15 February 2012

Forever: That Is How Long We Should Remember

Chris Brown won some Grammys and well, people are understandably pissed. 

On some level, I am too.  

His return to fame and success is highly representative of the pervasive cultural beliefs regarding violence against women. The fact that he beat his girlfriend to the point of requiring medical intervention and  then, a mere three years later, gets a gig performing at the Grammys while also winning a few...that leaves a bad tease in your mouth.  It should, anyway.

This clearly highlights that the American population is comfortable with "forgiving" violence against women.  Especially when it is someone "important," like a celebrity, or in the name of a "good cause," like the pursuit of mediocre hip-hop songs.  Basically we (in the royal sense) are prepared to prioritize almost anything above protecting women.  The fact that we forgive and forget so quickly marginalizes this kind of abuse.  

"Well, it has been three years and he only beat up a girl.  Whatevs, his new single is totes awesome."

Sadly, this sends a very clear message about how seriously American culture takes Intimate Partner Violence (IPV is epidemiologist speak, but it works so nicely), namely that we don't.  It is not considered a "real" crime like marijuana use where in many states you get a much stricter sentence for having an ounce of pot than you get for putting your wife in the ER with broken ribs.  Compare and contrast Brown with Vick.  Our memory Vick being a bad guy extends forever, but Brown get a three year statute of limitations on being the kind of sleeze that no one will touch.   Violence against animals is also unacceptable, but is it more unacceptable than violence against people?  Apparently it is if those people are just women.

Of course, I do have to play devil's advocate here and ask if celebrities do need to be held to a higher standard of behavior.   Just because you get a certain level of fame, are you required to be a role model?  Sure you are only famous because of the devotion of your fans, but do you have to live your life with their impressionable little minds at the forefront of your choices?  I don't know.  If you are in the public eye maybe you have some moral or ethical obligation to behave as a model human beings would, but then again,  you are just a person and well, if people don't like it then they don't have to support your fame.  It is a bit of a double edged sword for both the celebrities and the fans.    Also, don't we have to consider that our support and indignation seem to be doled out with no set rules.  Sure Vick and Brown are bad guys and it is easy to be self-righteous about them, but what about all the other famous people who do shitty things?  A significant percentage of professional athletes have criminal records, but business is still booming for them.  (See also: Kobe.) So why do we malign some and not others?

 Perhaps it varies with industry as well.   In sports the "boys will be boys" attitude, and the belief that that kind of crazy rebel personality is required for dynamic athletic performers,  may allow them a pass on being cruddy human beings.  Never mind that culturally we value athletics above all else. Perhaps in some venues we just don't care.  Maybe if you are a performance artist/athlete/model/whatever it is easier to separate your performance in that role from your performance as a human being.     In politics we shun anyone who doesn't share our values because values can, unfortunately, become policy and no one wants to gamble on that one.  There the stakes are perceived as higher.

Why are we able to separate personal actions from professional actions?  Why are we especially able to do this when the victims of the personal actions are "just women?"  Why are the stakes not high enough when it comes to abuse?  And, lastly, as non-celebrities do we have an obligation to boycott anyone who exhibits questionable behavior?  While I agree that never forgetting that Chris Brown is a abusive skeezball is important, can we police all celebrities all the time, or perhaps more importantly, should we?


Christine said...

Thank you so much for this post. It is refreshing to know I'm not the only one who was appalled by the celebration of Chris Brown at the Grammys. The idea that what he did is so forgettable drives me crazy. I believe that part of being in the public eye is that you're subjected to increased scrutiny compared to the average American and that you should be forced to face the wrath of the American people if you choose to make bad decisions like Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Chris Brown, Kobe, etc... The problem is that the American public is so fickle and we place entertainment value and sports above everything and don't follow through long term with boycotts or being just plain infuriated with celebrities.

emily @ the happy home said...

came over from ginger's recommendation at ramble ramble. so glad i did!

i don't CARE if he said he was sorry. for many abusers, physical assault isn't a one-time thing. also, what gets my feminist rankles up is the fact that female celebrities never get a second chance. if we say, "oh, he's just human" for beating up his girlfriend, we can't say "oh, she's just human" when, say, brittany had her breakdown? no.

only men seem to get these second chances. only men get to toe the boundaries of social behavior (or, in the case of chris brown, commit a felony against another human being) and rebound. i'm tired of it. i can't wrap my mind around it.

Alexis said...

@Christine I agree! I think that when you earn your living by enjoying the spotlight, you need to respect that your actions are under a lens and choose wisely. Also your point that the public is fickle is well taken. We prize so many things above basic human rights in this country that something like IPV can just be ignored when inconvenient. Brown et. al. are symptoms of a larger issue.

Alexis said...

@emily @ the happy home I want to climb to the rooftops and scream "yes, this exactly." Why DO men get the benefit of the doubt? No matter how far we have come, women bear the burden of their poor choices much more than men. This might be reflective of the seemingly endless perception that anything men are doing is important. So important, in fact, that we can ignore their indiscretions. It makes my head feel like it just might explode.