Joanna Schroeder wonders what we’re saying about masculinity when we talk about Chris Brown and domestic abuse.
I’m really ready to be done with this bullshit. As a feminist, it’d be super easy to write yet another blog post about the damage being done to young women and girls when we see Rihanna being chummy with the guy who essentially tried to kill her a few years back.
I could write about how creepy it is that Rihanna and Chris Brown have teamed up (actually, their producers have teamed up, they have little to do with the process, I assume) on each of their new singles, “Birthday Cake” and “Turn Up The Music”, respectively.
But those blog posts would just pile up with all the others saying the exact same thing. NPR’s Ann Powers wrote an awesome perspective from both of these angles, in her piece Rihanna’s ‘Birthday Cake’, Reasons To Listen. As a music industry insider, she also gives us a pop-music context. Read her piece and follow her links for more on the history of Rihanna and Chris Brown, should you need it.
But what I’m really wondering is what our society is saying about men by accepting these behaviors. Of course we’re all aghast at Brown’s behavior. Nobody looks at those bloody, bruised photos of Rihanna’s face after Brown choked her, punched her, slapped her, kicked her and thinks, Yeah, that’s about right… Well, maybe some people do, but I can’t address sociopaths and criminals in this conversation.
This conversation is for us, the average working Joe and Joan who want the world to be better for everyone, and it isn’t new. As far back as I remember, we’ve been discussing how to separate the artist from the art. I was in high school in 1992 and a Jackson Browne fan when he allegedly gave Daryl Hannah a black eye and worse. I stopped listening to Jackson Browne after that, despite Sky Blue And Black being one of my favorite love songs of all time. In the last twenty years I’ve “forgiven” Browne and he’s back in rotation on my iTunes, and a recent acoustic version of Sky Blue and Black is currently featured in my Spotify playlist. Sigh.
And then there’s the problem of Woody Allen. Have we forgotten about what Woody Allen did with his 21 year-old former live-in girlfriend’s daughter—who was a minor when he lived in the same home with her? I mean, hello, nude pictures of her, open-legged? Sick. He was 56 years old. And this year all my friends are aflutter over Midnight In Paris. It probably is great, but I won’t know because as much as I want to see it, I refuse.
Some of my friends make the case that Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn are married now, and have been for a long time. And since I really, really want to see Midnight In Paris, I’m getting close to accepting this marriage as his penance for being a pervert. I mean, the movie is about writers! And love! And Paris! Gertrude Stein is a character… Le sigh.
So you can safely assume that while I recognize Roman Polanski as one of the best filmmakers of our time, I absolutely will not watch his films. His grief over Sharon Tate aside, I just can’t do it.
Here’s the part where I admit that I am a hypocrite (why am I constantly selling myself out as a hypocrite?!): I really like Chris Brown’s music. Not in the way I love The Rolling Stones, Ryan Adams, Damian Rice, Ray Lamontagne or Brandi Carlile (my favorite artists, currently), but in that stupid, feel-good, fun music way. In fact, my kids love the song Forever and I let them play it over and over again while we clean the house. How can I excuse this? How does society excuse this?
I know I’m up on a soapbox of judgement when I rally against the men I listed before. I know it’s truly just symbolic, and mostly meaningless. But it leads to a bigger question, one as old as time: How do we separate the artist from the art, and why does it matter?
There is a battle of two themes inside of me, waging war against one another. On one side is the idea that in eventually forgetting a man’s bad behavior we are sort of saying, “boys will be boys” which I believe is as bad for men as it is for women. On the other side is my deep belief in forgiveness and redemption.
Rihanna seems to have forgiven Chris Brown, why should I be different? But I keep asking myself what I’m telling my boys about masculinity when I say, “Oh hey, this guy tried to strangle a woman, but we sure do like him because he makes a great dance song”? Should I simply tell them that Chris Brown is a “bad man”, so we can’t listen to him, and try to switch them over to Lupe Fiasco?
Is listening to Chris Brown’s Forever all that different from taking my boys to see the Picasso exhibit when it came to The Getty last year? Picasso was famously brutal with women, and supposedly had an extramarital affair with a 17 year-old girl when he was in his mid-40s. Am I a hypocrite for encouraging them to appreciate Picasso when I am considering removing all Chris Brown music from my playlists?
I know, I know, Chris Brown is no Picasso, but let me ask you these questions:
Where do we draw the line when we consume the product of someone with whom we have deep moral fissures?
Would we feel differently about Chris Brown (or any of the artists I listed above) if they made amends, changed their lives, and found a way to work toward redemption? I feel strongly that this is the key for me, the effort to change and become better. But for some, that change is meaningless. What can we forgive, and what can’t we?
And finally, how does all of this “bad behavior” add to a damaging portrayal of masculinity in our society? Does all of this further the image of men as simple brutes whom we value more for their entertainment value than for who they are as people?
I really don’t have the answers, and I would love to hear what everyone has to say.
Photo courtesy of The Associated Press/boombox.com