Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Can I still listen to Chris Brown? Why We Should Question What We Consume.

by Fenella Johnson



Chris Brown in court
on domestic violence charges
"Hey kids, do you like violence?"asks Eminem at the beginning of "My Name Is”, eyes dilated, voice mechanical, mock-criticising the culture he is immersed in: that of violence and sex and drugs. It’s as if in 'Kim'(and pretty much the rest of his discography) he has hadn't spent three and a half minutes angrily and loudly describing what he would do to his ex wife if he could get away with it, in minute detail.

And yes, I get it, it’s art, it’s not real-Slim Shady isn't him, he’s a character-ask one of his fans, they will eagerly tell you. But even though this music is directed at adults or at the least teenagers, children hear it. Even though it's 'art' it's still verbalising and normalising violence-especially towards women. 

It’s saying to me when I'm listening to his music while running or the boy who pumps it on the stereo or even to those who listen half heartedly on the way to work, or, to anyone who buys his music that it's okay to treat women like this. In his 'art’, women are the objects, and even if it is 'art’, is it art we should be consuming, art we should be normalising? 

Switch it around-if it was Nicki Minaj, demanding as he does in "Kim" that her significant other bleeds there'd be uproar. And yet when Kanye West , her peer, does so in All Of The Lights(I hit my girl/she called the feds) it's met with a shrug. It’s a story, a song-and yet there are thousands of songs, thousands of stories-and they all start to normalise violence for us. It becomes something that just happens. A shrug, a so what?

Chris Brown, the man who attacked Rihanna ,so infamous and horrifically in 2008,still sells records. 

And he doesn't just sell them-his seven most successful albums have come after 2008 and during his latest, Brown was sentenced to an anger management rehabilitation centre for three months.

 A nice guy, clearly. Just the sort to meet the parents. Look again at his influence.

 And while it's not your or my forgiveness Brown needs-it's Rihanna's and arguably she's given it to him,-they made music together for her latest record which was slightly tasteless-can we really still buy his records? Can we still justify listening to him by saying it happened so long ago or it's not our place to comment, when half of Boston teens blame Rihanna for what happened and 52% said that she is partially to blame.

This is the message the media sends out:100% of the surveyed teenagers in Boston had heard of the case. But Brown has a celebrity pass-this violence is different, this violence is glamourised by the media and it’s mocked and commercialised by the media. It’s Rihanna's fault "She Made Him Snap'(The Star) and when you google  Rihanna and Chris Brown, the result Rihanna and Chris Brown memes is the fifth to appear. Jokes start off as "I bet them working together leads to big hits" and travel steadily downhill from there into a mire of tastelessness and innuendo.

Celebrities were unattainable and untouchable but through the Internet, we can all post our 140 character opinion in to that bottomless void and rarely if ever stop to think about the result. Hashtag abbreviated thoughts clouding and diluting the real issue and normalising it.

 Whenever something happens, such as Miley Cyrus 'dancing' with Robin Thicke, we rush to post those jokes (and sometimes, yes, it can be genuinely funny),to get that special sense of justification that comes from mocking someone who will probably never see it-or if they do won't care because they could probably buy your house with you in it-but what of the people who see those tweets and then it becomes normal for them? When Miley Cyrus was mocked I couldn't help but think what of Robin Thicke -the man twice her age, with children and a wife, gyrating onto her in that creepy pinstripe suit. How come Miley-the woman-is blamed for being a bad role model, for being sexually promiscuous, when Robin-the man-is overlooked, handed a free pass? It echoes back to Chris Brown-being handed a free pass, because he is a man and famous and it must have somehow been Rihanna's fault, she must have goaded him.

The realty is by normalising domestic violence towards women in the media and in music-not just rap, but in rock, in pop, in country-on  AV Club’s website who offer you the cheery named '30 Songs inspired by domestic violence (half of which are performed by women which is another issue in that it glorifies the abuse, which is troubling because young women often idolise and listen to  female celebrities in the way they don't men),in the way that media and music are so deeply connected to society- violence is encouraged.

But more than that, it just is. It’s just something that happens. Much like women who claim "I'm not a feminist because I personally don't need feminism" and forget about all those who do, we dismiss songs like "Kim" as art, as a story because domestic violence doesn't happen to most of us. When it does it's the woman's fault, she has it coming.

And yet now the boundaries between art and society are becoming blurred perhaps we need to challenge what we are consuming.


The evening after I initially wrote this, an episode of Game Of Thrones aired in which one of the male characters rapes an underage female one-a piece of plot that deviates from the plot line of the original books for no particular reason, except presumably to shock. But my only real question is why?

 Why include it at all? Isn’t it just-and the word we keep coming back to-tasteless? When the male writers of the show thought of this even how did they justify it to themselves? When did Sansa (the female character, sorry for the spoiler)become not a woman but an object to them-and we know this because the camera focused on Theon (another male character) and how painful it was for him to watch it, not on Sansa's horror. 

In that Game of Thrones scene, pain didn't even belong to the women who had to suffer it. Why is this okay? Is there a justification that's it's because it's 'art' and not real life, it’s a story, a TV show is okay-when the line between real and unreal seems to be getting thinner and thinner?

When you contradict someone for making a rape joke or a joke about violence-you get that well known, well worn response:"I was only kidding.""Can't you take a joke?"We need to start to question what we hear, what others say because these figures aren't jokes: one in four women experience domestic violence over a lifetime. We need to start saying something, pointing this out. Soon.

It's not just this issue; we seem to be mostly silent: there’s plenty more. It’s oddly apt that on the Saturday of the week  it became clear that in Baltimore Walter Scott had been murdered-the officer shooting  Scott eight times in the back as the 50-year-old ran away-(when riots against gun laws in Ferguson happened only months before ) the world's "biggest fight" took place-and nobody took time to question. When people we wish to emulate are violent does this make us violent? It is time that we begin to criticise and question what we consume, produce and normalise.

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