Perspective: When will we stop punishing Chris Brown for his past?
Nearly eight months ago Chris Brown was photographed inside a Los Angeles courtroom. He was seated before a judge, his lawyer at his side and purple-hued hair offering a slight distraction from his solemn face and the expertly tailored black suit he wore.
The image is a familiar one. Seeing Brown sitting before a judge is what we’ve come to expect, even accept, in the years since his 2009 felony assault conviction on then-girlfriend Rihanna.
Photos from countless appearances marking the progress of his court-ordered community service or whatever run-in with the law he’s had since have continued to make his redemption in the court of public opinion a never-ending one.
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However, that March appearance closed the book on the sad, life-altering saga stemming from Brown’s crime. A judge informed the singer that he had fully satisfied the conditions of his sentence.
The case was officially closed, and he was off probation. In the eyes of the law, Brown had fully paid his debt to society.
But Brown’s past transgression has, yet again, made headlines after the singer was dropped from an appearance on “The Daily Show” and forced to cancel an Australian tour within the span of 24 hours.
Earlier this week the Daily Beast reported Brown’s planned appearance on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” -- scheduled for Tuesday -- had created internal discord.
Several staffers vented to the publication that the booking (Brown was slated to be interviewed) had become a cause for concern around the office, most likely due to the post-Rihanna bad boy image Brown has, for better or worse, embraced.
The show’s host reportedly told staff during an all-hands meeting on Monday afternoon that he hoped to use the interview to discuss domestic abuse issues, but on Tuesday the show went live without Brown.
Actor-musician Nick Cannon served as the night’s guest instead, and there was never an explanation for Brown’s absence
“Guest bookings are always subject to change,” Comedy Central said in a statement on Wednesday. “The show hopes to reschedule Chris for a future appearance.”
As news of the late show drama got picked up, there came the cancellation of the singer’s tour of Australia and New Zealand.
After warning the singer in September that it planned to issue a “notice of intention to consider refusal” into the country, Australian immigration officials denied the singer’s visa due to the Rihanna case.
Brown then withdrew his New Zealand application before immigration officials there came to a decision.
Ahead of the decision, Brown pleaded with officials to reconsider, noting he “would be more than grateful to come to Australia to raise awareness about domestic violence” and an impassioned statement was released on his behalf saying the singer had “faith that a decision will be made with the full consideration of his continued personal growth, ongoing philanthropic endeavors and desire to perform for his fans.”
“People need to understand if you are going to commit domestic violence and then you want to travel around the world, there are going to be countries that say to you: ‘You cannot come in because you are not of the character we expect in Australia,’” former Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash, now Australia’s minister for Women, previously told reporters.
Brown’s most recent flap, more than anything, is a reminder of the conflict, and even the hypocrisy, that comes with how we treat celebrities post-scandal.
But when will we stop punishing Brown for his past -- and, furthermore, revictimizing Rihanna at the sake of taking him down?
It’s a question I began to ask while clicking through recent headlines.
Yes, what he did was inexcusable, disgusting, heinous and the list goes on. However, why isn’t he allowed to move past his sin while so many other entertainers, athletes, actors and politicians -- many of whom have never been legally held accountable for their actions -- have?
Brown, sadly, isn’t the first artist to have been arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse. Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, Slash and Creed frontman Scott Stapp have all faced such charges but they aren’t defined by their (deplorable) crime the way Brown has been.
This conversation has been reignited often. Like when he performed twice on the Grammys in 2012, three years after brutally assaulting Rihanna following a pre-Grammy party, collaborating with her on multiple songs or showing up the following year as her date to the awards.
That violent incident, when Brown was just 19, shattered his image as a cute teenage heartthrob and forever altered the way we looked at him, and continues to inform how we judge him.
He was instantly demonized as a thug and no matter what success -- or trouble -- he’s found since, it’s always tied to that February night that changed the course of both his career, and Rihanna’s.
While Rihanna has forgiven the singer and, to equal scrutiny, taken him back (more than once if you kept up with their on-again, off-again status over the years) and collaborated with him (again, more than once) -- we haven’t.
Brown certainly has played in a role in his public image, with petulant and foolish behavior and an exhaustive list of stumbles.
There’s been a violent meltdown backstage at “Good Morning America,” frequent Twitter spats, a nightclub blowout with Drake, a parking lot melee with Frank Ocean, a felony assault charge (reduced to a misdemeanor) and a hit-and-run incident (the charge was dropped).
He’s also been in rehab, jail and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and complications from substance abuse.
Throughout it, though, Brown has somehow managed to pull off the unthinkable: A thriving career that’s yielded platinum singles, No. 1 albums, sold-out tours and a Grammy despite a complete mess of a personal life.
Go turn on the radio right now and see how long it is until you hear his voice. For at least the last four years he’s single-handedly remained the go-to collaborator for pop and hip-hop artists alike.
Even as Brown spent most of last year locked away (either in a Malibu rehab or behind bars), he had a smash single, “Loyal,” dominating radio.
And his last two albums, while terribly uninspired, have both been Top 10 hits and his upcoming album, “Royalty” (named after the daughter he might not have known about until she was 9 months old) will likely be a hit, too, given his track record. Award shows continue to offer him plum slots and he’s contributed more to contemporary R&B than many of his peers.
Reading Cash’s incendiary words only made me wonder why it’s not OK for him to enter the country now, but it was in 2011, when his transgression was only two years in the past and legally nowhere near close to being closed.
And “The Daily Show” kerfuffle has made me think about Rihanna far more than I have Brown. She was, after all, for lack of a better word the punchline to a set of old, mean Twitter jokes that came back to bite Noah in the butt when he landed the high-profile gig to replace Jon Stewart earlier this year.
“Rihanna is cancelling shows due to poor sales. I guess he beat her again,” he joked once, another time writing, “I woke up and my face was puffy and swollen- I looked like I was in the car with chris brown.”
Noah didn’t do anything different from countless other comedians who used the terrible incident, when both were teenagers at that, to find a laugh.
So what exactly is it that we are continuing to indict Brown for? Is it his crime, now six years behind him, or the success he’s been able to find despite his sordid past?
For more music news follow me on Twitter: @gerrickkennedy
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