By accepting Chris Brown’s apology and consuming his products, are we saying domestic abuse is forgivable?
I recently watched an interview where Matt Lauer asked Chris Brown about his violent past with then-girlfriend Rihanna. Brown said all the “right” things regarding his progress including that he has moved forward, attended counseling classes for 52 weeks, and learned it was “absolutely wrong” for him to give his girlfriend black eyes, tear at her face, and nearly push her out of a moving vehicle. He then promoted his latest single.
Something about this did not sit well with my soul. Is it that easy? Should a public figure–or anyone, for that matter–beat the crap out of his girlfriend, do his court-mandated punishment, and go on acting like everything is perfectly normal? The larger question for me, though, is whether certain “sins” are unforgiveable–not in the religious sense, per se, but in the practical sense. The leaked images of Rihanna, post-beating, with her swollen face and empty eyes, still linger in my mind, and the interviews, pre-beating, where Brown talked about his mother as the victim of domestic violence, ring in my ears. Are his platitudes about “moving forward” and his served community service sentence sufficient penance for his sin?
If you are not a fan of Brown’s music you might see him merely as a blip on the hip-hop/R&B radar, or even a pariah of pop culture, but his music is undeniably successful, and despite appealing primarily to a female demographic, Brown has seen little backlash financially from the hit (pun intended).
Since the initial revelation that Brown had assaulted Rihanna on the eve of Grammy night, there have been several articles written lamenting female fans that have tweeted him referring to the assault by disparaging Rihanna and/or saying he could “beat [the female tweeter] anytime.” Such a response toward an admitted girlfriend beater makes it unclear who to be angry at: the abuser, the media, or a “rape culture” more generally. My unease was exacerbated by the fact that in recent months, it has been presumed that Rihanna has been at least casually dating Brown again. Surely we, the public, should forgive him if the victim herself has. She said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that not only did she forgive him, but she still loved him. In that moment, I felt like I had been punched in the gut (so to speak).
We have frequently watched as celebrities melted down publicly. The revelations of Charlie Sheen’s epic binges, Mel Gibson’s explosive temper, and Tiger Woods’ serial infidelity all unfolded publicly, and while all were despicable, they felt forgivable. Chris Brown’s violent attack on Rihanna seemed different. Was it the vivid imagery of the leaked photographs, the façade of a happy pop couple, or the horrific feeling that if this could happen to a gorgeous, talented, strong-minded woman like Rihanna, then this could happen to any one of us?
In the opinion of most, Rihanna seems to be falling into the “fool-me-twice” category, wherein victims of abuse often come back for more. But perhaps the public is as well. By accepting his apology and consuming his products, are we saying domestic abuse is forgivable? The alternative is assigning him a life sentence for what, for all we know, was an isolated incident with his girlfriend. It would be a lot easier to believe he simply flew off the handle “just this once” if he hadn’t since had a series of outbursts including an outburst on “Good Morning America” and feuds with rappers Drake and Frank Ocean. At least we know he doesn’t just bully women.
It seems silly that we would require artists to live up to a certain moral code, but with each dollar we spend on their products, it feels like an endorsement, not just of their music, but also of their private lives. For me, Chris Brown’s “apology” seems hollow and contrived, and even though he has served his sentence, I’m just not quite ready to forgive. Even if Rihanna did.