me stress that I am not here to complain about Rihanna. I don’t like the video, and I wouldn’t want to be involved in a film with that kind of plot myself, but whatever. I did find the song wholly unremarkable (boring money-worshipping nothingyness, lack of any interesting melody, etc), but really the video just made me cringe. I’m responding speciically to the assumption-laden, stunningly illogical BGD article.
The author makes out like the kidnap and subsequent treatment of Rihanna’s hostage is a case of needs must. Do or die. “If a white woman has to suffer some so that she, a black woman, can survive, so be it.” This might be a valid argument if:
a) the woman were only made to suffer enough that the money was made retrievable (when instead she is gratuitously tortured for extended periods of time, being locked in a small box and carted around, drugged, physically and sexually abused, and then apparently drowned…or possibly blitzed to death with a chainsaw, though I think the implication was that the chainsaw was used on the hubby);
b) The character played by Rihanna was destitute and *actually* needed the money to “survive” (ie. wasn’t in possession of her own yacht, singing about her expensive cars; wearing expensive clothes, etc. etc.);
c) The video didn’t blatantly imply that it was the hostage’s husband who owed her the money.
The idea that Rihanna portrays a black woman who is just “unconcerned with the well-being of a white person when her own well-being is at stake” conveniently glosses over all these things, as well as the brazen disproportion of the situation. There’s more than a small difference between the erosion of wellbeing that results from being owed money versus that which results from relentless, prolonged, and gleefully administered torture to rival the kind that Amnesty International try to save people from in countries ravaged by war or despotism.
The more accurate account, then, is that Rihanna portrays a rich black woman who is unconcerned with the basic rights (ie. not to be tortured) of a white woman who just happens to be useful to her as leverage against a rich white man who owes her dolla.
One of feminism’s favourite tropes is that the argument “What if this had happened to a bloke? You wouldn’t mind THEN, would you?” is invalid by default, because (apparently) sexism towards men doesn’t exist; sexism inheres in exploitation of the systemically less powerful sex by the systemically more powerful one. But apparently, the argument becomes valid if it’s made by a non-white person: “Imagine if instead of kidnapping the accountant’s wife, Rihanna and her crew kidnapped his brother? Would White Feminists™ be so upset? I doubt it.”
Me personally, I would find it just as bad-vibes if the physically tortured and sexually humiliated person was a man. But then, I don’t call myself a feminist (anymore, because of this kind of propaganda).
Though I’m no fan of revenge in general, I find positively medieval the idea that even a smidgen of validity should be given to the seeking of revenge on people for the crimes of their ancestors (or their husbands…). Still, leaving this aside, the most disingenuous aspect of the article is its use of both the (fantasy-based) argument, historically, white people have abused black people to untold magnitude, and this is a revenge film, AND the (reality-based) argument this is a black woman simply doing what is necessary to survive.
You can’t have it both ways.
The whole point of revenge is that it goes beyond what is necessary to survive. Revenge is punishment. The doling out of suffering for suffering’s sake. It’s like the author realises, on some level, that neither argument is very good, so she uses one to distract from the emptiness of the other. Or maybe it’s that she started out with a conclusion and then reached for anything she thought might help her justify it, without really caring about the logical integrity of the resulting argument. Who knows.
It strikes me that any attempt to formally justify the film in writing actually undermines and cheapens it anyway, by sapping the stylised mystique that makes it socially acceptable. It’s like explaining why a joke is supposed to be funny. The joke stops being funny and becomes embarrassing instead.
All this advocacy against “binaries” and “social constructs” and categorising people on the basis of generic properties…ultimately it comes to nothing, because if you’re privileged enough to lack any of the forms of privilege deemed worth talking about (ie, whiteness and maleness), then you have cover to lump whole swathes of people you’ve never met into single homogenous classes and make sweeping prejudiced statements about them, as if one or two bits of information told you everything you needed to know. It’s OK to dehumanise people if you happen to be the right sort of person yourself. And anybody who disagrees is either racist or sexist or both. How wonderfully unfalsifiable.
White women’s brand of feminism degrades black women. Because all white women can be tidily identified by one monolithic brand that they all subscribe to without exception. No nuance needed (or deserved, because of the actions of their ancestors). No need to acknowledge the massive number of white women whose lives are dedicated to race activism, because they’re all the same.
This truly does represent everything I hate about (some) 21st century social activism and its perverse mission to ensure that black and white and male and female remain official enemies until the ultimate demise of our species.