Posts Tagged ‘crime’

There’s a delightful video doing the rounds this last couple of weeks – a cover version of Chris Brown’s Look At Me Now by a band called Karmin, notable because Karmin singer Amy Heidemann does an amazing interpretation of bullet-rapping Busta Rhyme’s verses. I watched it, loved it, shared it with my friends. And as I was doing so, I thought, “Chris Brown, eh? He still has a career?”

Yes, as it happens. You might remember Chris Brown as the young man who battered (now ex) girlfriend Rihanna a couple of years ago. Due to the celebrity status of both the victim and the strutting arsehole who beat her up, it was an unfortunately public assault. Some argued that this was a good thing in that it raised awareness (amongst young people who up to then had thought that it was ok to beat up their partners? Dunno). The rest of us flinched at the leaked photographs of Rihanna’s injuries, wished that the press would leave her alone to come to terms with what had happened, and hoped that Mr. Brown soon entered the market for a large boulder he could wedge his bulk under.

And yet this hasn’t happened. Rihanna’s career has gone from strength to strength, and oddly enough, so has Brown’s. Not that I generally keep up to speed with hip-pop artists, but I don’t even recall there being much of a sabbatical. He’s as popular as ever with fans, and has no problem attracting other artists to work with on musical projects.

One might say that Brown is entitled to forgiveness and entitled to move on with his life and career. And indeed he is. But how could a fan bring themselves to support someone who severely assaulted his girlfriend and was never quite convincing in subsequent public apologies? Indeed, at the end of March he threw a dramatic hissy fit backstage at Good Morning America when quizzed about the assault, reportedly breaking a window, leaving the building in a shirtless huff(!) and tweeting afterwards, “I’m so over people bring this past s**t up!! Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for there[sic] bulls**t.”

This may be the thing, though. Are the public “allowing” Brown a career because he’s such an entertaining little Veruca Salt?

Social media has made it possible for a celebrity to have virtual one-on-one relationships with his or her fans – Twitter, tumblr, whatever. A celeb now has the power to make connections with the wider world without the deft swipe of a publicist’s whitewash brush. Before, celebrities flourished in stone fortresses, pampered and bubble-wrapped and told marvellous tales about how their personas were received in the outside world. Nowadays it’s like the poor, narcissistic things are kept in Wicker Men in a madhouse garden. Should they wish to say something out-of-character (as in, not becoming of a public figure), it will be seized upon and flung halfway around the world well before their publicist’s spidey-sense gets going. And they may well wish to say something out-of-character, because the fans will lap it up and egg them on, rubbernecking on a delightfully careening ego.

Recently, we’ve seen Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, and Lindsay Lohan making headlines for pretty horrific behaviour; Charlie’s hired an entourage of porn stars to live with him, Mel admitted to domestic violence, and Lindsay practically lives in court these days.  Yet the public hasn’t denied them their celebrity status, or let them know that such behaviour is not socially acceptable. The public would rather Charlie and Mel and Lindsay kept making asses of themselves. Who wants to see Charlie get well? Who wants to see the erstwhile holier-than-thou Mel get his act together? Who wants to see Lindsay reinvent herself as an indie darling? No one. They’re far more valuable as clowns. No matter if Charlie keels over from an overdose or Mel breaks his girlfriend’s teeth or Lindsay dies in the gutter. Collateral damage.

Do we condone bad behaviour from celebrities simply because they’re celebrities? I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that, but the answer isn’t on par with rocket science, either. Celebrities who behave badly cannot presume that the public will remain empathic, forgiving – even interested. Celebrities who behave badly in a ridiculously over-the-top fashion can, though. We can be entertained as well as feel superior. Is this why Chris Brown still has a glittering pop career?

Or do we really think that battering women isn’t really that big a deal? Do we think that proud patronage of the sex trade isn’t really that big a deal? Do we think that a young woman drowning her talent in alcohol isn’t that big a deal?

[Of course, the other condition under which the general public will forgive a misbehaving celebrity is if that celebrity has a talent that is not interchangeable with a hundred other pretenders (as in Brown’s identipop career). I suppose Roman Polanski would be the prime example here. If he was not a brilliant storyteller and visionary, would we have forgiven him for raping a child?]

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The R-Word

I was at a little gathering recently. Some food, some drink, and early-evening gossip – not exactly the environment for fireworks or teary politics. And yet, even before the trickle of wine had morphed into a hedonistic gush, and bottles of spirits were dug out of cupboards to help along those heading towards delicious bitching, one of the guests had driven away in tears, while another paced outside, chewing through cigarettes and trying to coax her blood pressure down. What had happened to cause such an catastrophe? Simple; someone had used the “R” Analogy.

Kristen Stewart and Martin Cullen don’t generally have all that much in common (apart from his surname matching her on-screen boyfriend’s whilst rhyming with her face), yet both recently found themselves wincing apologies after likening intrusion into their private lives to being raped. Mindlessly comparing an occupational hazard to a serious crime was, naturally, seen as being extremely offensive to real victims; Stewart’s reference stung because of her rich, privileged status, Cullen’s because he’s a man in a position of influence and power. At the party the other night, our perpetrator spoke of how she’d discovered that a person she thought had loved her had lied to her, in the most heinous way, over and over again, essentially creating a version of himself so far from reality that she had fallen for a man who didn’t really exist. The truth was devastating. She felt worthless, stupid; she had wasted a year of her life on a charlatan. In her confessional state, she let slip that it felt like she’d been raped. The other guest, who had been raped in her teens and has always been honest and open about how she continues to struggle to come to terms with it, was sorely offended.

Her short, angry burst can be summed up thusly: don’t ever use the R-Word to describe anything but the R-Word. You cannot imagine it unless you’ve been through it.

The first guest, chastised and mortified, fled the gathering.

Now. There’s never going to be a place or time when I feel it’s right to wonder aloud how this rape victim or that rape victim feels about the crime committed against him or her. People deal with trauma differently. The aftermath of an assault of a sexual nature is an even trickier minefield for the victim to navigate – everyone knows you just don’t see as much victim-blaming with any other kind of serious, personal crime – which is all the more reason to accept that there is no “norm” here, no tried-and-tested rule for Getting Over It that we can package into a handy guidebook and give out at the Rape Crisis Centre. Some people loathe the term “victim”. Some sneer at the alternative “survivor”. Some refuse to be ashamed. Many, and here’s the kicker, feel such deep shame and fear that they never recount their experience, ever. To anyone. It’s a terrible truth that victim-blaming can apply in the victim’s own head, as well.

Which is where my problem lies with bashing those who dare to use the R Analogy. Yes, it’s an extremely insensitive metaphor to pull out of the ether when you’re feeling lazy and indignant. And it is worrying that likening every personal trauma to rape could normalise something which should never be normal. But who’s to say that celebrities who cry rape-a-like know nothing of rape? Who’s to say that the girl who fled our party had no idea what she was alluding to? Rape is, unfortunately, not rare. There are many people in your social circle who could, no doubt, offer qualified opinions on the matter – quite possibly, a few more than you might expect. People will use the R-word. Some of them might even know what they’re talking about. Is there any real advantage to reacting abrasively?

My friend was certainly well within her rights to feel indignant. I’ve always admired how audacious she can be when recounting her experience; as upsetting as it is for her, she’ll talk it out, she’ll “go there” if it needs to be said. But I wonder too, how would she have reacted had the other girl turned around and told her, “Yes, I do know what it’s like…”

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