In Depth

Rihanna video: torture porn provokes pop debate

Explicit revenge fantasy has shocked commentators, but is Rihanna part of a worrying trend?

The video for Rihanna's latest single, Bitch Better Have My Money, marks either a new low in popular culture, or an inventive take on feminine power.

Critics have been divided by the seven-minute video, often abbreviated to BBHMM, which features Rihanna's character seeking revenge on a rich man who owes her a debt.

She gets even by kidnapping, stripping, torturing and killing the man's wife, played by Canadian supermodel Rachel Roberts.

While much of the violence is implied and unseen, the wife is depicted topless, strung up in a warehouse, being forced to take drugs and eventually being drowned. It's a graphic revenge fantasy, but one shot in the glamorous style of a fashion shoot.

Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail called the video "repulsive" and an "endless stream of filthy, violent and downright misogynistic images". She adds that the song, which "glorifies murder, torture, drug-taking, guns and racial stereotyping", should "turn all mother's stomachs".

In The Observer, Barbara Ellen has both artistic and moral objections to the song. She says that Rihanna has produced better songs than "this (sub-Sia ear-dung)", and the video "comes across as a painfully obvious self-indulgent attempt to revive industry interest in her God-awful acting". Ellen's main objection to the video is the "pure misogyny".

But Rachel Roberts defends the video in which she appears, telling The Guardian she was aware that the violence and nudity would prove controversial. "Obviously, it's risque," she says, "but there are a lot of films, say Tarantino's, that are far more graphic and violent."

She also argues that the song is empowering, saying: "Rihanna is portraying a strong woman, who is fighting back, even if her methods are obviously highly questionable."

Rebecca Carroll, also in The Guardian, agrees. She argues that the backlash has come because the black woman is in control. To be sure, the video is "vividly violent", says Carroll, it's "an unabashed revenge fantasy". But she also argues that the violence is equivalent to a Tarantino film.

But Tarantino, is a white, male director, and Rihanna is "masterly ambitious black woman with a fear of nothing and no one". Carroll notes that Rihanna has the agency to create her music and direct her career on her own, and that's what should matter.

In the Daily Telegraph, Alex Proud is unconvinced, calling the video "puerile, sexist, race-bait nonsense". Actually, he says, it's not that shocking because it's "courting controversy by numbers", but it is a sign of a more worrying trend.

He goes on to say that the video is a "seven-minute-long softcore snuff film" and evidence of how "the porniness of videos has ratcheted up over the years". Yes, people can call it feminist if it makes them feel better, he says, but the main point is that "kids don't need any more porn".

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