Disturbia: Rihanna’s Disturbing Insights

Put in your pretty lies, you’re in the city of wonder Ain’t gonna play nice, watch out you might just go under Better think twice, your train of thought will be altered So if you must falter be wise. Rihanna’s video, Disturbia, provides a rather pessimistic account of the human condition. Unfortunately, I don’t think that pessimism can, or should, be ignored.

Disturbia makes the troubling claim that “the city of wonder” bases itself on “pretty lies,” and that if we don’t fall in line, we “might just go under.”  The question remains: What is “the city of wonder” and what are the “pretty lies”? What immediately comes to my mind is human culture and the scapegoat mechanism. The video is a chilling exposure of scapegoating. The new Imitatio website, imitatio.org, defines scapegoating as: “a person or group that is made to take the blame for widely distributed guilt.” The scapegoat mechanism is the most effective way for humans to find peace after being disturbed. Unfortunately, reconciliation based on uniting against a scapegoat is based on a lie, or an altering of our train of thought. We are convinced of a scapegoat’s guilt, but the scapegoat is relatively innocent. As Rene’ Girard states in Violence and Conversion, The scapegoat “isn’t any guiltier than any other, but the whole community strongly believes he is.” This false belief leads to reconciliation within a community. Any conflicts are washed away by the scapegoat.  Peace is temporarily restored, and the culture repeats the lies about the scapegoat whenever the peace is disturbed by the threat of violence. Girard explains, “That is the importance of the scapegoat mechanism: it channels the collective violence against one arbitrary chosen member of the community, and this victim becomes the common enemy of the entire community, which is reconciled as a result” (pages 64-65). Rarely are we aware that we scapegoat. Indeed, there may be times when we sense a scapegoat’s innocence. But, If we go against the “pretty lies” of culture, we need to be careful. As the song suggests, when declaring the innocence of scapegoats we had “better think twice” and “be wise” about the steps we take. After all, the scapegoat mechanism doesn’t “play nice.” It has a mind of its own. It could easily turn on you. Later in the song a plea is made: “Release me from this curse I’m in.” “Curse” is the right word to describe scapegoating, but little hope is given in the song for a cure. Are you feeling disturbed?
Is there hope?

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