The timing couldnt be worse for Rihanna as the video was released almost simultaneously with a commissioned report in the UK assessing the Sexualisation of Children. The report cited tv performances by Rihanna and Christina Aguilera and videos by Lady Gaga as particularly controversial but also attacked the clothing and advertising industries for targeting younger children.
There are two sides to the issue, one is about choice and of course whether children are able to make informed choices, or, and perhaps more pertinently, whether their parents are able to choose adequately for them. The other side of the coin is the over sexualised and aggressively manipulated arena of advertising and commercial retailing which undoubtedly creates social pressures and expectations that can influence the ability of children and parents to decide their own level of development, create their own self-ideas and image and map their own goals without excess influence. Overshadowing this world is of course the spectre of fame and the illusion of riches and wealth.
For example, it is wrongly assumed by the media, and in a sense by society as a whole, that public figures should act in the moral good and represent role models for children to follow. This is of course pure nonsense as children should never be encouraged to worship or behave like over-groomed pop stars or football players etc. Why should society or the media expect moral behaviour, particularly from artists? Surely artists, whether of the lowly calibre of Rihanna or the upper echelons of Nobel Prize winning authors, should be upheld as paragons of themselves, of free and infinitely variable individuals? I am reminded of a retort by Australian singer Nick Cave several years ago (which I cannot find in exact quote) to a question that he was sexist. He replied that he wasn't, but in a sense that it didnt matter if he was as he was an artist and had to take particular points of view to express his art or to generate a character to express an idea. "Political correctnes," he quipped (in my own paraphrased words) "is for politicians". Afterall, Nick Cave killed Kylie Minogue in "Where the wild roses grow" without much controversy, perhaps because it truly is more art than pop?
"All beauty must die"
The real question is perhaps why has it taken so long to commission a report or to debate these kinds of issues when music videos and advertising as a lecherous whole have essentially been over sexualised for a generation already? Sure, Madonna received some of the same criticisms levelled at Rihanna, but where did it lead us to if not to Rihanna? Asking for censorship or greater regulation of the internet and particularly video servers like Youtube is likely to be impossible as well. There are plenty of other "naughty" or explicit music videos out there if you look, such as this classic from Add (n) to X.
Explicit lyric content has been a thorny issue in the music business for a long time already. It was perhaps serendipitous that this week I came across this track by Lost and Beezy called "Snake eyes" as part of a three CD mix set of dub step by DJ Hatcha, pathetically marketed as 100% Pure Dubstep, clearly for the novice or entry level dubstep fan. The lyrics are decidedly seedy and almost funn, but of course have not raised any controversy possibly because the debate has been done to death and the track contains suitable warnings (even on Amazon where you can buy the CD or the tracks with a warning), but probably also because Lost and Breezy aren't famous enough.
It is easy to forget that childhood as a developmental stage has not existed in its present form for very long. The Victorian age and Industrial Revolution saw much child labour and it was only with the propagation of school systems and the introduction of child labour laws that saw the protection of children from essentially entering the adult world at a young age. Prior to this in the Middle Ages, one cannot imagine childhood being a particularly innocent or sheltered time either. Finaly,this theme of children reminds me of Peter Greenaway's controversial 1993 film the Baby of Mâcon which details the story of the exploitation of a child in a 17th century Italian town by the mother, church and local politicians.