I think we all know the story of Chris Brown. But if not, here’s a refresher. In February 2009 on the night of the Grammys Chris Brown attacked the singer Rihanna. Brown bit her, choked her, slammed her against a window and punched her until her nose and lip was bloody and 2 contusions swelled up on her forehead. I would not usually go into such detail, but if we shy away from what happened, we can’t have any kind of proper discussion.
After leaving Brown, Rihanna told Diana Sawyer in an interview: “When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn't be held responsible for telling them, 'Go back,' even if Chris never hit me again. Who's to say they won't kill these girls? It was a wake-up call for me, big time.”
Brown hasn’t even completed his probation and he and Rihanna are releasing 2 singles featuring collaborations with each other. Brown was invited back to this year’s Grammys and teenage girls united to tweet the healthy message of their generation that Brown could beat them up any day.
This is sad and horrifying, this attitude towards love that both Rihanna, even in the quote above, and these girls seem to have that love is about jealousy and lack of control. This notion of sacrifice on the women’s part connects with an article today in the Guardian regarding the cult of masculinity.
Chris Brown’s contribution to Rihanna’s single (which I won’t name) contains such lyrics of remorse as: "Girl I wanna F*** you right now/Been a long time/I been missing your body Give it to her in the worst way."
Let’s not even bother to wonder what the logic is behind boasting that you would fail to give a woman sexual gratification. Rihanna’s still impressed and sings: “I know you wanna bite this, it’s so enticing, remember how you did it?” Yes. Everybody does.
But, outside the sites XOJane, Jezebel and Feministing and a handful of celebrities who refused to applaud Brown's performances and win at the Grammys, it seems most people would like to conveniently forget. In 2012.
2 months in and 2012 is the year the music industry reinstated Brown as a legitimate performer deserving of awards.
A history lesson.
On the 5th of September 1921 the successful actor and comedian Fatty Arbuckle was hosting a 3 day party in his rooms at the St Francis Hotel with his friends Lowell Sherman and Fred Fischbach in San Francisco. One of the attendees was the 26 year old model and actress Virginia Rappe who was allegedly raped by Arbuckle and died days later. As is the case with most scandals we will never know quite what happened. There is much conflicting evidence, what’s interesting is the studio’s and general public’s reaction.
In the 2001 book The Girls: Sappho goes to Hollywood writer Diana McLellan describes the Arbuckle scandal:
“Fatty locked himself in a bedroom with Virginia Rappe, a Chicago model, raped her with a bottle, and ruptured her bladder. She died 5 days later. The newspapers withheld details, but the headlines said enough: ARBUCKLE ORGY / RAPER DANCES WHILE / VICTIM DIES.
The public was incensed. Women ripped down theatre screens.”
Women ripped down theatre screens.
They did not write letters to the newspapers announcing Fatty Arbuckle could asphyxiate them with his bulk and violate them with glass bottles any day. Paramount cancelled Arbuckle’s contract and his films were withdrawn from circulation.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I am not inciting violence, I am not disappointed in today’s women for not tipping over CD racks. But Brown’s label did not drop him.
After 3 trials Fatty Arbuckle was acquitted but his career never truly recovered.
We will never know the whole truth of what happened, the entire affair has been subject to Hollywood cover-up, hearsay and ultimately a case of he said, she said between Fatty Arbuckle and unreliable witness Maude Delmont.
A recent theory of what happened, suggested by author Andy Edmonds, is that Fatty Arbuckle possibly ‘accidentally’ struck Virginia’s stomach with his knee. On the assumption she had recently undergone a botched abortion the impact of Fatty’s weight could have caused damage to her already damaged internal organs.
Edmonds suggests that this explains the delirious Virginia’s reported accusations, “Arbuckle did it” and “He hurt me”.
Now whether in the pursuit of verisimilitude or otherwise, recent descriptions of the case now always mention Virginia’s alleged promiscuity and previous abortions. Wikipedia deals with Virginia’s death saying, rather dismissively:
“… while news accounts of the day depicted Rappe as an innocent victim, that was not exactly true. Subsequent witnesses testified that Rappe had for some time suffered from cystitis, and that consuming alcohol could aggravate that condition. It was also alleged that Rappe was promiscuous and that she'd had five abortions starting as early as age 16. Witnesses also testified that she'd previously suffered from venereal disease. The point in all those allegations was that her health brought on her death rather than any alleged assault.”
We know that the medical standard of illegal abortions tend not to be too high. However is it necessary to mention all of Virginia’s alleged abortions, isn’t the phrase ‘as early as’ a little charged? Even though 16 is now the age of consent.
The case of Fatty Arbuckle and Virginia Rappe caused Hollywood to react by bringing in such things as the morality contract. Its actors and actresses had to be more discreet regarding their chosen excess and indulgences in order to send out a more wholesome message to the cinema-going public.
Perhaps some of the ramifications and restrictions on what films could and couldn’t show and so on, were a little ridiculous. However the actions of both Paramount and those screen ripping women sent the message that violence against women would not be tolerated.
The other message that could be gleaned from their swift actions was that they did support Virginia Rappe. Considering what people thought about the career choice of ‘model/actress’ it was a demonstration of solidarity with someone who might not have the most innocent background but still deserved to be treated as a grown woman capable of making her own decisions.
Now, in 2012 the internet is falling over itself to excuse Fatty Arbuckle, to slut shame Virginia Rappe, to criticise Rihanna for her actions and to inform young women that Chris Brown can beat them any day.