Modern Medea: Rhianna & Chris Brown?

This semester I am teaching a World Lit class for our burgeoning Honors Program. It’s a new experience for me and it’s proving to be very enjoyable. I am familiar with much of the reading, but I still spent the end of the spring semester and the entire summer prepping the course. My class is small (seven students) but they have proven to be an enthusiastic and dynamic group, which is great for discussion.

This week (the class meets once a week for three hours) we read and discussed Medea, so I spent much of last week/end re-reading the play and preparing for discussion. If you’re not familiar with the play by the Greek playwright Euripedes, you should read it. It is my favorite of the Greek plays and I prefer it over Oedipus Rex and Antigone.

While re-reading Medea, I started thinking about connections/references that a modern day audience could make to the play. This is something that I always think about when teaching literature to students who are not familiar with the work already. Currently, my class is split almost in half in terms of students who have at least heard about some of this reading and students who thought I was talking about Tyler Perry when I assigned Medea. No matter what the level of familiarity is with the reading, the students still need an entry point to the story. They need to find a reason to connect to the plot and the characters because once that connection is made, then they can begin to discuss why the piece is relevant to a modern day audience. In other words, they can begin to answer the age old question: “Why are we still reading this stuff?”

*While I was reading Medea and thinking about modern connections, I happened to come across a story about Chris Brown on Facebook. As most of you know, Chris Brown is a popular pop singer who made headlines for a physical altercation with then girlfriend, pop superstar Rhianna. Her bruised and beaten face made all the news outlets and many radio stations temporarily banned his music from the airwaves. The story has raised it’s head several times in the past year, partly due to celebrity involvement in helping Rhianna and Chris “reconcile,” her decision to publicly forgive him and most recently, because of the tattoo that Chris Brown has on his neck. I’m not particularly interested in whether or not the tattoo depicted on his neck is a battered woman, a zombie or Osiris (all speculation on the internet). My opinion of Chris Brown wasn’t good even before his altercation with Rhianna, so that’s a closed case in my mind. However, Rhianna’s public response to the incident and in turn, the impact it has on young women and how they view physical abuse is something I  care about.

How does this relate to Medea? When Jason (Medea’s husband and hero of golden fleece fame) decides to leave his wife for the younger, more powerful Corinthian princess, Medea’s rage knows no bounds. She is what the phrase “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” epitomizes. In the end her rage and desire for vengeance leads not only to her murder of the princess and her father, King Creon of Corinth, but also the murder of her two young sons. She was a powerful woman, a queen, and the daughter of the sun god, Apollo. To say that she was not a woman to cross, is an understatement.

Clearly, I am not advocating murder as revenge and the tale penned by Euripedes was meant to scandalize and tantalize Greek audiences. However, the play Medea is also about power and control and when Jason tried to take that power and control, the consequences were devastating. In the case of Chris Brown and Rhianna, where is the rage? Where is the power? Who has the control?  It seems to fall with the same individual.  His rage. His power. His control.

A final thought, in the introduction to Medea, the textbook makes this observation:

For the Greeks, a hero was not necessarily a good, kind person, but rather a strong, larger than life figure whose deeds were somehow performed on a grand scale (The Bedford Anthology of World Literature, 1003).

At the conclusion of the play, Medea flies off in a chariot pulled by dragons, leaving Jason in misery. Many Greeks could have considered her hero. Can we say the same of Rhianna?

* A few disclaimers: 1). I understand Chris Brown and Rhianna are public figures, so I am basing my  thoughts on the information I have as a public consumer. 2). I am in no way, shape or form blaming Rhianna for what happened to her. 3). This is what happens when a bunch of different thoughts converge in my head. At the end of the day, it’s just my opinion.

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