Last night, pop singer Chris Brown, who infamously and brutally beat up Rihanna in 2009, launched a verbal, scatological attack on comedy writer Jenny Johnson. Johnson has made it a bit of a hobby to antagonize the 23-year-old Brown, and last night, after she called Brown a "worthless piece of shit" on Twitter, Brown unleashed a barrage of tweets at Johnson to tell her he was going to fart on her and defecate into her eye. As the internet gathered around yet another Chris Brown temper tantrum, Brown, who has hastily deleted offensive tweets in the past, went further than usual, deleting his entire Twitter account and disappointing his legion of fans, Team Breezy.
Four years ago, talk of Chris Brown resulted in universal condemnation of the singer as being a horrible person, what with his awful crime still so prominent in people's minds. But in the ensuing years, Brown's subsequent rash and aggressive behavior has prompted more complex discussions, as well. One that's begun to appear time and again—this time included—is that the widespread revulsion Americans have toward Chris Brown says something about our nation's racial politics. Why is it, for instance, that white people like Jenny Johnson seem to delight in tearing down Chris Brown while giving relative leeway to, say, Charlie Sheen, whose history of domestic violence is far longer than Brown's? It's a good question, and if you're asking it your heart and head are probably in the right place. But it's also off-base for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there's the picture. There is a reason that the U.S. government banned photographs of soldiers' coffins for almost two decades: It's because people hate to read and like pictures. People remember pictures. The police photo of Rihanna's face after Brown attacked her is by far the most publicized image of domestic violence in history. People have heard stories about the horrors Sheen inflicted on his victims, and they've witnessed dramatizations of Ike Turner's cruelty to Tina. But that photo of Rihanna—bloodied, swollen, tear streaked—is not words in a divorce filing or a Hollywood starlet acting out true events. It is an unvarnished, grotesque, and unquestionable reality, and it is the kindling that started the blaze this is the world's hatred for Chris Brown.
Beyond that, there's Brown's continued violent and petulant behavior. If, after beating Rihanna, Brown had accepted the court's punishment and behaved like a decent and kind human being in future public appearances, chances are people would be more inclined to forgive him his crimes. Bill Murray, for example, has been charged with hitting his now ex-wife, Jennifer, in the face and telling her she was "lucky he didn't kill her." But people don't constantly link Murray with those violent allegations because Murray doesn't constantly behave violently. Brown, on the other hand, goes into chair-throwing whirlwinds at a moment's notice, tears apart nightclubs during stupid fistfights, and behaves like a racist goon to have fun. And then, when anyone dares criticize him, Brown doesn't engage with those critiques and learn from them; he lashes out and calls his critics "haters," as if anyone who disagrees with him is just jealous.
Lastly, there's the fact that, in the pop-culture landscape, talking about Chris Brown has become somewhat of a team sport. On the one side are Brown's numerous detractors, some of whom, like Jenny Johnson, appear to really enjoy mocking and haranguing Brown whenever the feeling moves them. On the other side is Team Breezy, a cursory glance at which seems to be composed of young children and teenagers. That many of Brown's supporters appear to be young black women—just like Brown's victim, Rihanna—is a point of particular consternation for people who hate Brown, and the two camps go back and forth in Twitter streams and tumblr posts around the world.
By contrast, Sean Connery, who has said very openly that he thinks it's both acceptable and necessary to slap women around, is old and not possessed of a rabid fan base that takes to the internet to defend the aging sex symbol. Pushing back against and complaining about Team Breezy via the #teambreezy Twitter hashtag is second nature for people like Johnson, who has also made a pet project out of belittling Kim Kardashian. Team Breezy, of course, is only happy to respond in kind. But there is no Team Connery or Team Sheen or Team Josh Brolin or Team Michael Fassbender or Team Any of the Other Many White Male Celebrities Accused of Domestic Violence. As pathetic as it sounds, snarking on Chris Brown and defending Chris Brown have become things people do at their school and work desks before being allowed to go home and watch television.
Add to all of this the headline-making fact that Rihanna appears to be dating Chris Brown again, returning to her abuser as many abuse victims do, and it's obvious why Brown elicits so much more vitriol than do other superfamous violent men—and it has very little to do with his race. Where racism (and classism) does seem to creep into the equation, however, is in how Jenny Johnson and others apparently can't get enough of condescending to Brown and his fans. Consider the way that Johnson points and laughs at Team Breezy's slang, or how she believes calling Brown a "worthless piece of shit" is a high-minded "difference of opinion," while Team Breezy's insults are the crude work of idiots and losers. Then there's the tweet in which Johnson, after sending Brown into a rage, begs of him to "get some help. Seriously," as if calling an obviously troubled and violent man a "worthless piece of shit" was just her way of trying to compel him to get the in-depth and intense professional therapy he so obviously needs. Beyond Johnson there's the people tweeting to Brown that he should kill himself, that Brown is "a worthless nigger," and, somehow, even worse things, things which try to mock Brown while also mocking Brown's beating of Rihanna.
Reporting on Chris Brown's brutality tour as if he's the totem for all domestic abusers is hard not to do when, for a variety of reasons, Chris Brown is almost certainly the most famous domestic abuser of all time. It is not insidious or racist to acknowledge his crimes, nor is it racist to talk about Brown's abuses more often than we talk about those of less famous white men accused of the same thing. But looking at the relish with which some people seem to hurl abuse at Brown, or at his fans' lack of educations and use of street slang, it's hard not to see at least some prejudice there. There are a lot of people in this world who deserve to be called dumb assholes; why does everyone get such a kick out of doing it to Brown?
[Image via AP]