Today’s blog post probably falls more into the category of E! news but I figured I somehow have to get at this, so yes let’s talk about Rihanna and Chris Brown – that never ending weirdo, hate-love, pull back and forth, very public domestic abuse case that shook celebrity news and was all over the tabloids a couple of years back and just recently regained some heat after the release of the remix “Turn Up the Music,” which has Rihanna and Brown ‘duetting again’, very similar to “Umbrella” from 2007. And some people hereby wonder, including myself, why the f*** would you ever want to do that?
If you’re not quite familiar with the whole story, here’s a quick backdrop: three years ago, on the eve of the 2009 Grammys, Brown assaulted Rihanna, his then girlfriend, in a car outside a party with ugly images of her badly bruised face circulating throughout the media. The police report stated that he punched her, put her in a headlock and nearly choked her. Brown later pleaded guilty to a count of felony assault and was sentenced to five years’ probation.
Brown’s appearance at this year’s Grammy Awards was heavily debated online as several musicians and music critics assailed the show’s organizers for allowing him to perform. Miranda Lambert, a country star, posted on Twitter during the show, saying “He beat on a girl…not cool that we act like that didn’t happen.”
Brown himself shot back in a series of comments on Twitter that apparently were quickly deleted: “Strange how we pick and choose who to hate! Let me ask u this. Our society is full of rappers (which I listen to) who have sold drugs (poisoning). But yet we glorify them and imitate everything they do. Then right before the worlds eyes a man shows how he can make a Big mistake and learn from it, but still has to deal with day to day hatred! You guys love to hate!!! But guess what??? HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now!” One may hereby only wonder if he really learned anything.
Of course, from a political economy and record label standpoint Rihanna and Chris Brown’s latest collaboration on “Turn Up the Music” can be seen simply as another marketing gag to attract more record sales and attention for both stars; however, Rihanna is still riding high on the wave of her incredibly successful album “Talk that Talk” (DefJam) and Brown, whose conviction nearly derailed his career facing boycotts from radio stations and plummeting album sales, hasn’t been doing too bad either with his release “F.A.M.E” (Zomba/Jive Records). Others, may see an allusion or weird instance of Stockholm syndrome, defined by Wikipedia as “an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.”
I honestly, find it rather worrisome that what seems to be at play here is a massive marketing campaign that I’m sure has been strategically put into place to help Brown regain some of his tarnished reputation as a “wife-beater” after a phase of redemption and the successful completion of one year of domestic violence counseling and six months of community service.
So what are feminist media scholars to make of this? I briefly want to incorporate some of Angela McRobbie’s writing on “The Aftermath on Feminism” (2009) here, particularly her notion of “gender melancholia” that may help us to approach this “causa” from a critical perspective. McRobbie proposes that feminism for young women today has in rather indiscernible ways become an object of loss and melancholia. Gender melancholia institutionalizes and consolidates the state of young women, so that seemingly inexplicable anxiety, pain, rage, and self-harming behavior, become accepted ways of being. Whereby, “the media and popular culture find reason to both amuse and be entertained by self-destructive young women, who speak out their pain loudly, and yet whose rage appears to be illegible” (p. 115). McRobbie sees all this functioning to institutionalize a female psychopathology which operates
as a self-perpetuating regime, which refutes and disavows the asking of questions which pertain to the critique of masculinity, patriarchy, and the enforcement of norms emanating from the heterosexual matrix. They keep young women locked into a hermetic world of feminine ambivalence and distress. (McRobbie, 2009, p. 111)
Looking at ambivalence of the Chris Brown and Rihanna case, I think we can see how some of this gender melancholia and the institutionalizing of female psychopathology are very much at play here.
According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center one in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime; women accounted for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%; about one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner … now although I don’t believe in rendering too much power to the numbers, these statistics do speak volumes and are alarming.
I believe that something is seriously going down the wrong path when during this year’s Grammy’s the aggregation by BuzzFeed of Twitter posts from several young women proclaimed they would be happy to be beaten by Mr. Brown. Seriously?! Us Weekly also printed an item in which it accused Mr. Brown of using his notoriety as a pick-up line: “I promise I won’t beat you.”
A New York Times Article by Jon Caramanica calls it “Reconciliation, at least in song” and rightfully wonders whether this “displays an advanced understanding of marketing and … of moral obligations and ethics that’s not much more than rudimentary. It is a woman publicly accepting her abuser — nothing more, nothing less.” In the song, Rihanna is happily belting out “Turn up the music cause I feel a little turned on, Turn up the music, don’t you try to turn me down” and ends with a giggling: “You know you’re gonna make me laugh.” But this “public acceptance” is far more than irrelevant; given both artists’ stardom and fandom, especially among young teens, I think it raises severe concerns about the banal acceptance of domestic abuse in our society, almost rendering it insignificant. Is this really what should be conveyed to their, predominantly female fans? Carmanica concludes by saying “You want to forget? Fine. But don’t forgive.” I severely doubt that this provides an adequate “solution” for the problem …