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Celebrity Domestic Violence — Laughable, Enjoyable, Cashable

We take a closer look at how celebrity relationship abuse is handled in the pop culture world.
Rihanna Chris Brown

Photo Credit: TMZ

Once upon a time, a violent incident took place between A and B:

"He[A] took his right hand and shoved her[B] head against he passenger window of the vehicle, causing an approximate one-inch raised circular contusion...

…He continued to punch her in the face with his right hand while steering the vehicle with his left hand

She then bent over at the waist, placing her elbows and face near her lap in [an] attempt to protect her face and head from the barrage of punches being levied upon her by A…

…He then placed her in a head lock positioning the front of her throat between his bicep and forearm. A began applying pressure to B's left and right carotid arteries, causing her to be unable to breathe and she began to lose consciousness."

This is an excerpt of the court documents released on the incident.

Imagine these two as your neighbours. Perhaps you speak to them every now and then at your driveway or front yard. Perhaps their children go to the same school as your children. As a token of friendliness, you may have shovelled their driveway while doing your own last winter. Wouldn't it be easy for you to have nothing but feelings of pure disgust for A after this incident? Most people would. Given this violence was not committed as an act of self-defense, most people would express their utter disapproval, and may even distance themselves from A completely after the assault.

Now change A and B into Chris Brown and Rihanna, respectively, and the entire outcome changes to a drastic measure.

Singers Rihanna and Chris Brown - a couple at the time - were expected to perform at the Grammy Awards Ceremony held on February 9th, 2009. However, the night before, Brown physically assaulted Rihanna, an excerpt of which was used earlier. obtained access to, and subsequently released, this picture of Rihanna taken after the attack:

In August 2009, Brown was handed down a sentence of five years of probation, one year of counselling regarding domestic abuse, and six months of community service.

Rihanna Beating

Photo Credit: TMZ

This piece is not a character assassination of Chris Brown. He did not commit a rare crime. Statistics tell us that in US, a woman is assaulted every 9 seconds. Seventy-five percent of the female population in the world has been beaten or abused in her lifetime, most of it by their own family members. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, and in US, everyday three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Most cases are never reported, but those that are, most likely do not receive the support that Chris Brown did.

While Chris Brown's big comeback performance at the 2012 Grammy's shocked the world, what was perhaps more shocking, was the reaction of various women to his appearance. listed the top 25 bewildering, and downright nauseating, twitter feeds by women:

"Everyone shut up about Chris Brown being a woman beater….Shiiiiittt he can beat me up all night if he wants"

"I'd let Chris Brown beat me up any time ;) #womanbeater"

"I don't know why Rihanna complained. Chris Brown could beat me anytime he wanted to".

Here are women, indirectly telling another woman she should not have complained about getting physically assaulted to the point she may have died, because the assaulter is a rich, attractive and famous man. These were only the top twenty-five tweets, there may have been a much larger volume of even more women offering themselves to get violently beaten.

Statements like these, and societal acceptance of violence would not sound as shocking if they came from a third-world country. Many of the still-developing countries do not have any laws or help available to victims, and in many cases, domestic abuse is actually condoned. But for these comments to come from well to-do North American women (they are able to afford internet and computer) is an indication of what little understanding, compassion and solidarity exists for domestic violence victims even in this part of the world.

And it certainly is a laughing matter when it comes to celebrities. Chops and Hops Restaurant in Watkinsville, Georgia often features celebrity inspired meals on their menus. Earlier this year, they introduced a sandwich called the "Carribean Black and Bleu", which, according to a tweet by one of the restaurant's affiliates, resulted when "@chrisbrown, @rihanna and us teamed up for a award winning celebrity sandwich." Some minor community backlash prompted the restaurant to release a statement claiming none of their staff endorses domestic violence…as opposed to various other groups out there that actually endorse it? The sandwich has since then been discontinued. It took the great fear of business shutdown for the restaurant to understand how tremendously insensitive and offensive their actions were.

And then there is Grammy's producer Ken Ehrlich, who, as Sasha Pasulka of pointed out, claimed that Grammy's were the victims of this violent incident because it meant Chris Brown could not attend and/or perform for two years. A whopping two year ban was imposed on a woman-beater which negatively impacted the innocent Grammy's to the point where they became the victims. They are jubilant to have him back because they suffered due to the barbaric episode.

Or perhaps this should not come as big a shock, given how reality TV has been hugely popular among the masses for the past many years. Showcasing real-life miseries of real people on TV spawns great public interest, and episodes showing contestant meltdowns generate the highest ratings. Over the past 12 years, the title of the second most watched TV episode belongs to the season finale of Survivor in 2000. Is it human nature to enjoy watching others suffer? Is it human nature to create and enjoy the spectacle of others' agony? Do we like American Idol for the music, or for the on-stage tears? Would it then be wrong to blame Chops and Hops for its attempt to cash-in on the Rihanna and Chris love-hate carnival freak-show?

Conceivably, no one has turned the incident into a bigger joke than Rihanna herself. Let's take a moment to go back up and read the details of the attack again. Two years after getting physically assaulted by someone very close to her, she decided to collaborate on a music video with him by making an appearance in his music video of "Turn Up The Music", and having him appear on her song "Birthday Cake". Difficult to believe, but this collaboration was her idea.

This, without doubt, is a big blow in the face for everyone who had taken Rihanna's side and condemned Chris Brown for his actions. Public comments on various social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, and other comment sections in online newspapers indicate that many had decided to boycott Chris Brown's music altogether after the incident. Where has Rihanna left her loyal fans, or people with a genuine social conscience hanging? If you listen carefully, you can almost hear The Simpson's patriarch, Homer's exasperated "D'oh!" all the way from Springfield.

And it gets worse. In a very recent Twitter war with Chris Brown and his current girlfriend Karrueche Tran, Rihanna stated "If u don't want me, someone else will ... if I'm not good enough!". This is a major facepalm moment for anyone who condemned Chris Brown or condemns domestic violence in general, a major facepalm moment for the tremendous effort and hard work that western feminists underwent to give women their rights, and a major facepalm moment for all women who have faced and continue to face domestic violence. When someone as powerful and resourceful as Rihanna makes a statement like this for her abuser, what chances do other common women have?

There are two distinct messages going across to two sets of audiences here:


  1. The [potential]victims of domestic violence: If he is rich, powerful and charming, stay quiet and deal with it lest you make a mockery out of your misery!
  2. The [potential] victimizer of domestic violence: If you are rich, powerful and charming, don't worry about your actions, you will be fine!
Chris Brown did get punished for his crime, and is still on probation for his assault and battery on Rihanna. In the final analysis, however, he seems to have come out the victor, as he not only received support and love from various star-struck naïve women, his own victim reached out to him, leaving some scratching their heads, while allowing others to create a cashable mockery out of it. Domestic abuse is, and should always be, a tragedy, yet in the case of these two, it has become a laughable, enjoyable and cashable episode.


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Celebrity Domestic Violence

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