Rhianna’s video of ‘We Found Our Love in a Hopeless Place’ illustrates rough sex, drugs and abuse. When we think of these videos they promote a particular type of gendered behaviour where young men and women are both captured in a spiral of drugs, alcohol, sex and violence, in no particular order. What these forms of popular culture tell young men is that they need to behave like the characters in the videos if they are going to be men and cool. When do they hear the other story? When do the young men get a different picture of how young men behave towards women? The only version they get is of a man roughing up a woman he purportedly loves and then they have rough intercourse and all is well. Sadly, this creates unrealistic expectations of what relationships are all about. Though, more often than not young women are reporting that rough love is positive and shows them that their man is into them.
Do parents see these videos? Do they see the glorified use of drugs and alcohol? Do they see the violence involved? Have these become normal parts of our cultural life? How large is the impact of popular culture on the minds of youth? How much do other forms of culture really influence the young people to think of other ways of expressing themselves? These are all questions that came up in a recent workshop in Washington, DC on working with men to eliminate violence against women. One link became evident and that was that popular culture influenced more violent behaviour in teens as it encouraged them to see this as normal.
Further, gun ownership and being cool were seen as normal and guns became an extension of one’s personality. This was particularly so in the US where gun culture, as we have seen in the wake of the most recent school massacre in Connecticut, is such an integral part of mainstream culture. When this is extended to the images presented in popular culture of bitches, hoes, guns and bling, the power of media to damage the minds and sell a way of life that is not real, but is captivating beyond compare.
When the subliminal message sent to young men is that women like to be hit then they understand that violence is expected of them and is normal behaviour. Men are only allowed to express themselves through violence. Over the last year and a half or so, there have been more than a handful of women killed by their intimate partners. Yet, at the end of a few days, people accept this form of violence and move on. It is too much to linger on it or to challenge what has allowed it to fester and grow.
However, this is not only about how women are perceived but how men are taught to react to stress and conflict. We, as men, are not taught to avoid conflict. In fact, young men in order to demonstrate their masculinity are told they must engage in conflict. If they have been disrespected, they are told they must fight it out. This kind of response quickly results in violent altercations that often result in death.
As gun culture reaches new heights in the country, more young men will succumb to gunshots. In studies conducted by the College of the Bahamas and presented at the Violence Symposia held there, results clearly indicated that gun ownership is on the increase, as is gun crime. Men outnumber women in owning guns, and those who own guns are more likely to act irresponsibly, including threatening members of their households with their weapons. This says something about society.
At the end of the day, what is being sold on TV, in films, music videos and video games is violence. To avoid having one’s hyper male card challenged, one must be tough, wield a weapon, and refer to women as bitches, hoes and sluts. This is cool. This behaviour and these assumptions left unchecked by families where unrestricted access to media is allowed increases the risk of violent behaviour in some youth. In a recent study on teens and sexuality and popular culture published in Jamaica the researcher demonstrated that teens who were more exposed to popular culture and media were more likely to act out what they observed. The likelihood of performing the behaviours seen was directly proportional to increased time engaged with these media, for example the video game Grand Theft Auto. Ironically, many youth can tell adults that these things are violent, but adults do not appear to pay sufficient attention to what is really being transmitted through media. Are we simply too busy to care?
• Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett, Associate Professor in the School of English Studies at the College of the Bahamas, has written extensively on race and migration in the Bahamas, cultural creolisation and gender issues. Direct questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.