So when all the feminist furore kicked off over the weekend about Chris Brown being invited to perform at the Grammy Awards, I admit to being a little surprised. Not because there was a furore, because obviously, but because as far as I was concerned the only reason anybody knows who Chris Brown is is that in 2009 – in fact, the night before that year’s Grammys – he kicked the shit out of then-girlfriend Rihanna for having the cheek to be pissed about spotting a three-page text from some other girl in Brown’s phone. Now admittedly as somebody who occasionally writes about what is deemed ‘worthy’ music I am contractually obligated only to listen to mass-produced pop if it is performed by magnificent divas for example the likes of Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson or the forementioned Rihanna but dudes, Chris Brown had a number one album! Like, mere months ago! And it won best R&B album at the very same Grammys. So, in another universe it would be easy to see why he might be invited to perform.
That would be another universe where men don’t kick the shit out of their girlfriends, obviously.
Now there has been plenty written about this already – in fact, pretty much all you need to know was laid out eloquently and passionately by Sasha Pasulka at Hello Giggles over the weekend – and as a journalist by day the last thing I want to do is provide my own tiresome spin on something that is already old news. However, even as I type I can see Brown’s Twitter feed offering up new nuggets in another tab, so evidently some of us think it’s a conversation that’s still worth having.
In fact the whole situation sparked an interesting email discussion between some friends of mine over the weekend as begun by one, who is currently qualifying as a social worker, and who very clearly recognises that there are some academics you cannot properly examine in a forum as emotive and public as your favourite social network. “At what point,” my friend posited, “can you say that somebody has ‘done their time’, been judged by their peers and allowed to move on and be part of society again? Or are there some crimes that can’t be forgiven?”
Although I’d read the Hello Giggles piece earlier, the reason I found this discussion particularly interesting was than on Sunday morning I started following footballer-turned-pundit Stan Collymore on Twitter. Now there were a couple of reasons for this: firstly, Collymore is pretty outspoken about his struggle with depression. It’s one of those topics that discussion on the modern game has traditionally shied away from but one which was brought to media attention recently with the suicide of Gary Speed, manager of the Welsh national team (and there’s a whole other post in that, maybe one day, but for now read Stevie’s review of the biography of German goalkeeper Robert Enke at Through On Goal). Recently, he has also spoken a lot of sense about the recent scandals involving racial abuse that have threatened to engulf the game and, as is unfortunately the way of it, been the target of some himself.
This is, however, the same Stan Collymore who in 1998 dragged Ulrika Johnsson to the floor during a fight in a bar in Paris.
So I ask you, does this make me a hypocrite? Am I allowing Collymore’s awareness-raising and one-man poster child for mental illness campaign to cancel out the fact that he once did something so abhorrent the thought of it makes me sick, while at the same time condemning Chris Brown to my inner Z-list because he makes shitty music I have no interest in and has pretty terrible teeth (much in the same way as Cheryl Cole could devote the rest of her life to bottle-feeding orphaned kittens but my husband will still hate her for being a racist)? I’d argue that’s not the case. But then, I would.
YOU’LL HAVE DONE YOUR TIME, THEN
As a Catholic, and a Bruce Springsteen fan, there is no denying I love a good redemption story. While I am not so much of a naïf as to think a criminal justice system worth its salt does not need massive chunks of penal and deterrent elements in order to fulfil its purpose, I am just enough of an optimist to believe that its its main purpose is to rehabilitate the offender. Now obviously there are certain crimes which, once on your record, can and should never be fully expunged because of duties of care owed to vulnerable persons. I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about what happens once you get to the end of whatever consequences society deems appropriate for you.
In August 2009, Brown was sentenced to five years probation and 180 hours of community service after pleading guilty to felony assault.
You can draw your own conclusions as to the “appropriateness” or otherwise of that sentence (I know what mine are) but by my calculations the question of whether Brown has been rehabilitated or not isn’t one he gets to be involved in until at least 2014.
That’s when we can consider the relevance of Brown allegedly smashing a dressing room window on the set of Good Morning America a few months ago when asked about the assault, or about the obvious remorse he has shown on Twitter in response to the other side of the media attention these past few days (I saw the tweet referenced in that Huffington Post article last night – it’s gone now, but at the time of writing Brown’s 15 remaining posts on the site include how long is this gonna take and DEAR MEDIA… ur plan is not working…).
As Pasulka wrote in her Hello Giggles post, it was nice of the Grammys to let [Brown] off a couple years early for
high record sales good behaviour
I believe Brown was 19 or 20 when he assaulted Rihanna. I hope that once his state-sentenced period of rehabilitation is over he will have spent some time growing up, thanking whatever he believes in that he didn’t go to jail and reflecting on the fact that you do not go and punch your girlfriend in the face so badly she needs to be hospitalised. I may have my own opinions on whether or not that is likely to happen, and I never have to like the guy.
Ten years ago Stan Collymore was a tawdry tabloid laughing stock: shamed, sacked and admitting to sordid sex with strangers he met on the internet in the tabloid press. The BBC sacked him from his ‘pundit’ work. He has never, at least as far as I can see, shied away from questions about what he did to Ulrika Johnsson in interviews and he has certainly never, at least as far as I can see, smashed a window about those questions. It doesn’t make what he did any more palatable but it means that I can consider it as a part, rather than the whole, of the man.
In the meantime, along with the writers at Hello Giggles I too question what message the organisers of the Grammy Awards sent to young girls, and to past and potential victims of domestic violence at the weekend.
Oh wait, it was this one.
If you need me, I’ll be in the bathroom swilling the taste of vomit from my mouth.
NOTE: The reason I chose to top this post with an image of Courtney Love is that her cover of Carole King’s “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)” from MTV Unplugged (and my well-worn copy of My Body, The Hand Grenade) was pretty important to me as a teenager. Whatever the real motivations behind that song what struck me as its pro-domestic violence agenda sickened me to the point that I have never listened to the original: instead, I smiled at Love’s guttural “he hit me… and it didn’t HURT ME.”
Because, at 16 years old, I told myself that right after she felt the caress of her lover’s fist she spun around and fucking decked him.