Last week at a Pep Rally in Waverly, New York, a group of students took it upon themselves to provide some entertainment for a crowd of students, teachers and parents. These white students decided to “black up” and dramatically reconstruct Chris Brown beating up Rihanna; hilarity ensued and soon the entire crowd were in fits of raucous laughter. Except for one male student who felt there was something quite uncomfortable about watching students dramatise a case of domestic violence for comic ends. The remarkable thing about this story is that only one person watching felt that there was something really wrong with this. The other shocking aspect is that the school only investigated the incident after that student had sent photos of the event to CNN.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked by this reaction to an enactment of domestic violence. When it was first reported in the press, through the release of horrific police images of the battered Rihanna, there was public outcry and a media backlash to Chris Brown who was later prosecuted for the incident. However in the years that have followed something completely different has occurred. Chris Brown has now built an immensely successful career and the public, for the most part, seems to have put his past behind him. This has been helped, in part by him somewhat embracing his “bad boy” image but also through recently being reunited with Rihanna. Now unlike many, HCX has no desire to comment upon Rihanna’s decision to get back together with Chris Brown; she is a grown woman and more than capable of making her own decisions without people entirely removed from the situation judging her.
However the media, music industry and public decision to reinstate Brown into the music business happened almost indecently fast. But it’s not just Brown who has managed to bounce back with such ease after being convicted of domestic violence; Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Mel Gibson, Alec Baldwin, Matthew Fox and Charlie Sheen have all been alleged or convicted of domestic abuse in the past, without drastically damaging their careers. Now whilst it’s not necessary to punish these men forever for their mistakes, their ability to quickly bounce back into the public eye and into mainstream culture is indicative of a wider attitude towards domestic abuse. Domestic violence will affect 1 in 4 women in their lifetime and is responsible for 2 women being killed every week. The police and the law are increasingly taking domestic violence more seriously with an emphasis upon training police officers in dealing with domestic incidents and with the conviction rate for domestic violence increasing. But incidents like the one in Waverly expose a disturbing attitude towards domestic abuse, highlighting that some take it light-heartedly. Indeed, even after the pep rally was exposed on CNN the school’s apologies centred round the “blacking up” rather than the depiction of domestic violence. It raises this question: at what point does so-called ‘comedy’ become offensive and should the media and popular culture take a stronger stance against depictions and acceptance of domestic abuse?
Photo credits: prettierthanperez.com, bbc.co.uk