It was the slap heard around the world. In 2009, after news stations reported that R&B singer Chris Brown assaulted fellow musician and at-the-time girlfriend Rihanna, I was sure of two things. First, I told myself I was going to stop referring to TMZ as a "news station." Second, I was positive that Chris Brown would never find work in the industry again.
I was wrong on both counts.
You've got to hand it to Brown: His performances at this year's recent Grammy Awards were fun, energetic, and catchy. His dancing talent and ability to churn out chart-topping singles is undeniable. But for everyone besides maybe high-school-aged girls, one thing will always plague Brown's career: It's difficult to watch him gyrate onstage without thinking, Are we really okay with this guy?
It's important that I clarify. Chris Brown's assault on Rihanna wasn't a momentary breach in judgment. It wasn't a split-second strike out of anger (although that wouldn't make it okay). Photos of Rihanna's face released after the incident indicate that she was struck multiple times. Bruises, swelling, and lacerations cover her lips, forehead, and eyes. It seemed as if she would become the new face of domestic violence.
Brown pleaded guilty to a felony assault charge and one count of making criminal threats. He was given five years of formal probation and was forced to take domestic violence counseling. He then attempted to make amends in a short YouTube video posted to his official page. Later he spoke of the incident in a prerecorded interview with Larry King.
Since then, Brown has released three studio albums, has appeared on several television shows, and has starred in a studio-released film, for which he was also an executive producer. And in February, after his catchy performances I mentioned, he took home his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. It appeared that the world, or at least the music industry, had forgiven Chris Brown.
I'm all for giving someone a second chance. Chris Brown certainly isn't the first celebrity with a less-than-stellar personal life to be allowed back into the public's good graces. Jimi Hendrix struck a female on at least two different occasions. John Lennon admitted to beating his first wife. Even Sean Connery revealed in an interview with Barbara Walters that he feels striking a woman is acceptable, as long as the situation merits it. So at what point do we allow a celebrity's personal life to affect the way we perceive his art?
Leave it to the internet to put things back into perspective. While watching the recent Grammy Awards, a young girl tweeted, "I don't know why Rihanna complained. Chris Brown could beat me up anytime he wanted to." Then another girl chimed in: "chris brown your sexy you can punch me in the face anyday #imkindanotkidding." Similar tweets from girls in the same age group followed.
All in all, dozens of preteen and teenage girls openly volunteered to be physically abused, just as long as the attacker was a good-looking guy who could dance.
Oh, right. There's the problem. Chris Brown's target audience isn't well-rounded, mature adults with stringently defined rules on what is and isn't acceptable in a physical relationship. His target audience is young girls, many of whom haven't had, or are just now having, their first relationships with classmates. And I fear that allowing Chris Brown to perform twice at the Grammys is sending them the wrong message.
And to make matters worse, Rihanna and Chris Brown are making music again. Despite objections from fans and other celebrities, Rihanna continually allows her attacker back into her life.
It's possible that some of the girls who asked to be beaten over Twitter were making dark jokes. But if even just one of them were serious, then maybe we should take a step back and figure out exactly what we're conveying to these girls.
Chris Brown beat a woman so severely that he put her in the hospital. But that's okay. Because, boy, does he have rhythm. Michael Wassmer, a frequent contributor to the Flyer, is a Memphis communications consultant.