- Facebook / Chris Brown
Our decision to include that information didn't just stem from a high-profile incident in which he was arrested for beating the shit out of fellow artist Rihanna, his then-girlfriend. It also stemmed from Brown being arrested earlier this year after a woman alleged he and two other men raped her at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Paris.
It was interesting to see how many people got so emotional about that 58-word concert announcement. Since publication, the piece had its viral moment on social media. Some folks approved of us mentioning Brown's behavior, while many angrily defended him and said the paper had no business mentioning his personal life.
It made us wonder why so many folks are willing to defend people with histories of abuse who also happen to be celebrities? And why, out of all the problematic artists the Current has recently called out — Tekashi 69, R. Kelly and Jonny Craig to name a few — did so many readers get worked up over Brown?
To answer those questions, we spoke with Sarah Erickson, an assistant professor of communication at Trinity University and co-director of the school's women's and gender studies program.
“So, I think there are several things going on,” Erickson said. “One is, as a culture we tend to normalize abuse. … We live in a culture where we know in San Antonio domestic violence is a huge issue. And we’re trying to address it, but it’s part of our society. I also think we are trained to empathize with the men. … Like [we say], 'Why are you punishing him? He’s got so much to lose.' And then we want people that abuse other people to be identifiable monsters who have no redeeming qualities and don’t make music that makes us want to dance.”
Erickson, who's studied gender and mass media for a decade, explained that cognitive dissonance often comes into play when people find out an artist they like has done something morally reprehensible. A fan faces a choice of giving up their support or rationalizing it by saying, “Let’s separate the artist from the art” or “Oh, what he did wasn’t so bad.”
Complicating matters, people feel connections to celebrities that are similar to those they form in real-life relationships, she added.
"When we’re adolescents, we shape our identity in many ways through our attraction to celebrity, so we can feel it as real threat when someone we look up to violates our expectations," Erickson said. "[We think], well, if I built my identity around this person or I had a crush on this person when I was younger and now I found out that he's this violent man, what does that say about me?”
But whatever the reason, focusing on just a handful of high-profile men isn't going to erase the problem of violence against women, Erickson points out.
“This is a structural, institutional problem,” she said. “This isn’t just a couple of monstrous men.”
So, what should we do to appropriately respond? Erickson says the first step is talking honestly about abuse, then figure out how to hold abusers accountable.
“That might mean, [someone] no longer gets to sell a million records or get to be on the Supreme Court or get to make a million movies with Scarlett Johansson,” Erickson said.
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