Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Rihanna's 'Hard' video: how bad can it be?

It's a strange one, this. By 'strange' I suppose I mean misjudged, offensive, even repellent. I'm amazed by quite how much dumb imagery this promo manages to pack into so few minutes. It combines military chic, gung-ho celebrations of war, crude sexism and dubious racial overtones.

Through a range of images, the video glamorises the experience of frontline troops. Not only that but it sexualises that experience in a way that is disturbing: the incessant repetition of 'hard' combining sex and the image of being a 'tough guy', which is directly linked here to the celebration of being a soldier at war. It's macho 'blowing stuff up for thrills' imagery, but especially unsettling because of its specific locating of that imagery in the context of war - and also because it is the video for a female artist, thus encouraging the idea that such infantile nonsense is acceptable to (even promoted by) women.

But it's even worse than that: Rhianna's own role is dreadful. I can imagine a case being made for this video as an assertion of strong female sexuality, playing subversively with traditional macho imagery. But it's nothing of the sort. Instead we get a shallow caricature of a particular sort of sexuality, designed to add a sense of sexiness and glamour to all the violent imagery.

What's more, the sex and violence are so explicity and repetitively linked. When you consider the numerous horrific examples, through history (and still happening now), of rape being used as a weapon of war, this is dangerous imagery to play with. Some of the comments posted below the vid are not exactly encouraging.

Then there's the uneasy feeling that, due to the artist and style of music, race is a significant factor too. While much American black music has deployed iconography of violence, that rarely extends to celebrating the US military! Indeed there's a tradition of black music which takes a stand against US militarism.

Also see a more detailed critique of the video HERE.


  1. It's not good. It also suggests that females in the army are sex symbols. I don't like the bullet bra or the humping of the tank. I wonder how many people would notice how tasteless this video is without it being pointed out to them. Did you ever see Christina Aguilera Dirty? The same kind of thing.

  2. Yes, it's easy to imagine any woman in the armed forces being very unhappy with this. It plays to an extremely old-fashioned and macho view of the army, and women's status therein. How many people will recognise how tasteless it is without being alerted to that? I'm genuinely not sure - I'd like to think a great many would, but in a way these things just wash over people (a sort of desensitisation).

  3. I think its actually quite funny. Its so bad its almost satire...

    My sense if that the problem is more the troops blowing innocent people to tiny bloody pieces rather than this rather silly bit of film-making.

  4. Hey, I posted a link to your article on my blog :)