Chris Brown Divides The World

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15 Feb 2012, 19:14

I dislike industry award shows like the Grammys and the Oscars. I don't think artistic merit should be quantified into some kind of competition. I didn't always think this way, but it's become my de facto stance on these kinds of things so I typically avoid the hoopla around these televised non-events. But one can barely flitter into a corner of the Internet in the past week or so without coming across a story about Chris Brown, his Grammy, his performance and his history as the abuser of Rihanna three years ago.

This article pretty much summarizes a lot of the talk, highlighting without actually linking to any number of "other side of the story" breakdowns of the Brown apologist/defenders who are either squeamishly revealing their indifference to domestic violence or carry some sort of hackneyed argument about redemption. But suffice to say that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think Chris Brown has gotten off far too easily and been too readily re-embraced by the industry and fans for beating Rihanna into a hospital stay; and those who think everyone needs to move on.

I mention this at all because the whole thing challenges my long-held belief that it's impossible, if not downright hypocritical, to hold the person behind our art accountable for their indiscretions in terms of their output. Humans, being human, are forever going to fail and fail in spectacular ways. Trying to decide which humans have socially acceptable failings (which usually translates to the most hidden failings) such that we can ignore them and appreciate their art, to me, misses the point. I've always thought that we judge the art on its own merit first and treat the artist behind it as a secondary bit of contextual trivia.

After all, does it diminish the strength of The Doors work that Jim Morrison once took a piss on a bar? Do we suddenly discount The Beatles because John Lennon may have been abusive? It's difficult from a logical perspective to say that we should hold Brown to a different standard.

Of course, to my mind there is a wrinkle in this which is that Chris Brown is no Morrison or Lennon. His music is overproduced, disposable trash and therefore his dubious artistic merit suggests that the problem here is that he's being propped up by the recording industry fame machine because he can sing a little, dance a little and has a pretty face. It may be artistically beneficial to divorce the tragic flaws of John Lennon from the world-changing force of his musical contribution to society, but if you ignore the fact that Brown is a woman-abusing douchebag, you're still left with a half-talent human brand and not anything of particular consequence.

And this to me is the biggest problem I have, because its no secret that the cream doesn't necessarily rise to the top anymore (the one performance I did catch between DVR'd episodes of The Daily Show was Nicki Minaj's toneless, theatrically surreal brouhaha), is that the revenue-generating power of Chris Brown has clearly outweighed the social implications of elevating a warped and seemingly remorseless individual via the hype and marketing power of the modern music industry. That his record label has continued to put not just some but considerable effort into brushing off the "mistake" and getting back to the task at hand of raking in the cash from their Chris Brown brand can be read as tacit approval of being a girlfriend beater. I mean, it's not like there are zero other singing, dancing, attractive young men who would love nothing more than a shot at having big industry money thrusting their songs down consumer's throats. Some of them probably even lack criminal records. But Brown was an investment and rather than walk away and go find the next new thing, RCA decided they could walk it off and sooner or later push him back out and revel in the glory of an army of teenage girls tweeting that they would count themselves lucky to have their heads bashed against a car door by this guy.

My problem with the other camp is that everyone is so focused on hating the man that they ignore the machinery that permits this crap. What is the proper amount of time to pass before Chris Brown mounts a comeback? What, if anything, could he do exactly to once again deserve his fame and fortune? The problem is, he deserves none of it because his artistic contribution is demonstrably unworthy of recognition. Let's focus the rage against the Grammys and MTV and RCA and a social landscape where we simply fail to convey to the army of disposable-income wielding teenage girls the deplorable nature of domestic abuse. Or, for that matter, what constitutes quality music. Chris Brown ought to be a problem that the market corrected: A medicore talent who showed a severe personality defect and subsequently faded from the public eye as he was no longer profitable to anyone. That this didn't happen, I suspect, is what really grates on the Brown-loathing contingent but instead of focusing their angst appropriately they pick at one zit on a face full of acne.

The biggest gripe I have with Chris Brown is that he's a nobody who became a somebody by doing something deplorable and instead of being able to say, "See? That's what happens when you don't respect women, fellas," we're left spluttering and gnashing teeth. Our only chorus now is "No! No no no no! Everybody remember what a tool he is!" If the legal system failed, let's fix the legal system. If the music industry failed, vote with your dollars. If society failed, let's correct it and stop thinking if we ruin one man we win against his crime.

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