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Exhibit A: How not to critique a celebrity domestic violence claim, by Random_J
Welcome back to a weekly collaboration in which, through the magic of Gchat, New York-based blogger Sady of Tiger Beatdown joins D.C.-based me of The Sexist to hash out the most pressing women’s issues of the day. This time it was a no-brainer: Duh, Rihanna. In this edition: what happens when “the people entering into the domestic violence debate are people who are normally, you know, drawing jizz on Zac Ephron‘s face.”
So. Chris Brown allegedly beat up (now-former) girlfriend Rihanna, and:
SADY: it’s really troubling. i think it is just hard for people to even approach it without getting into iffy territory, because we have so many messed-up ideas about partner violence itself. and the idea of it surfacing in this huge and troubling way between two super-famous people, who both have (apparently) super clean public images, is really weird.
AMANDA: it is very weird. but then chris brown’s whole history is resurfacing now—-how he grew up in a really bad situation with an abusive step-dad—-and everyone is upset about that. a lot of people are saying ‘how dare you bring that up?’ as if bringing up the history excuses domestic violence. I have to pee really quick. keep writing. i’ll be right back.
SADY: Right. what it tells us is that brown has a history of being exposed to that stuff, and some people are reading that as an excuse-type statement, “oh but he didn’t like it when his dad did it so he couldn’t have,” whereas other folks are reading it as: kids who grow up in those situations sometimes repeat them, it’s a programming thing. i am reading a d.h. lawrence novel about how his dad beat up his mom! and lawrence hated it! and then went on to perpetrate it in at least one relationship, i understand! so d.h. and chris brown apparently have something in common.
AMANDA: who knew. i think it’s been kind of interesting how the celebrity aspect of this has revealed a lot about how people talk about domestic violence. i remember reading a rumor on the internets shortly after the incident happened that said, “Chris Brown Beats Rihanna For Giving Him Herpes,” and then there was this firestorm of people reacting to that, saying, why perpetuate this rumor, and even if it’s true, it doesn’t excuse anything. But still, I heard that rumor maybe 3 or 4 times just from people that i know.
SADY: right. exactly. it was all over.
AMANDA: because that’s how celebrity news works—-you hear a rumor, you repeat it. it doesn’t have anything to do with your moral position on domestic violence.
SADY: yet i think it is interesting that the first thing people wanted to know was: how did she make it happen? was she possessive? cheating on him? was it the herp? the idea of an abuser as someone who makes a CHOICE, to ABUSE, is kind of absent.
AMANDA: i think part of it is that people just like to talk about celebrities, and now there’s this whole movement to make the discussion of this domestic violence somehow more sacred than that—-more tempered and more positive—-and of course the whole situation is very serious and awful, but i think it’s a little too much to expect here. the only reason we’re dissecting every little part of it in the first place is because it’s chris brown and rihanna, not some joe schmos from down the street who are probably beating each other right now.
SADY: yeah, true enough.
AMANDA: so, the people entering into the domestic violence debate are people who are normally, you know, drawing jizz on zac ephron’s face. which is a frustrating place to be in for people who see this as an opportunity to talk about some issues that don’t get a lot of time in the public conversation.
SADY: yeah, there’s a lot of “if chris brown were MY boyfriend he wouldn’t beat me up,” versus “rihanna is so pretty, why would you hit HER?” it’s kind of weird to acknowledge that people’s positions on this, because of the fame, might be less moral than “OMG must come to defense of person who has never seen me or spoken to me but will one day love me back!”
AMANDA: yeah, definitely. what did you think of the spokesperson’s comment? i think it was something like, “rihanna is well, we appreciate your concern.” i got this press release from some lady judge who was super pissed about that, saying it “glossed over” the issue . . . i thought it was just a pretty standard “no comment.”
SADY: yes, that was it, almost exactly. and, you know, normally people who report these things don’t have their names published. which makes sense to me given the fact that someone created a “rihanna deserved it” t-shirt – you really want to shield someone from that kind of shaming. so i can see her wanting to be private above all right now. you’re a journalist, i mean, way more so than i—-what do you think of the fact that her name was reported?
AMANDA: wow, they create t-shirts fast these days.
SADY: yes, and take them down almost as quickly.
AMANDA: i mean, i think that’s probably a result of how this was reported, and how all celebrity news is reported. if you’re reporting from a police report, the name is struck and there are journalistic standards blah blah. but if paparazzi have the photo of RIHANNA and bloggers are writing first-person accounts of RIHANNA . . . it’s out the window then.
SADY: yeah, exactly. and then people are like, “if only we had pictures! if only we had a statement from each of them! they are fame-os, how can they withhold this incredibly fascinating story from us, the public!”
AMANDA: it’s too bad, but i think that privacy is one that all celebrities sacrifice, and journalistic standards are really lax for them. you can say pretty much anything about a celebrity and people are rarely sued. so do you think chris brown is going to fade into obscurity?
SADY: i dunno if it’s going to be obscurity or infamy. i mean, axl rose was accused of domestic violence. ike turner, obvs. r. kelly not only got a “not guilty” sentence, he got even more famous. there is now a song called “don’t call me whitney, bobby.” i think that’s where this is going.
AMANDA: i like that song. yeah, i guess we just wait for the comeback!
SADY: as do i!
AMANDA: let’s agree to meet back here, same place, at the time of chris brown’s inevitable comeback.
SADY: okay, i am scheduling it for a year from now. let’s place bets. we’ll talk.
AND NOW: the musical fruits of domestic violence, courtesy of Islands.