In 2003, police arrived at a house in Georgia to find Whitney Houston battered and bruised, her lip cut, her cheek black and blue. Her then husband, Bobby Brown, turned himself in, charged with misdemeanor battery. The tumultuous relationship between two beloved R&B singers had finally been brought to light, and it was time to say goodbye to Bobby Brown, right? That was everyone’s thinking, until Houston and Brown left Brown’s court hearing with their arms locked and, according to reports from that day, with Houston belting out Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman” as they drove away.
Domestic abuse has long been a case study in the illogical, with couples staying together even though one may live in constant fear of the other. It is that same fear that doesn’t allow the woman or the man to escape the relationship, for they are terrified of what the consequences might be. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, women are the victim in 85% of domestic abuse cases, and when those women are goddesses of pop culture, the scrutiny is heightened immensely. For Houston, her tale of abuse and drugs with her husband ended in divorce in 2007, a move that seemed to be the only remaining option.
Being a public figure is unfair. Your every move, meal, and relationship are scrutinized. People talk about you as if you were right there in the room, but you never are. It is an accepted norm in this country, an invisible contract that you sign when you step into the spotlight, voluntarily or otherwise. Charles Barkley once said, “I am not a role model.” In his heyday as an NBA player, Barkley proved his anti-heroism, once launching a man through a glass window. Yet Barkley was wrong. Dead wrong. No, he may not have acted like a role model, but just because he failed to assume the role doesn’t mean the responsibility was lifted. When your persona is on public display day in and day out, you don’t get to choose whether you “feel” like being a role model or not. Inevitably, you just are.
Chris Brown and Rihanna don’t seem have a strong grasp on how their actions affect the public, much like Barkley didn’t. Their story is an over told and exhausted one: Brown hits Rihanna; he’s sentenced to anger management, then flips out and breaks the window in his dressing room after being asked about the incident on Good Morning America; now he’s reportedly attempting to pick up women by telling them “I promise I won’t beat you!” The world lost respect for a man with smooth vocals and even smoother dance moves, a man clearly struggling with emotional issues so deep that he struck a woman.
It’s true, many celebrities live in a bubble. They are coddled, spoiled, and have a slippery grasp on reality. But it appears that this dysfunctional tandem’s bubble is so opaque that it is impossible to see out. With Chris Brown appearing on the remix of Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake” and Rihanna returning the favor on Brown’s “Turn up the Music,” the couple appears to be making musical amends. Especially when Chris Brown, as classy as ever, belts out “Girl I want to fuck you right now/It’s been a long time, I’ve been missing your body.”
I’m a firm believer in second chances. But there are some deeds that I deem truly unforgivable, and punching a woman in the face is one of them. So to the countless number of young boys and girls who look up so fiercely to two of the pop genre’s biggest superstars, the message is clear from each side. For men, it says that if you hit a woman, just give it some time, and eventually you will once more be able to talk about just how much you want to ravage her body, that same body you cared so little about that just a few years ago you bruised it with your fists. And for women, it says that not only should a man who has that kind of monster inside of him be forgiven, but he should also be allowed back into your life. And thrusting this message into the face of the public like Brown and Rihanna currently are doing is something that disturbs me deeply.
Maybe Brown and Rihanna will live happily ever after. Or Maybe Brown’s pent up anger will erupt again. Who knows? What I do know is that they seem to not care about the message that their actions send to the public. The seem to have forgotten that invisible contract they signed when they became megastars. They seem to have forgotten the responsibility that comes with their power. Is it commendable that these two misguided souls seem to have repaired their relationship? Maybe. But it isn’t just what they are doing that’s important, it’s how they are doing it. So out in the open, shoving it down our throats until somebody, anybody notices, a very private matter turned unnecessarily public. The Wu Tang Clan did it for the kids. Chris Brown and Rihanna seem to be doing it just for themselves.