Friday, 27 July 2012

The increasingly poor decisions of Chris Brown and the mainstream music industry

On Monday I saw a teenage girl get punched in the face.

I was waiting for a train, and a young girl and guy were having an argument. He was pissed off with her and followed her along the platform. I don’t know what the argument was about, though it seemed like she had been to his house.

He said ‘’D’you want me to bang you in the face? Don’t think I won’t bang you in the face.” And then he punched her in the face, his fist meeting the side of her head.

I was sat next to her as it happened – she half-landed on me. It looked like he was going to go for her again, while she shouted that she knew where he lived, held up her phone and somewhat incoherently threatened to call the police. The guy’s friend was hanging about behind them, and as the fucker was leaving on his bike, his pal tried to persuade her not to inflame him any further.

I asked her if she was okay, and she said no. Another woman from the platform came over and reported it to the police (she worked for one or another crime unit, I forget the name), and asked the girl lots of questions, while ordering the other boy to stay put.

I don’t know how old her attacker was but I'd guess late teens. She was 16, and tiny. She came across as a pretty, shy teenager. He came across as a thug. She didn’t know his real name, just his street name.

The woman who helped her did fantastically. I was furious with myself for not snapping a photo of the guy before he ran away. But mostly I’m furious that between teenage kids we have this situation where boys think it’s acceptable to use violence to express their frustration and control the girls they know. And where their friends won’t stand up and say ‘that’s not fucking acceptable’, but will just exhort the girl to keep schtum. There has been plenty of coverage of teen domestic violence in the media in recent years, and the tone has varied from investigative to hysterical. But this was the first time I witnessed it, and I can’t get it out of my mind. I don’t think the girl would have contacted the police if the woman that helped her hadn’t phoned them.

And meanwhile teen idol, Grammy winner and girlfriend abuser Chris Brown is living the high life in full view of his fans, surrounded by girls at parties and still refusing to take responsibility for what he did. What did he do, exactly? He beat up his girlfriend and threatened her with further violence later on. But more than that, he beat up his girlfriend knowing that he and she were both megastars, role-models (willing or otherwise) for teenage boys and girls, shining examples of the lives that their fans would like to lead.

When you see your super-rich, hyper-famous hero being subjected to, or committing, the same shit that you experience in your life, and there are hardly any consequences, is it not likely that you’ll think “Well then, that’s just life. That’s the status quo and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.’?

Domestic violence is hard enough to combat, and when it’s starting at an ever more tender age, that’s really frightening. We risk allowing a pattern where teenage girls grow up into women who think that being hit is just one of the grim facts of life. Women who will have children that potentially witness this pattern. It has to stop, and it needs addressing from top to bottom.

It’s not acceptable – AT ALL – to attack someone, and domestic abuse – from physically strong men to smaller women – is a particularly cowardly form of control and abuse. I don’t need to rehash this – we know it. But why are Chris Brown’s records still being played? Why is he still getting paid? I know he’s not the only famous person who’s ever committed this crime before, and I don’t condone the actions of anyone who’s behaved like this. But the sheer brazenness that he wears, his ridiculous stance of ‘Fuck the haterz, you can’t keep me down’, as opposed to ‘Oh shit, maybe they hate me because they think I’m a violent bully, perhaps I should address what I did and try to make amends somehow’, is jawdropping. The industry has looked sternly on him for a year or two, and now it's back to business as usual, because people are still willing to spunk their cash on him, and he's willing to take it.

How novel it would be if he thought ‘Hey, I have a responsibility, not just towards the woman I hurt, but towards the millions of teenagers who buy my music and will, in some cases, try to be like me. Maybe I should consider what my actions and attitudes tell them about male/female relationships, and about taking responsibility for your wrongs.’ How novel, but how unlikely it looks.

Rihanna has a part to play here. She was 100% blameless for getting hit; that blame lies squarely with Brown. She has said in the past that she doesn’t want to be a role model. Sorry, Rihanna – at this point, tough. It comes with the megastar territory; girls dress like you, they want to sing like you, and they want to live and succeed like you. She could contribute positively by drawing a hard line where domestic violence is concerned, but she doesn’t seem willing to do that. I don't know if she identifies as a feminist, but in this respect she certainly doesn't behave like one. Her fans look at her and see a woman who seems strong and powerful in every other way, yet is happy to go back and record songs (I won’t comment on rumours re: her personal life because I don’t know what’s true or not) with the man who beat her up and never tried seriously or publicly to make amends, yet chose to publicly gloat about his victory over the ‘haterz’. (In light of that, the right to privacy doesn’t come into it.) That’s not fucking cool.

I don’t know if that guy and girl on the train platform are Chris Brown and Rihanna fans. But I know millions are, and now I can bear witness to the hard and ugly fact that there are teenage boys who hit girls to control them. And I know that two of the biggest pop stars in the world are, right now, sending out the message that hey, that’s life, and there’s no good reason for it to change.

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