Sunday, September 21, 2014

Can a Sister Get a Break? Rihanna & Shonda Rhimes Wrestle With Big Media

Chris Brown's erie tattoo (L) Rihanna after being beaten by Brown in '09 (R) 
With flat wage growth, a hiring rate that is steadily inching up but still sluggish and millions of people chronically under-employed or stuck in jobs that don't pay living wages, the lingering after affects of the Great Recession are making these tough times for many average working class people in the US.

But Department of Labor statistics released two weeks ago show that black American women are a  particularly hard hit demographic when it comes to economic recovery.

The study shows that the unemployment rate amongst black women remains high at 10.6% - that hasn't changed since the same period 12 months ago. Compare that to the overall unemployment rate which has dipped to 6.2%. One reason?

The study suggests that as a percentage of employees, women of color were over represented in federal, state and local municipal jobs - so when Republican lawmakers began slashing government jobs across the nation, black women suffered disproportionately. The reality is that many working class sisters are finding it much more difficult to get back into the workforce; much more so than their white, Hispanic or Asian counterparts. Don't look for that on the Tea Party's agenda, it doesn't even seem to be on the Democratic Party's radar at the moment. 

Last week the media was also tough on some high profile black women at the top of the economic scale too.
The Website Color of launched an online petition demanding that the New York Times retract a controversial Op-Ed piece written by Alessandra Stanley that took highly successful television producer/writer Shonda Rhimes to task for writing characters that are "angry black women".

Rhimes is best known for television shows like Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal featuring strong female characters who are confident and outspoken, but also multidimensional, sensitive and compassionate. If Stanley had watched more than say, five episodes of Grey's Anatomy, she would realize Rhimes' characters are ethnically diverse and ALL of them deliver opinionated rants on a range of topics at various times - but only the black female characters are "angry"? Hmmm.

Rhimes took to Twitter on Friday to deconstruct Stanley's arguments in typically eloquent fashion and created something of an online backlash against Stanley, who obviously picked the wrong target and got called out for a sloppily-written Op-Ed.

Speaking of highly publicized Twitter responses, singer Rihanna also took to Twitter to express her anger at CBS for pulling the Jay-Z song "Run This Town", which features Rihanna's vocals, from the television intro for its Thursday Night Football broadcast.

The media dust-up began the week before last when CBS decided to pull the intro in light of the public outcry over the release of the elevator footage of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancé in the face.

CBS pulled "Run This Town" from the televised intro prior to the September 11th national broadcast of the Baltimore Ravens - Pittsburgh Steelers game and replaced it with different theme music. Given that Ray Rice was the Ravens starting running back before he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL, the CBS decision to pull the song does make sense because of the potential risk to the brand.

The possibility of unforeseen media blowback from associating both the CBS and NFL brands (and their advertisers) with a celebrity who was herself a highly-publicized victim of domestic abuse could have very easily been taken in the wrong way and had unintended consequences.

While I respect Rihanna as an artist, global fame and stardom came to her at a very young age.

She's been ensconced within a retinue of managers, lawyers, handlers and publicists
(her own family has complained publicly of not being able to contact her at times) for years, so I'm not sure she actually realizes just how deeply shocked many people were by her decision to rekindle her relationship with Chris Brown in 2009 not long after the vicious beating he gave her. She also reunited with him again in 2011.

While one might certainly express a degree of admiration for her capacity to forgive someone as emotionally disturbed as Chris Brown, many people ultimately viewed her choice as immature and foolish; one reflective of an almost juvenile determination to date a "bad boy" and "fix him".

Rhihanna didn't catch heat because she tried to make her relationship with Chris Brown work, but because she came off as young and dangerously uninformed on the realities of domestic abuse.

Her decision flew in the face of volumes of credible data on the patterns of domestic abuse; one in four women has been a victim. She seemed unaware of the four phases of domestic abuse as described by Lenore Walker in 'The Dynamics of Domestic Violence - The Cycle of Violence' .

As documented on the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center Website, Phase 3 follows the actual physical violence that takes place in Phase 2 and is known as the "Honeymoon Phase" where the abuser expresses deep remorse, apologizes profusely and:

"Many abusers will buy gifts, flowers, etc. so that the victim will forgive the abuse. Oftentimes the abuser will promise to go into treatment voluntarily, that the violence will never occur again, and that he or she will "Change"." 

I read that quote and think back to the famous photos of her and Brown jet-skiing around Florida together not long after he'd pummeled her; look at the picture above, would you even consider going jet-skiing with some guy who did that to you?

Personally I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for Rihanna to be put into the position where she's still having to deal with the repercussions of being a victim of domestic abuse five years after her violent encounter with Brown.

But the reality is that she is also dealing with the repercussions of the message that her choice to reunite with Chris Brown sent to the public. On one hand she remains defiant about wanting her personal life to remain private. Yet, look at any issue of Rolling Stone in the past couple years.

I'm a subscriber and I can tell you that more often than not, the "Random Notes" section which features color photos of famous musicians, has a photo of Rhihanna in a swim-suit with a drink in her hand hanging out in Ibiza or some other exclusive sunny vacation spot hanging out.

For instance, look at page 34 of the September 25th issue of RS with Taylor Swift on the cover. There's Rhihanna (with a drink in her hand...) floating in the waters off the island of Ponza, Italy celebrating the end of her Monster Tour. The photo caption reads: "RiRi and her entourage snorkeled in old pirate caves on the island of Ponza."

Now I'm not judging her personal life at all. If Rihanna wants to party on a yacht off Monaco with her friends, hey more power to her. She's a successful adult artist who's entitled to recreational down time and she can do with her time and money whatever she wants. 

But you don't get to saturate the media with images of yourself to promote your career as an entertainer then complain about the public prying into your private life.

When CBS pulled the song from their national prime time broadcast, they were just trying to be sensitive to the issue of domestic abuse, because they couldn't predict how the public would react to Rihanna's voice promoting a game involving the Baltimore Ravens with video of Ray Rice punching his fiance in the face making headlines and overshadowing the game itself.

The images of Rihanna's beautiful face all bruised, battered and swollen after Chris Brown attacked her are stuck in the public sub-conscious; like it or not she always WILL be linked to the issue of domestic abuse.

I can understand Rihanna being angry at CBS for having distanced themselves from the trauma she suffered. But maybe she should remember that domestic abuse affects millions of people, and many of those people simply still have a hard time understanding why anyone would willingly go back into a relationship with someone who would hit, and bite you like that.

And then get a tattoo of the photo of what he did drawn on his neck? I don't even want to know what that is about.

Can Rihanna really blame CBS for not wanting any part of that? I don't think so; her being a victim of Brown's violence wasn't her fault but it certainly wasn't CBS's decision for her to get back in a relationship with him either.

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