Jocelyn Hoppa: During the Grammy’s, as Chris Brown accepted his first award, a flood of Twitter comments came from various people I follow, most with the hash tag “#neverforget” following various jokes and/or outright dismay that he would be granted an award after being in the public eye for beating Rihanna’s face to a black-and-blue pulp.
I agree. Not that I’m not into second chances or redemption, but Brown hasn’t exactly proved we should turn a blind eye to his rage. The images of Rihanna’s battered face are burned into our collective memory, but it’s especially important to note what has occurred since that heinous act of abuse.
He, of course, apologized and stuff. And then, because it’s what artists do, he wrote an album about it titled F.A.M.E.—a two-prong acronym, “Forgiving All My Enemies” and “Fans Are My Everything” (insert your own jokes of egomaniacal behavior here). And then he went on to Good Morning America to perform a single from the new release and interview with Robin Roberts, where he sulked through or wholly avoided questions related to Rihanna (which is directly related to the album he was there to promote), and afterwards stormed backstage, screamed and yelled in his dressing room, and subsequently smashed a window with a chair, shards of glass falling down to the sidewalk of 43rd Street and Broadway. On his way out of the building, he got all up in the grill of a segment producer and left the premises… shirtless. It was later reported, after turning down another interview—offered by the network, to clear the air, on GMA—that he issued an apology about his backstage shenanigans, stating, “I just wanted to release the anger inside of me.”
Isn’t that kind of the problem? The way he releases his anger? What had he learned from the Rihanna experience to pull such stunts here, in front of God and everyone… again? At least it’s an inanimate object and not a person this time? The mind must stretch.
A few days before that fateful GMA interview, Brown said publicly that he was done apologizing for his troubles with Rihanna, something I guess anyone could understand. But if he wanted the exploitation of that unfortunate event to stop, perhaps he shouldn’t have written a record that essentially did the same thing—exploit what he went through. Unless… unless he knew, OUTRIGHT, that this would garner the most record sales for him. One does have to wonder…
F.A.M.E. ended up doing exceptionally well (whatever that means anymore in the music business), topping Billboard charts and the like, finding Brown (I conjure) laugh it up all the way to the bank. And this all capped with the highly controversial move by the music industry to hand this guy awards for the whole shameful debacle. Sure, he can sing and dance and do back flips on command. So can a lot of people. What really sets him apart? Aside from the record sales of people cashing in on a newfound and seriously unfortunate soap opera? Chris Brown doesn’t need Grammy’s, he needs deep, prolonged therapy.
But! Now there’s reports that Rihanna and Chris Brown have each guested on the other’s new song. The last thing people would ever expect. Which is why this is likely a true bit. Money wins again. And America gets a little bit cooler every day (please, please, please note the inherent sarcasm).
AKIE BERMISS: I didn’t watch much of the Grammys last week. I don’t really care for what they have become which is, more than anything, the music industry trying — and failing miserably — to give itself a big pat on the back for just surviving another year. So know that whatever I say here about Chris Brown, its not because of some outrage at his performing at the Grammys that I say these things. Indeed, I think so little of Chris Brown as a person that I rarely think of him at all. However, his appearance on the Grammys makes his story germane. And the space it occupies in our culture is one which I do give much applied thought.
If you don’t know who Chris Brown is, you’re probably leading a fairly satisfied existence and I don’t want to ruin that with too much background information. The pith of all is this: Chris Brown is a very popular R&B-pop singer. A young African-American male. And just generally a famous person. A couple of years ago, when Chris Brown was dating another very famous musical celebrity named Rihanna, they got in to a fight the night before the Grammys and — for lack of any more polite way to put this — Chris Brown ended the fight by beating the hell out of Rihanna. Said fight took place is a car that Brown was driving. If you care to know, you can find out all the details of how he assaulted her. It was everything from slamming her head of the car window to biting her ears and fingers, to just generally punching her in the face. I mention all this so that you understand the gravity of the incident. It was not merely an argument that became physical — it was a manifestation of Brown’s anger turned completely into a concerted and sustain physical attack on his then girlfriend.
Now, this incident went down some three years ago and this past week, Brown was all over the Grammys singing and dancing and just generally: being a famous pop star. The only problem is, despite his pleading guilty to the assault and being assigned some five years of probation, I don’t feel that public should really be welcoming this guy back into the fold as some rehabilitated prodigal son.
The reasons for my opinion are numerous and nuanced, but I can condense them into a few, very foundational arguments.
First, though he has paid his debt to society where law is concerned, I don’t think he has at all done enough to pay his cultural debt to society. By being a famous person and assaulting a famous person, he has perpetuated a tradition entitled and small-minded and sexist wrongness. We are at a very sensitive point in our evolution as human beings when we are beginning to fight against notions of patriarchy and sexism and, whatever his knowledge of such movements, he should be aware of what space that sort of domestic violence occupies in our culture. Few people are more reviled in this day and age than someone who beats their spouse or girlfriend.
Second, there is an often ignored dimension to this story and that is that for a Black man to treat a Black woman so poorly is just about the only way you can compound the repugnance of the act in the first place. There was a time, in our not-so-distant past, when “being disgraced” was a thing. You could do something so profoundly wrong or evil or so anathemic to society that there would be a mutual shunning between said person and society. There was shame. There was such a thing as considering certain acts truly profane behavior. I suppose these days we want to seem more impervious and we pride ourselves on our lax and cool dispositions but I personally feel like Brown’s stats as a famous Black person in the Obama age makes what did in something maybe even more substantially worse than law-breaking or moral-outrage — it is a betrayal of the emerging truths we will come to hold self-evident. It undermines our progress and reflects the most deprave and backwards impulses of our society. It is an amplification of the worst of us. And when we don’t actively appreciate the gravity of such a trespass (considering, once again, his level of public visibility) *we* may think we are avoiding disgrace but I believe, instead, that we share the disgrace with Brown. We accept his actions as reasonable or, at least, some expected reaction to certain stimuli. We make a space for him and his mindset and the things he does. And we are saying, to the future generations: this was the kind of thing we were alright with in 2012.
And finally, I will address the often-expressed argument that famous people who do despicable things are in some sort of liminal space. I disagree whole-heartedly. Famous people often lead weird, outside-the-box lives. They have no sense of reason and are victims of the excess of their respective industries. Sure. And there are very horrible racist people who are famous singers, actors, comedians, and athletes. Of course. And while I may find the things the do or say to be disgusting or maybe just unpleasant, they do not so debase the aforementioned celebrities so much that one cannot appreciate their skill or craft. Certainly, in this country with its very complicated racial history, we simply have to be able to deal with some awkward realities when it comes to such things. But there are things for which, at the point, we should NOT give someone an artistic pass. Among them — as they occur to me in this instant — rape, murder, and domestic abuse. These, to me, are three somewhat unforgivable crimes. And, no matter how loved you are, you should wear the stain of them on your persona until the end of your days. Are there mitigating circumstances? I’m sure there can be. Who knows what can lead to what. But, whatever the circumstances, if you find ourselves raping or murdering or beating someone you’re supposed to cherish, you should be horrified at yourself. If you are not, if you think you are some how justified in what you are doing: then there is something very wrong with you.
And, at its core, that is the main problem I have with Chris Brown. There is no horror in him about the truly vicious attack he made on Rihanna. He’s come out and apologized. He’s made songs about it. He’s pleaded guilty. And yes, apparently, Rihanna has even forgiven him — as she has a right to do, I suppose.
But where is true horror, sir? Where is the deeper apology to the society that you have betrayed? Where is the outreach to the young people whom you have mislead? What you have done is not enough.