It's winter break. I'm at home with nothing to do, so naturally the television is on all the time, which means MTV is on almost all the time. I'm sitting through another round of videos when Papa Roach's "Broken Home" appears on the screen.
The video is about a young child living in a tumultuous family. His dad's a cheating alcoholic who beats and sexually assaults his wife. I'm a bit taken aback, but my more frequent MTV-watching boyfriend informs me that this scene is simply one in a string of new videos with domestic violence as the driving theme.
The following week of MTV scrutiny confirms his observation--and I start to notice a pattern. The bands making these videos are all white boys playing melodramatic metal. But their videos don't condone violence. In fact, the scenes are always shown from the perspective of a frightened, young child. The lyrics that accompany these songs are the musings of young men raised in violent homes. The Papa Roach song, for example, asks, "I know my mother loves me, but does my father care?" Staind's video "Fade" also features a young boy watching the shadows of his parents fight, over the lyric, "Now I'm older and it seems like I could let some of this anger fade. But it seems the surface I am scratching is the bed that I have made."
My unofficial research gets more complicated when I catch two more videos of domestic discord: Alicia Keys' "A Woman's Worth" and Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama." The context in which violence occurs is markedly different in these songs by black, female R&B artists. Keys' video, as the title suggests, is a call for men to respect the women in their lives. It shows a mother returning to her child's room after a family fight to comfort him. Blige's video places domestic violence along a spectrum of disturbing national problems, including drug addiction and the events of Sept. 11.
The bottom line seems to be that domestic violence is an alarmingly pervasive situation. After all, the whole point of music videos is to sell records and the way to do that is by connecting with your audience. But the differences I saw in videos by white, male bands and black female artists suggest that while women identify right away with the victims of violence, the boys are eyeing their dads and facing a turning point: Will they abandon their father's idea of what it means to be a man, or will they turn into him?
Valentine's Day is approaching and V-Day initiatives fighting violence against women are springing up on campuses around the Triangle. I'm glad I spent so much time watching MTV over break, if only to be reminded that family violence is still wreaking havoc--on the women who suffer abuse and the children forced to watch it.