Chris Brown (Allegedly) Punched Someone (Else) – Should we be done with him?
So Chris Brown is headed to rehab (side note on rehab: it was already kinda pushing it when celebs starting going to resort rehabilitation facilities for “exhaustion”, but going for “insight” is too pampered to even handle. We mortals handle our “exhaustion” and gain “insight” with alcohol, the way god intended.) after a night spent in jail last weekend when Brown and his bodyguard were taken into custody following an alleged “punching a dude in the face” incident.
Brown’s attorney, former federal prosecutor Danny Onorato, defended his client’s innocence in a statement, saying: “Chris Brown committed no crime. We understand his security acted to protect Mr. Brown and his property, which he was authorized to do.”
If convicted, Brown could face up to 180 days in jail and $1,000 fine (or in celebrity terms: half an hour of picking up trash and the cost of half a bottle of decent champagne.)
The specifics of this supposed altercation are pretty boring. Even if it did happen the way it was alleged to have gone down, we’re talking about one fan being an asshole, and Chris Brown punching him. Whatever. What is worth discussing, however, is how this latest incident will affect – or not affect – Chris Brown’s career.
Unless you’ve been living all the way under all the rocks for the last 4 years, you know that in 2009, Chris Brown was convicted of beating up then-girlfriend (and occasionally since-girlfriend) Rihanna. He’s actually still on probation from back then. Despite the incident being an bona fide media circus, and Brown’s reputation being (I think it’s safe to say after 4 years) irrevocably marred, his album sales didn’t feel quite the same hit; his next 2 albums both debuted at number 1.
All of this seems to beg two big questions: Should artists see a professional backlash when they fuck up in their personal lives? And does the public, as media consumers, have a responsibility to boycott artists who don’t uphold savory standards of personal conduct?
Let’s take a sidestep from abuse to obtuse and examine everyone’s favorite hot mess, Britney Jean Spears, y’all. No other celebrity in recent history (or maybe ever) has so publicly and gloriously fallen deep into the dark place. But even people like Britney Spears, the Velveeta-loving queen of the meltdown, whose career hasn’t slowed down despite a year of head-shaving, window-bashing, tattooing, custody battles, and generally confusing behavior back in 2008, are still evidently capable of having successful post-scandal careers. Sure, her reputation will never return to that of the sexy but wholesome Louisiana girl she built her fame on, but her albums and tours haven’t seemed much worse for wear; her last two post-meltdown albums have reached number 1 and sold almost 6 million copies (granted, Baby, One More Time sold over 30 million copies, but let’s be real – way more people bought CDs back in 1999. We can’t exactly blame Britney for the fact that fewer than 2 million in sales still equals a top chart spot.) Even if she seems like a father-controlled, thoroughly medicated, lip syncing robot, we still buy the hell out of her music.
So maybe the answer is this: we’re willing to accept a heavy load of crazy from our pop stars, as long as it’s a sympathetic crazy.
In Brown’s case, there’s not a lot of precedent for his management team or audience to use when deciding out to move forward. Ike Turner, for example, famously abusive ex-husband of singer/real life unicorn Tina Turner, was way past his prime career days when the allegations against him broke, so there isn’t much to examine in terms of how a presently thriving career fares in the midst of violent charges. Similarly, Michael Jackson was already more or less a washed up shadow of his former glory when charges of child molestation were filed. Whitney Houston, Boy George, Pee Wee Herman (ew, remember him?) – none of them were anywhere near the height of their professional careers when personal scandals cast notoriety on them. Certainly, their public images would never recover, but their bank accounts likely didn’t suffer either. And chances are, the most popular work they had previously contributed to pop culture would still be retroactively beloved since the public held them in a positive light when our first collective impressions of their creative endeavors were formed.
On the other hand, there are many instances of celebrities grappling publicly with personal demons and legal troubles while still in the midst of active popularity – Lindsay Lohan, anyone? But even with her, you could argue (and you would likely be correct) that in a post-Mean Girls world, she was already headed south of relevance, and her drug/legal/life issues really just sped up her trip to inevitable has-been-hood. Chris Brown, on the other hand, was not only on the rise when the Rihanna situation went down, he was fast-tracking to the very top. Of all the rumored “new Ushers” in the past 10 years, Brown seemed like the first actually viable candidate to assume the throne. And then Rihanna-gate. Common consensus at the time was that that was would be the end of his career – and we were wrong. His album sales continued, innumerable Facebook pages and websites popped up in support of Brown (alarmingly enough, mostly by young girls), and in lieu of figuring out a sound PR strategy for apologizing and making amends for what happened, Brown’s management team decided the best course of action was simply to press forward like nothing happened. Which sounds like an insane idea – how can you beat up your girlfriend and just go on with life as a beloved pop star? – but for the most part, it worked.
So in light of Brown’s 2nd alleged instance of violent behavior, should we as consumers feel obligated to take a stand against his personal life by boycotting him professionally? Maybe it’s like this: you might read hundreds of articles, and see dozens of petitions decrying the shitty business practices of big corporations like Wal-Mart. But when it comes down to it, a lot of the same people who bombard social media with anti-unethical corporation materials are, in reality, still patronizing those companies. With pop stars, it seems to be the same; we’re content to tear people like Chris Brown apart but it doesn’t necessarily change our affinity for his music. The question is, should it?