‘Till It Happens to You: Addressing College Rape Culture

I’ve stressed over the last few days about what to write about for this post. A lot has happened in politics and pop culture—the Republicans tore each other apart at their second debate, and the Emmys rewarded ‘Veep’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ as this year’s top shows (shout out to Amy Poehler and ‘Parks and Recreation’ for their incredible season. You guys may not have won any awards, but you will always be a favorite). But as these timely events passed into ‘yesterday’s news’ territory, I felt everything regarding these events was already said.

And then Lady Gaga dropped the music video for her single “Till It Happens to You,” composed by Diane Warren, and the anthem for the campus rape documentary “The Hunting Ground.”

When the song first appeared a few months ago, the message was clear—it captured the raw and emotional process of dealing with the aftermath of rape, trying to keep moving forward despite the trauma that comes with that experience. Even with the support from friends, family, and professionals to help you stay strong, you will always carry that lingering pain, and no one will understand that—unless it happens to them.

This does not, by any means, mean that things will never get better. As victims of rape, sexual, physical or emotional assault, the key is to learn to move forward and to know that what happened to you was not your fault, and that you are still able to live your best life. Rape is a terrifying, brutal trauma that no woman should go through (I am purposely singling out women for this particular discussion, however that does not mean that rape does not happen to men), but there are ways to rebuild.

You don’t really get the second part of that message from the song, but as you watch the haunting video, you realize how important it is to offer help and support to victims of rape. I got angry watching the video, because rape culture should not be something swept under the rug—it is real, and it needs to end.

The video opens to black and white shadows in a hall, then shifts to three story lines—a girl in her dorm room, another in the bathroom, two more dancing at a party, all instances where you should always feel safe, and then the attacker is introduced in the scene. (I don’t think I’ll ever shake the predatory look in the eyes of that curly-haired hipster at the party). And without the screams, we watch as these young girls are stripped of their former self, their lives changing in a matter of seconds.

The second half of the five-minute video deals with the after effects of each rape. The girl in the bathroom refuses to shower, because she is too afraid it will happen again. The two girls at the party, who were drugged and raped, lose their friendship because of the incident, resulting in one moving out of the dorm room they shared. Their lives are shattered, and eventually, with the help of friends, they are able to start taking control of their lives again. But that is a process that does not happen overnight—it’s a lifelong effort to repair yourself from something that took only seconds to crumble your world.

What I find so disturbing from this video is that in each story, these girls are supposed to be protected. They shouldn’t have to worry about someone coming in and harming them in their own home; they shouldn’t have to worry about dancing or drinking at a party; but this is the world we live in. And it is not ok.

When I first entered college, my school’s orientation team gave a presentation of issues you would have to deal with in your freshman year. Some were lighthearted, like choosing studying over a party, overbearing parents, or changing your major, but others were more serious, with rape culture looming over the examples. I remember my school warning us about date rape drugs, encouraging us to always keep an eye on our drinks. Even now as an adult, I fear taking my eyes away from my drink at a bar, even if I just have to pick up something on the floor. We are taught to always assume the worst, that rape culture is part of our world and it is our job to protect ourselves from it. But that doesn’t solve the problem that rape is still happening in our colleges, in fact, it teaches us that rape culture is here to stay, and there is nothing we can do about it. THAT is where we need change.

Gaga’s lyrics are right—you won’t know what it feels like until it happens to you. You won’t understand the fear and anxiety that goes into your everyday life. You won’t know what it feels like to sit in your shower, trying to wash away the bruises that constantly remind you of what happened. And even when the physical signs fade, you will always live with that pain.

I think the point of this video, and of the documentary, is to change our perception of rape. Instead of teaching our girls about ways to prevent themselves from becoming victims, we need to educate society as a whole about ways to end rape culture. I don’t think I will ever understand how the use of a date rape drug is a good idea for an attacker. I see no way that rape could be justified. I see no way how it could be blamed on the victim. And yet, this is the world we live in.

Eight WTF Moments at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards

Gone are the days of Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi.’ Yes, friends, it’s time to throw in the towel because MTV’s VMAs have officially jumped the shark. Maybe I’m just getting older, and maybe this event was always a disaster, but in recent years the content has gone from plucky, alcohol-influenced debauchery, to just a sad attempt for today’s celebrities to one-up the previous year in terms of shock and awe.

In what seemed like the longest (and most confusing) two hours of television I’ve witnessed this year, MTV’s 2015 VMAs gave us nothing of value, except for the lingering feeling of regret that I should have skipped the event all together. However, it did provide us with some laughable moments.

8. Kanye West ‘pretends’ to nap.

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Because MTV cares about nothing but ratings (see Moment #1), they asked Taylor Swift to present Kanye West with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, thus making the entire ceremony about their infamous 2009 ‘Imma Let You Finish’ moment, versus talking about Kanye’s career. Like the rest of us, watching Taylor publicly pardon West made all of us want to curl up and fall asleep.

7. Taylor Swift’s Dictatorship

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Am I the only one who is sick of Taylor’s army of model BFFs? Her whole ‘Girl Squad’ has become Page Six’s “Plastics,’ with Regina George wielding her power over who is in, and who is out. Don’t get me wrong, Taylor has done a lot of good, but I’d just like to see other people in the spotlight without having to ask for Taylor’s approval.

6. Taylor and Nicki Minaj’s Duet


Forced. This was SO forced. Ok, glad you girls could make up after that little Twitter misunderstanding, but what could have been a great opportunity for these two to discuss the role of the black woman in todays celeb circuit, turned into a swept-under-the-rug performance that ended in a hug that says ‘It’s all butterflies and sunshine over here.’

5. Kelly Osbourne Dances with Nick Jonas

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I really think she was just confused about where to go when the Pre-Show ended. In a last minute snag, Osbourne forgot to leave the stage and had to improvise by shaking it in her vintage BeetleJuice look surrounded by a bunch of twerking moon babes.

4. Britney Spears Presents an Award

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This has nothing to do with Britney–she looked amazing last night. However, her presence, along with Kanye and the entire Kardashian family, made me realize one thing: no one should attend the VMAs after the age of 25.

3. Justin Bieber Crying

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Not really sure what happened there. Overall, the guy did a pretty good job with his comeback–he cut back on the flair (and hid that strange new haircut) to remind us why he’s famous (he’s very talented!), but the emotions just got to him in the end. Don’t worry, Justin, you’re just entering into a new phase of your career, hopefully one where you’re less of a jerk and more of an artist.

2. Miley Cyrus’ Everything

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She has a new album. She slipped a nip. She wore every outfit imaginable to make sure she slipped a nip. Her hosting as she would even put it, was unqualified, but it was entertaining. I enjoyed the little sketch with Ike Barinholtz and Andy Samberg, and I’ll always enjoy a segment with Snoop Dogg, so maybe it was her supporting cast that helped her push through.

1. Kanye West’s Speech

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This, by far takes the cake for the #1 WTF moment. I still have no idea where he was going with any of his speech–he talked about how the Hennessy-induced 2009 interruption affected his reputation, but trailed off on that topic. He kept starting a conversation about how having a daughter has changed him, but again, trailed off. It wasn’t until the end of Kanye’s moment that he actually said the most poignant statement: awards shows are pointless. Because, as the VMAs showed us, the awards don’t really matter unless you can bring together a bunch of egotistic celebrities who will get in arguments or flash a boob just to boost ratings.

But in case you were interested: The VMAs do have a ‘Professional’ category, where the people behind the videos get recognition for his or her work. These are not shown on live TV. Here’s the winners for this year:

Best Art Direction: Jason Fijal for Snoop Dogg’s “So Many Pros”

Best Choreography: Ok Go, air:man, and Mori Harano for Ok Go’s “I Won’t Let You Down”

Best Cinematography: Larkin Sieple for Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar’s “Never Catch Me”

Best Direction: Colin Tilley & The Little Homies for Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”

Best Editing: Beyonce, Ed Burke, and Jonathan Wing for Beyonce’s “7/11”

Best Visual Effects: Brewer for Skrillex & Diplo’s “Where Are U Now” with Justin Bieber

In Defense of Kanye West

kanye_west_live_wallpaperThe VMAs are upon us–once again, music’s elite will flock to the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, CA to bring us what may typically be described as the ‘most unpredictable event of the year.’ The VMAs traditionally bring us some of music’s most shocking moments: Madonna and Britney Spears’ kiss on stage in 2003; Eminem’s 2000 performance of ‘The Real Slim Shady’ with way too many Slim Shadys; Lady Gaga’s ‘Meat Dress’ of 2010 (although I will forever love her for her 2009 performance of ‘Paparazzi’ when she started bleeding on the stage from her stomach.). But let’s not forget the most popular of controversial VMA actions: the interruptions; and our reigning King of Interruptions: Kanye West.

2009 was the year Kanye infamously interrupted Taylor Swift during her VMA acceptance, telling her Beyonce’s video deserved the coveted award, sending Swift into silence as she tried to collect herself. (Beyonce would later bring Swift back up onstage to stare the spotlight, as only Beyonce could do.)  Since then, Kanye’s reputation seems to struggle to shake that moment from the public’s eye, despite his achievements over the last six years and the forgiveness Tay Tay so graciously gave him this year.

With the VMAs only days away now, Kanye has already nabbed the spotlight, but this time for a different reason–he’s accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. What is the MJVVA, you ask? Well, it’s essentially a Lifetime Achievement Award for artists who have contributed significantly to the MTV culture. Prior to its renaming in 1991, the Video Vanguard Award was given to artists including The Beatles, David Bowie, Madonna, The Beastie Boys, Janet Jackson, and most recently, Beyonce, who accepted the award following a 16-minute performance from her 2014 self-titled album.

Which bring us to our next question: Why Kanye?

Beyond the outspoken, hot headed, self-aggrandizing Kanye we’ve come to know and love, there’s no denying that as an artist, he’s revolutionary. His 40-minute film to accompany Runaway comes to mind as a modern take on the extended music video, while some of his other noteworthy works include “All Falls Down” and “All of the Lights.” Rolling Stone reports that West has received nominations for 30 VMAs, winning two–one in 2005 for Best Male Video and another in 2008 for Best Special Effects. And who can forget his 2008 performance of ‘Love Lockdown.’

So really, the question should be, why not Kanye? The man’s career has shaped much of modern music–he’s produced some of the most iconic songs of the 21st century, collaborated with the industries finest (his most recent album has Paul McCartney in the credits), and isn’t afraid to use his music to talk about bigger issues (2005’s ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone,’ for example, shed light on the diamond conflict in West Africa).

Yes, Kanye might not be everyone’s favorite person, but there’s no denying it, the man has achieved so much in the world of music. He deserves that recognition. I’m personally very excited to see what he does prior to his acceptance–maybe a best of set? Or a new song? Maybe he’ll surprise drop his new album that we’ve anxiously waited for. Or maybe he’ll just stir the pot in the most recent Taylor Swift-Katy Perry feud. We’ll find out this Sunday.