Alright. Be warned. This is probably going to be one of my more controversial articles to date.
It’s … if not a defence of Chris Brown, then at least a stern rebuke of some of the – predominantly political – miscreants attempting to savage his touring prospects right now through the media.
Now let’s be clear about a few things: I am not a fan of Brown’s music. I am not an admirer of his admittedly occasionally somewhat impressive choreography. Despite some rough similarities in the sandpapery abrasiveness with which we conduct ourselves in the (social) media, and my own empathy for the ways in which having a mental illness like bipolar can serve to cause one to say or do occasionally *seriously* dumb things in public or in private … I find it hard to be pro-Chris Brown.
But in spite of all of that – if there’s one thing I’m even *less* a fan of than all of the above … it’s petty political point-scoring at the expense of somebody’s fractious, and hopefully repented for criminal past.
Because seriously. Call it what you will, but recent outpourings of umbrage from figures such as that noted moral and ethical compass (or, if you prefer, lodestone) Judith Collins … are not motivated by a desire to protect women, or a sincere belief in attempting to prevent any former basher of women from entering the country.
They’re grand-standing. Pure and simple.
How do I know this?
Well, consider the following:
Earlier this year, hard rock legends Motley Crue toured Auckland for the first (and, as was much of the hype, last) time.
Motley Crue features a gentleman by the name of Tommy Lee on drums.
Tommy Lee was sentenced to six months *in prison* for attacking his then-wife Pamela Anderson while she breast-fed their child. According to her, Lee had also engaged in a callous and drawn-out campaign of psychological as well as physical abuse against their children, to the point that she didn’t feel safe allowing him to be around them.
New Zealand has considerable issues with both domestic violence – and, more especially, the heinous abuse of our children … and yet nobody seemed to object when Tommy Lee was allowed into the country earlier this year to perform.
What is it that’s different between Lee and Brown? Is it the colour of their skin? Is it that the severity of Lee’s attack was serious enough to see him sentenced to a half-year’s imprisonment term while Brown’s offending was considered only odious enough to warrant community service? Is it that Lee also abused children as well as his partner?
Or is it that Motley Crue is a band far more popular with the baby boomer generation who actually go out and vote rather than us youngsters – Brown’s target market – thus rendering Lee therefore somehow utterly immune to the same degree of harsh scrutiny which gets applied to younger, blacker artists by our political Establishment.
Seriously: the more I think about it, the more it seems inescapable that that’s what the deal here is.
Consider Ozzy Osbourne. Apart from being somebody whose music I actually happen to enjoy, he was also well renowned for … attempting to kill his wife. That’s right – the self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness once woke up in a jail cell being charged with the attempted murder of his wife.
And yet whom do I see gearing up to tour New Zealand next year? Why, it’s Black Sabbath, of course!
Wonder if Judith Collins will *dare* offend her party’s prime voterbase by writing Ozzy off as “just another wife-beater” while attempting to lobby to have him barred from the country. There’d be a national outcry!
But let’s go further.
Another argument which has been advanced for barring Brown from our shores is that he’s a rolemodel – that his conduct influences others (particularly our young people), and that quite apart from keeping a “wife-beater” out of the country, his exclusion is necessary in order to ensure the proper message of condemnation of his criminal conduct is transmitted to our impressionable youth.
Well that didn’t stop Vince Neil (again, from Motley Crue) from being allowed in!
We have an epic and epidemic problem with drunk-driving here in New Zealand – yet a man who’s caused at least one death and several severe, debilitating injuries through a string of drunk-driving offences (for which he’s been sentenced to jail-time and at least $2.6 million dollars worth of restitution … not that that seems to have deterred him from reoffending repeatedly) … was once again allowed in without any problem.
So is it that we only care about domestic violence when it comes to preventing potentially negative role-models from entering our nation – and not child abuse or drunk driving? Or is it that Brown is a more obviously controversial figure – an easier villain to hate … and therefore a more ‘politically legitimate’ target for a castigationary mob mentality.
Either way, the argument that we need to bar people with problematic pasts who’re in the public eye from coming to New Zealand to perform … doesn’t seem to hold up. It just simply doesn’t get applied in anything like a consistent manner.
More importantly, I’ve had a think about this whole “rolemodel influences behavior” theory as a justification for excluding artists from our shores – and especially to the ‘youtube generation’, it just doesn’t stack up.
We’re not going to stop consuming Brown’s media and musical output simply because he’s ‘trapped’ on the other side of the Pacific. This isn’t the 1970s wherein you could, Muldoon-style, price young consumers out of encountering foreign media simply by putting a tax-hike on their records – or, for that matter, outright banning their importation.
The constraint of influence doesn’t work like that.
We’re not going to find ourselves driven to cease listening to somebody’s music – or drive them from occupying a prominent place in our public consciousness (for such, Brown undeniably does) … simply through a border-control decision.
To assume you can do so, as a politician, is *breathtakingly* naive.
Further, while it might seem *incredibly* controversial to suggest … I do believe that there are better ways to use Brown and his past in a positive way as applies domestic violence – rather than just out-right banning him from the country and hoping that’ll send the appropriate message.
Community activists including former Minister Dame Tariana Turia have already begun pointing out that where conventional approaches to getting the anti-domestic violence message out there into the public consciousness aren’t overwhelmingly working … Brown’s presence and advocacy – drawing on his past – might be able to succeed in taking the message to places it can’t ordinarily go.
I’ve also done a bit of quasi-investigative journalism on this myself and approached the people bringing Brown to New Zealand. They’ve assured me that if he’s allowed into the country, Brown will be engaging in a variety of community and advocacy activities designed to help convey a strident anti-domestic violence message to our young people.
If that’s what he actually does – and make no mistake, I’m not here to vouch for his credibility – then that’s at least a start, and of arguable greater utility to the nation than simply barring him outright.
It’s also interesting to note that the New Zealand Women’s Refuge organization has taken a similar stance – making a posting to facebook emphasizing how they’re “all about moving forward”, and stating that they hope Brown makes an effort to publicly advocate against domestic violence while he’s here.
In summary, the more I think about this situation … the more things appear to be somewhat topsy-turvy.
We’ve got an internationally followed and highly influential personage who claims to want to bring us, among other things, a message of opposition to domestic violence … yet we’re barring him from the country because we’re worried people will listen to him.
We’ve got a baying lobby for exerting stringent moral standards in whom we choose to let into New Zealand – which apparently chooses to overlook on a not infrequent basis the highly *highly* problematic pasts of other musicians … just provided they’re white and appealing to a certain more-likely-to-vote audience demographic.
And the apparent key ethical battle of the day here in our nation is being duked out between two former Minister of the Crown from the same Government … in specia, the one who sold out her people for thirty pieces of Whanau Ora – and the woman whose moral and fiscal corruption forever changed the way we, as a nation, view the phrase “crying over spilled milk”.
Meanwhile, any actual attention on the genuine and pressing issue of domestic violence is swept under the rug as we all tie ourselves up in knots debating the morality-or-otherwise of admitting we listen to the music of a man who committed a heinously violent act more than half a decade ago – and who’s since repeatedly, profusely and publicly repented for same.
I’m not going to ask how long a black mark like this hangs over someone – because quite frankly, there’s no sane, decent or logical answer. It varies according to individual perceptions and the nature of the crime – and the criminal – in question. However, the contribution an individual is able to make in undoing the harm they’ve wrought with their offending is absolutely key in helping to determine whether, when and if such a black mark should be expunged.
I’m happy to give Brown a chance to make a strong contribution to the fight against domestic violence here in Aotearoa as the ‘ticket price’ of his admission to our fine shores; and find myself in the exceptionally rare position of somewhat agreeing with Tariana Turia that there’s some potential benefit to his performing here after all.
Up next: Keith Richards and Ozzy Osbourne telling kids not to do drugs.