Monday, February 13, 2012

We Need To Talk About Chris Brown

Can we talk about Chris Brown for a minute? I've never really followed his career, although I did, like 72 million other people, watch the "JK Wedding Entrance Dance," and I'll admit it: I like that song. But the rest of his stuff has been overshadowed by the time he beat the shit out of his girlfriend.

Remember that, guys? It was like, three years ago. Three years ago, when Brown was nineteen years old, he was involved in a "domestic dispute" that resulted in felony assault charges. The media reaction was mixed - instead of condemning Brown for hitting, punching, and biting his girlfriend, stars spoke out about how "they didn't have the details" and "they knew both of them, and it was a sad situation." Very few celebrities took a stand and said that Brown was despicable, and those who did got shushed. Fans came out to say that they would gladly get punched in the face if it meant a lifetime of Brown's music. The mainstream media framed it as a question - does Chris Brown deserve a second chance?

There were regrets. Tears. A softball Larry King interview. Later, there was a Good Morning America piece that enraged Brown, causing a public temper tantrum that was widely reported. Brown's media now always included a qualifier - "bad boy," "controversial" - and reviews of his albums mentioned his personal life.

And then three years later, Brown was back. Back at the Grammys - three years ago, he had to cancel because he had attacked his girlfriend and was too busy dealing with the fallout to attend, but last night he was there, accepting an award and smiling and dancing and generally acting like it was his comeback. Music fans were divided: Twitter erupted with sardonic and angry comments every time Brown was onstage, but the industry seemed fine with him being there, fine with him sharing the room with his victim.

Oh yeah: his victim. Rihanna. She's doing fine now, isn't she? She poses in bikinis and has number-one albums. She's a success story. So why are we still talking about her assault? Why does it still matter?

Because Rihanna is lucky. Not lucky she was beaten - that's not "bad luck" or any kind of luck, because luck has nothing to do with it, since it's always somebody's choice to be an abuser - but lucky she survived. Lucky that she had friends and family around her. She's lucky that the public doesn't insist on remembering her solely as a victim, so she's been able to create a persona of empowerment. Because she's an entertainer, we've been privy to that transformation. That's the right of the victim: to reject the label, or to say, "I was that person for a minute, but I'm not there any more." To live forever under the shadow of someone else's mistake doesn't have to be your fate, and Rihanna has embraced her success and refused to allow Brown's assault to define her.

But Brown? Oh no. The privileges of the victim don't extend to the aggressor. The internet got buzzy around the idea that Brown deserves a reprieve from being branded an abuser. As though that's something he's grown out of, like an old pair of jeans. But he's proven time and again to be aggressive, resorting to tantrums when he doesn't get his way. He's shown little remorse. His persona - smooth lover, cool guy - is directly at odds with his proven public life, and he shows a shocking lack of awareness at how that reads to the general public.

That the music industry even acknowledges Brown, let alone awards him, is baffling. I know there's money and politics involved, but frankly, Brown shouldn't be here. He is repugnant. And we know that, make us all complicit in Brown's continued success.

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