Posted 22 January 2013 - 12:08 AM
Don't get me wrong. It burns me up that Charlie Sheen is working. It's worse that he's got a show that's basically a joke about how horrible he is. I hate that his "punishment" was rehab. One of the most persistent myths about abuse is that it's caused by drugs or alcohol, and this so-called punishment only serves to perpetuate that myth.
Abusers are essentially con-men. They only "lose control" to the extent that they allow themselves. They are image obsessed, and their images are carefully cultivated. That goes for Charlie Sheen and Chris Brown. We watched Charlie Sheen and decided that he was crazy. We mockingly adopted his catchphrase, "Winning," and somehow bought into the narrative that he's crazy, delusional, unpredictable, but, ultimately, harmless. He created an image, he manipulated us, and it worked.
Chris Brown did, too, and his image is far more sophisticated. He's not simply, as you put it, "one of the most hated men in America." He is, by his own design, the man we love to hate. But, he's also the passionate lover/bad-boy: he's passionate, he's a little bit dangerous, but maybe the love of a good woman could put him on the right track. He tells us that he has so much love in his heart that he might need two women in his life. The two sides of this image--the man you love to hate and the lover/bad-boy--work in concert, inflaming his "enemies" and rallying his fans.
It sucks that Charlie Sheen is still working, making money and getting famous even as he exploits his abuse, but don't lose sight of the fact that Chris Brown is doing the very same thing! Attitudes toward them are different, in part because of race, but in large part because of what they have in common, which is that they've crafted images for themselves that manipulate public opinion. Neither man has faced real consequences. Abusive men rarely do, especially wealthy abusive men.
What bothers me the most about every argument I've heard about the racial implications of this story is that it always portrays the perpetrator of violence as a victim. There was another black person involved. If it's a certainty that race affects attitudes toward Chris Brown, isn't the same true for Rihanna? Would America be more outraged if we saw similar photos of Taylor Swift? Would we be as willing to forgive Katy Perry's batterer? Would our expectations of Rihanna be different if she were white? Would we be as derisive of her choices in the aftermath? Maybe the photos wouldn't have leaked if the perpetrator had been white, but what about the confidentiality of the victim?
About Michael Vick...oh, lord. You're right that he became one of the most hated men in America. You're right that race factors into that a great deal (more so, I'd argue, than for Chris Brown). What you're missing, though, is the fact that America is quicker and more willing to forgive a man for violence towards women than for violence towards dogs.
And I do think the expressions of racism against Chris Brown are subtle. It's subtle because the issue is one of attitudes and motivations, as opposed to more overt expressions of racism that are all too common, and compared to the plain and violent misogyny on display in the very story. For example, whatever you make of Jenny Johnson's tweets to Chris Brown, they were not overtly, explicitly racist. You can speculate, if you're so inclined, on the attitudes that motivated Jenny Johnson to write those tweets. You don't need to work so hard to interpret Chris Brown's replies, which were sexually violent threats.
There's an important distinction to be made, because the argument coming across, Shariq (and Andrew), is that Chris Brown has gotten a raw deal because he's black. There is some truth that Charlie Sheen has gotten it easy because he's white, and that's the start of a productive conversation, in my opinion. Even that, though, ignores the privilege both offenders enjoy because of their gender, wealth, and fame.