Hey, remember when Chris Brown beat his beloved celebrity girlfriend to the point of hospitalization, and it looked like, thank goodness, he totally wouldn't get away with it? There was a horrific police report, grisly photos, massive news coverage. It was a career-ender— the guy was over.
Yeah, well. The dude has a sweet face, and America just couldn't stay mad.
He had the big hits, the Grammy wins, but now it's finally official: in the eyes of his fans, he is truly forgiven. He's teamed up with Rihanna on two remixes, one of them an explicit sex jam. Well, that's that. She forgives him, so why can't I stop being a dick about it?
The level of grodiness is unprecedented in modern pop culture — I defy anyone to think of a creepier collaboration or a more disturbing reversal of fortune. It's hard to come up with a shittier message to send to victims of abuse, or a more encouraging one to send to violent assholes.
The media reaction is also super weird— a surprising number of outlets glossed over the implications of the team-up, or buried mentions of the 2009 incident a few inches deep. CNN's Marquee blog opened with this paragraph:
"The Internet has been buzzing that Chris Brown was going to appear on a song with his ex-girlfriend, Rihanna, but the former couple has one-upped the gossip. On Monday, they revealed that they've collaborated on not one, but two songs together."
Yes, "ex-girlfriend" and "former couple" is the leading characterization of the Brown/Rihanna relationship on one of the world's top news sources. At least they threw this in at the end: "Much of the buzz was focused on the two's communication following their highly publicized 2009 domestic disturbance before that year's Grammys show."
A domestic disturbance? Like when you hear your neighbors arguing? I seem to recall him beating her, biting her, choking her, threatening to kill her, but that was so long ago. An Associated Press story similarly started with a few paragraphs of showbiz puff before mentioning the assault. The lead: "Chris Brown and Rihanna are back together, musically speaking." Again, it sounds more like a story about Brad Pitt collaborating with Jennifer Aniston.
I'm no journalist, but why not something like, "Although Chris Brown is still on probation for assaulting Rihanna, the two have collaborated on a pair of remixes." Is that somehow less factual?
MTV went for an even-handed approach, polling the youth culture for their reactions and publishing some interesting fan comments: "People have to get past that 'incident' in '09. You guys are forgetting he has never hit Rihanna b4 that time. . . . THEY HAD A FIGHT!! Like most of us do."
Thankfully, a later MTV article showed some guts — it matter-of-factly characterized the collaboration as an example of a victim returning to her abuser, complete with comment from a domestic-violence expert: "Many victims get back with their abusers, even after an assault," said Rita Smith of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "They love them, they think they change, and abusers are particularly good at convincing you they've changed."