I know who Chris Brown is, of course, in a can’t-avoid-it-if-I-tried, popular culture way. I know he and his girlfriend Rihanna skipped scheduled Grammy appearances in 2009 on the heels of an incident in which Brown “hit, bit and choked” her. I saw, without seeking out, the online photo of her battered face.
I know Brown was charged with domestic violence and felony battery, convicted and sentenced to five years probation, more than 1,400 hours in “labor-oriented service” and domestic abuse counseling.
I know there have been related/unrelated incidents: an ongoing blood feud with some guy named Drake, a hit-and-run accident…
I also know Brown and Rihanna resumed their romance early this year but that the on-again-off-again relationship strobe light went off yet again in May. Still?
I know all that, but I’m not sure I’d recognize Chris Brown’s music. I am sure I wouldn’t go across the street, or to Alderney Landing on Aug. 31, to discover it.
That said, I’m not clear how I feel about the demands to cancel his concert, the online petitions, the sponsor pullouts, the mayoral pile-on.
On the one hand, there is no more democratic way to express your disapproval of a performer’s actions than to vote with your ticket-buying feet. And there is certainly nothing wrong with asking others to do the same.
At the same time, the drumbeat demand to cancel his concert — denying pleasure to those who see this as a musical event rather than a teachable moment — seems to me to smack of censorship.
There is the whiff of hypocrisy too. Why Chris Brown and not, say, Sean Penn, who reportedly used a baseball bat on Madonna’s head back in 1987? Is it because Penn’s transgressions took place before the emergence of the social media echo chamber? Or because Penn is white? Is there an unspoken, unconscious racism at play?
Then too, there is the troubling, to me at least, New Morality that wants to single out a piece of the personal life of public figures — musicians, politicians, historical figures — and make that the sole litmus test for the legitimacy of their public careers. Who wants to throw that first perfection stone?
On the other hand…
Like I said, I find it complicated.