I’m not normally the type of person to have an opinion on this, but there’s something that irks me about the response to Rihanna’s horrible beating at the hands of Chris Brown. It has only been exacerbated since she appeared on “Oprah” and told the world that she’s still engaging in secret meetups with Chris and that he is “the love of her life.” Frankly, I’m writing this because I think there is an honest discussion that needs to be had about both their roles in the aftermath of what was a very violent assault.
Very few people know the real story behind their relationship. Celebrities are naturally secretive, and for good reason. I would be too if I were in their shoes, constantly in the spotlight and under intense (mostly undeserved) scrutiny. I want to make it clear that I don’t have any insights into what aspects of their relationship led to the assault. You won’t find speculations of drug use, her hot temper, allegations of sexting, or accusations of infidelity here. I’d rather have a conversation about their very public response and the reaction of the public at large.
I also want to make it clear that I’m not necessarily looking to assign blame for this violent act. After all, there is no denying that Rihanna is a victim and Chris Brown is the attacker. If anything, this is a broader call for something akin to personal responsibility.
This is a powerful picture, not just because of the sensationalism of the blood and bruises, but because of what it represents. Rihanna and Chris Brown are two of the most recognizable performers on the planet, famous and wealthy beyond measure and loved around the world. And yet, on a night before a celebration at an awards show, this somehow happened. As most people will tell you, abuse is about power and control, so I’m not suggesting that Chris Brown was somehow beyond this attack and Rihanna should have known better. But it does beg the question “Why?” It’s the beginning of a dialogue about what it means to be a victim and what it means to lose control. But it’s also the beginning of a narrative that has since revealed the complicated nature of people’s emotions when confronted with abuse.
There’s a subsection of people that would just like that conversation to go away. They couch it in odd privacy concerns and position themselves as the moral authorities, as if a discussion about this type of abuse is the same as people obsessing over a photo of Lindsay Lohan’s crotch. This is not quite that, no matter how many people try to cry foul, citing how a public conversation about this private matter is somehow exploitative. Acting like people are only irritated because this is tabloid fodder is disingenuous. Those straw men are adorable, but are also part of the problem.
It has often been said that opinions are like assholes, but I would also stress that not all opinions are created equal. The many people, men and women, who think it’s fine to joke about how getting beat by Chris Brown would be hot are not expressing valid personal opinions. Abuse is complicated, but not that complicated. And it’s made more upsetting and ridiculous when you realize that a large part of the music consuming/promoting/recording public has given him a pass. The proof is in his album and ticket sales. For its part, Verbicide has tried to hammer home the utter ridiculousness of this dynamic, but even then there are defenders.
People are fond of saying that they are allowed their own personal opinions. I often wonder if there is some mass confusion about what it means to have an opinion. Lately, when I look at how people tend to frame their beliefs, I realize that for some reason, people have begun to think that having an opinion is the same as being right. Or rather, all opinions and beliefs are beyond critique because they represent some kind of unassailable personal truth. I think this is sort of a modern invention.
I mean, have we really come to the point where it’s not okay to question a person’s personal truth when that personal truth involves calling a man who viciously beat her the “love of her life”?
Even as I write this piece there are unsubstantiated rumors about them getting back together, possibly eloping in some ill-fated stab at conventional romance. This kind of stuff is probably fueled by things like that Oprah interview and photos of them seeming kissing (like the one above). Again, I won’t join the rumor mill. But I don’t think I’m out of line when a wonder why Rihanna had to record a track with Chris so soon after the beating? Why’d she have to go on “Oprah” to air out the controversy rather than opt for legitimate privacy? Why the secret meetings? Why can’t Chris just admit that he knows what he did and that he messed up? Why can’t he make a real, sincere apology tour related to what he did? Why does he get so furious when people bring it up, even when he himself acknowledges that it’s a big deal? When people question his commitment to reform because of his statements and actions, why does he call them “haters” and boast about his Grammy awards? I ask because if any of this stuff — their actions and the public’s odd reaction — was handled with any normal amount of personal responsibility, maybe I wouldn’t be wasting your time with this column.
I know this reasoning is long and winding, but what I’m getting at is this: Rihanna was badly beaten in the streets by her equally famous boyfriend, but he’s “the love of her life,” so she’s going to keep recording with him and meeting with him and according to her, we should all just mind our business.
Chris Brown badly beat up his superstar girlfriend. He’s sorta sorry, but he doesn’t really remember how it happened, and even though some details of his community service remain murky and he’s had a few violent and homophobic tantrums since then, he’s put out a few albums, danced at some award shows, and everyone should just give him their money.
There are still men and women out there who saying things like, “I just separate his actions from his music,” or “But Chris Brown is hot and can dance,” or “If they don’t want to deal, we should just stay silent,” or “They’re still young, they’ll grow out of this.” They insist we should move on.
Am I wrong to question the path this has taken? Why is all of this okay?