Deconstructing: Chris Brown, Surfer Blood, And Villainizing Entertainers

Chris Brown stayed busy these last few weeks adding to his long rap sheet of objectionable behavior. The troubled pop star launched his latest notoriety campaign the night of Sunday, Jan. 27, when he brawled with Frank Ocean over a parking space outside a Los Angeles recording studio. It is unclear who instigated the scuffle, but you could be forgiven if your first instinct was to blame Brown (a conclusion reinforced by Brown’s infantile decision to sit out the standing ovation when Ocean beat him at the Grammys). Ditto if you believed the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s 19-page report last week accusing Brown of skimping on his court-ordered community service despite Brown’s lawyer’s vehement promise that he can prove otherwise. The former teen idol has gone above and beyond to earn his reputation as a cackling movie villain with a time-bomb temper and zero shame. First came the detonation: Brown beat up his girlfriend, Rihanna, on the eve of the 2009 Grammys and Twitter screeds and defiant YouTube clips, answering those who dare question him about his history of violence with a chair through the window.

Brown’s run of unrepentant behavior has been so audaciously gratuitous that raking him over the coals has become a sport. On Facebook, Conan O’Brien recently called totalitarian North Korea “the Chris Brown of countries.” In December, The Onion posted a satirical op-ed in which Brown himself wondered how anyone could support or defend a guy like him; later, they followed the Brown/Ocean brawl with the headline “Nation Would Not Be Surprised At This Point If Chris Brown Allegedly Traveled Back In Time And Punched Anne Frank.” Their cohorts at The A.V. Club half-jokingly dubbed Brown’s pattern of repulsive activity “asshole performance art” — legendary trolling that runs the gamut from a blinged-out “Oops!” necklace to a neck tattoo that creepily resembles Rihanna’s battered face to allegedly using the pickup line “I promise not to beat you.” So yeah, he isn’t doing himself any favors.

Yet, other than a quick hiccup in the immediate aftermath of his arrest, Brown’s career has continued to flourish. When he’s not tussling with Drake in the club, the two performers have been fighting it out to see who can cram more singles into regular rotation at once. Lots of big-name rappers and singers have jumped on a track with him. Last year the Grammys welcomed him back, pulled him on stage and handed him an award. Even Rihanna took him back — with Oprah’s blessing — first publicly embracing Brown as a duet partner, then as a bed buddy. The people who worry about this stuff have devoted countless hours to wringing their hands over it, chastising #TeamBreezy for supporting the career of such a wretched person and giving Ms. “S&M” the #smh treatment for allowing her abuser a second chance.

The same day news of Brown’s fracas with Ocean broke, Surfer Blood released the first single from their forthcoming second album, Pythons. The Florida indie rockers achieved moderate breakout success for their hook-laden canonical cocktail of a debut album, Astro Coast, the kind of success that wins you an opening slot with the Pixies, a middling font on every festival poster, and your music in rotation at the PUMA Store. It was a deeply derivative yet highly enjoyable record, among 2010′s most delectable empty calories. So the arrival of the Weezerly “Weird Shapes” should have been an occasion for shrugs and blank stares at worst. Instead, it forced Tom and the commentariat to grapple once more with frontman John Paul Pitts’s alleged pattern of violence toward his girlfriend, which came to light last year when Pitts pleaded no-contest to a domestic charge that involved pinning her to the bed and attempting to shove his fingers in her mouth. And grapple they did! While some corners of the internet rushed to tar and feather Pitts, a thoughtful debate simmered here: Where do we draw the line between an artist’s reprehensible behavior and his art? How we decide who gets demonized and who gets a free pass? “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” but what to do about the sinner’s hit record?

These are old questions — like, Wilhelm Richard Wagner old — but they’re as relevant as ever in the ultra-sensational, hyper-judgmental era of internet comment wars and the 24-hour news cycle. Every controversy, pseudo-controversy, and non-controversy is analyzed and reanalyzed, butted and rebutted, raked over repeatedly until it disappears into static like one of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. Prolonged exposure, debate and dissection blurs into a wave of noise. Eventually that wave crashes and recedes, washing away the initial emotional response and the nuanced conversation, leaving behind a normalized, oversimplified, crowdsoured conventional wisdom. Consider the Manti Te’o scandal: tweet proved prophetic: “The longer the inquiry into what Manti did or didn’t know, the further we get from the point of that @Deadspin story.”

So it went with teenage Interscope signee Chief Keef after he used Twitter to laugh at the gang-related murder of rival Chicago rapper Lil JoJo. Gang violence depicted in rap music, a phenomenon so deeply entrenched that it barely registers anymore, had suddenly snapped back to real life, with teenagers as the key players in the bloodbath. Seemingly everyone with even a marginal interest in hip-hop, gang culture, and the urban poor chimed in to demonize or defend Keef. Longtime Chicago music critic Jim DeRogatis chided Kanye West and Interscope for giving Keef a voice, then proclaimed that Keef should be condemned for his lyrics the same as if he released a song about the glories of Sandy Hook. At Gawker, Mychal Denzel Smith blamed Keef’s culture for spurring self-hatred: “No one teaches black boys to love ourselves until it’s raining.” At Complex, David Drake and David Turner rejected the notion of Keef as Interscope’s puppet and called on readers to view him not as an avatar for societal problems but as a fallible-yet-responsible human being. Word counts kept piling up, the moralizers smugly and solemnly passing judgment, the reformers mournfully decrying the societal ills that hardened Keef’s heart, those seeking to bump “Love Sosa” with a clear conscience squirming their way to a rationale.

There wasn’t much clarity to be found atop the mountain of information and opinions, yet a culture consumer has to stake his or her tent somewhere. As someone who identifies with Tom’s enjoyment of Keef’s music but also thinks DeRogatis’s critique isn’t entirely off base, there was cognitive dissonance aplenty. My initial reaction to JoJo’s death was that “I Don’t Like” was ruined. How could I enjoy this music having glimpsed what kind of darkness was brewing behind it? That kind of thinking sent me on the same slippery slope that emerged in the Surfer Blood comments. If I were to discard Chief Keef, what else would have to go? How much of my iTunes library was tainted? Where is the line between excusable and inexcusable musicians? Should that line be fudged depending on the quality of the music? It’s all more than a little murky.

Ultimately, I kept blaring Keef’s music, and I don’t intend to stop listening to Surfer Blood or Chris Brown either, as long as their songs keep pleasing my ears. For one thing, I’m uncomfortable with blacklisting certain artists as “the bad guys.” Maybe it’s backlash from my prior experience in a Christian bubble, but discarding the “evil people”’s music seems hermetic and judgmental. There’s a wide world of creation out there, and once I start rooting out the creators whose character offends me in some way, I quickly find myself rocking out to silence on an exceptionally high horse. If we’re going to pronounce that a person’s music should now be ignored because of his or her crimes, why not hand out scarlet letters, too? And let’s be sure not to sit in any chairs built by murderous carpenters. Still, there is a lingering pull toward singling out and villainizing those who have so blatantly flogged the conscience, a curdling of the stomach that comes from doling out money and attention to someone whose infractions against humanity are so overt and/or ongoing. There is an inherent aspect of hero worship in pop music, and nobody wants to worship a criminal. Except, uh, our culture worships criminals all the time.

It reminds me of the longstanding conversation about TV drama’s recent “Golden Age.” We’re long past good guys in white cowboy hats and bad guys in black cowboy hats. Now we root for charismatic protagonists from Tony Soprano to Don Draper even as they exploit, abuse and even murder those close to them. No show exemplifies this phenomenon better than Stereogum readers’ favorite series, Breaking Bad. We threw our sympathies behind Walter White, a pathetic weakling schoolteacher and terminal cancer patient nobly dipping into dirty business to provide for his family, only to watch him become a man willing to murder children to get what he wants. He’s decidedly a villain now, yet a part of me still sympathizes with Walter and cheers when he manages to will himself out of a corner. Grantland’s Andy Greenwald nails it: “The central conceit of Breaking Bad and, really, all of these lauded cable shows about complicated men is that personal interests trump those of the society. On Mad Men, Sons Of Anarchy, hell, even Copper, we never stop caring about our heroes’ survival, even as others suffer. Tony Soprano was a sympathetic criminal, happiest when eating onion rings with his family, not betraying them. Breaking Bad, by contrast, explodes the fallacy that any good can come from evil; by setting us up to wish otherwise, it makes the viewer complicit in the criminality.” The fourth wall makes for a comfortable buffer, but we don’t pump our fists for real-life Walter Whites; we just wave them angrily.

Something similar is going on in music. The pop charts are, obviously, a playground for misogyny, violence, greed, exploitation, ego-tripping, and plenty of other behavior ostensibly condemned by society. Give or take an angry PTA parent or moralistic politician, this stuff is happily consumed and widely celebrated. Put the same content in a viral video or a TMZ headline, though, and watch the outrage unfold. There is a steep disconnect at play, and I’m as guilty as anybody. Lil Wayne and Drake’s “She Will,” for instance, is basically the story of two superstars plotting to use their money and power to manipulate strippers into fucking them. In real life, if I witnessed some skeezy rapper convincing a girl to whore herself out, I’d be upset about it. Phrase it in evocative slang, set it to a crystalline hook, and plop it into sweeping, darkly seductive Noah “40″ Shebib production, though? Suddenly it feels like something else, a morally ambiguous fantasy world to be explored and enjoyed from a safe distance. It’s easy to detach yourself from the content and vibe out. Back when my wife and I were dating, we blasted “She Will” constantly on the car stereo. This creeper anthem was the closest thing we had to “our song.” We even joked about making it the first dance at our wedding. Had those guys showed up at the reception and started scheming about how to use the bridesmaids as their temporary playthings, the joke would be over real fast.

We have a tendency, it seems, to suspend judgment on morally questionable art when it entertains us only to dole out judgment mercilessly — and distance ourselves rapidly — when its content spills into real life. Conventional wisdom says people like Chris Brown and John Paul Pitts need to pay, that their crimes against humanity merit justice beyond what the courts can dole out. And in a sense they will pay; their violence against women will always be hanging over their heads, all the way to the obituary. Accountability is important. Those in power should be scrutinized. Evil should be exposed. Justice should be served. Certainly any Brown supporter trying to argue that he has changed or that he is misunderstood is ignoring the facts. But I can’t abide the notion that he and Pitts should no longer be allowed to profit from recording a great pop single, that their music is more tarnished than anybody else’s just because they’ve stumbled in such extreme and public fashion. Where is the point of no return, the border between excusable human error and blacklist-worthy offense? If these guys’ sins are unforgivable, why not yours?

I understand the difference between singing about something and doing it, and I understand that arts and entertainment can be a means for exploring those dark caverns of the soul, for tinkering with our moral compass. I’m not trying to protest that kind of experience. Nor am I arguing that Brown or Pitts beating up their girlfriends is anything but abhorrent, or that they should “get away with it.” What each of those men did was a blot on our species, so of course it affects our perception of their music. But we’ve all got our blots, you know. The fact that we need art as an outlet for our less wholesome impulses proves that none of us is so pure. Given how frequently our culture looks to the dark side for stimulation, I wonder how much of the bile being spewed at villainized entertainers is simply fear of seeing ourselves in them. How often do we try to distance ourselves from our worst impulses by loudly and dramatically condemning them in other people? What better way to feel like heroes than by singling out a few convenient villains? We can play high and mighty when shit gets real, call for some kind of justice where the “bad” musicians don’t get to have successful careers anymore. But any lines we draw about whose music is tainted seem arbitrary to me, particularly in a culture that celebrates moral ambiguity. Where is the line between Chris Brown and, say, that angelic beacon of truth and wisdom Frank Ocean? If “Wiseman” is anything to go on, Ocean would probably argue there is no line. He’d be absolutely right.

Comments (114)
  1. This issue comes up for me every single time I listen to and thoroughly enjoy Burzum’s music. He has horrible views, is a convicted murderer and arsonist and seems like a truly repugnant human being in many lights. However, he creates music that I adore.

    Sad as it is, these sort of artists make me thankful for illegal downloading and used music sales. If I can procure the music without directly supporting someone so despicable, somehow it feels a little bit better. I guess? It’s a rock (or R&B) and a hard spot.

    • You know, I’m gonna write one of these when the next Burzum comes out because I actually think this issue gets 10x grayer and less comfortable when you put the focus on black metal (not limited to Burzum but he’s obviously the poster boy for the genre’s worst elements).

  2. Michael_  |   Posted on Feb 13th, 2013 +13

    I’m just happy this was a Deconstructing piece and not an In Defense Of.

    • Michael_  |   Posted on Feb 13th, 2013 +13

      For real, though I don’t think there’s an answer to this topic — Maybe more and more questions. It’s something that differs for each and every one of us personally in terms of how far is too far, at what point you stop forgiving, etc. Some people can’t deal with friends who are always drunk messes, while others have zero tolerance for that and don’t even bother with having someone like that in their lives.

      I think a lot of this differs by genre as well. Pop musicians like Breezy have it easier because of their fame and a culture of starfuckers. Then there are stories like that of a a few years back, where Brooklyn hardcore-noise band Drunkdriver were gaining considerable buzz, had a debut album coming out that was probably going to make them a breakthrough, and then lo and behold, it turns out the drummer’s past as an alleged rapist caught up with him (He also played in Wives, the band that would become No Age, but for the same reasons of his alleged actions, Dean and Randy kicked him out.) Nobody would play shows with the band if they were on the lineup, the band broke up immediately and the album never got released. Lesson: The DIY punk scene can be righteous and unforgiving in that regard.

      • I think there is a simple answer to this.

        We really can separate his personal problems from his art. Do you like his songs? Are his songs violent or encouraging of it? These are the only relevant questions when it comes to his music.

        Lets look at the reality that we know of Pitts situation. The dude locked himself in the bathroom, threatening to hurt himself before he beat up his girlfriend. He clearly has trouble controlling himself. We don’t know how much remorse he does or doesn’t have. We can never know what really went into his actions. It’s also none of our business.

        If we listen to Nirvana or Elliott Smith, does that mean we are promoting suicide? I don’t think so. I also am not a huge fan of surfer blood, but that has little to do with his personal problems.

  3. Excellent, thoughtful piece on a very relevant question. Nicely done.

  4. I just really want to know what led Pitts to want to force his fingers into his girlfriend’s mouth.

    • she swallowed the key to his hope chest

    • Yeah its weird, but lets look at the reality that we know of. The dude also locked himself in the bathroom, threatening to hurt himself before he beat up his girlfriend. He clearly has trouble controlling himself. We don’t know how much remorse he does or doesn’t have. We can never know what really went into his actions. It’s also none of our business.

      We really can separate his personal problems from his art. Do you like his songs? Are his songs violent or encouraging of it? These are the only relevant questions when it comes to his music.

      If we listen to Nirvana or Elliott Smith, does that mean we are promoting suicide? I don’t think so. I also am not a huge fan of surfer blood, but that has little to do with his personal problems.

  5. This is the best ‘Deconstructing’ yet. Really thoughtful insights on the nature of personal / public, fame and the relationship between art and artist. I think most of it’s been said before, even on this site, but this article really ties it all together. But I would say that, in my experience, life is more about how you do things than what you do. And that seems to be reflected in your point about Chris Brown; it’s the brazenness with which he promotes himself via his history of violence that really grates. When and if people are held to account, as you say above, the public expects / demands that they apologise (private people expect the same thing, usually), and then that they act better in future to show they mean it. That opens up another question of moral standard I guess; what is wrong, and what punishment is fitting; is full redemption possible.

    That said, not everyone enforces moral standards within themselves. A lot of people get away with a lot of things a lot of the time, because they know how to do it, and they know how not to get caught, and they want to do things that others might think twice about, or see as “bad”. People are more dangerous when they are under the radar, and you don’t know what to expect from them. In some ways the people who get caught are the least dangerous; at least you know what to expect from them, and what they are capable of. You bring up that Breaking Bad example — in that case a lot of the drama and excitement in that show was generated by never knowing how far Walter was willing to go, and always seeing him go further, changing, becoming more ruthless. Whereas all Brown seems to be doing is becoming a cartoon of himself; an image trading on his criminal record. Is he actually really dangerous? He’s almost too famous to be, too removed from normality. He’s beginning to resemble a pantomime villain more than anything now. You could say that he was already famous before the Rihanna attack though, and that still happened.

  6. Nobody is as bad as the worst thing they’ve done.

  7. The thing is these people haven’t done anything to make up for what they’ve done, no desire to repay in a social form for the harm they’ve inflicted, not even a proper apology for their crime. They hurt people, in real, tangible, scaring ways, and simply because they make something we enjoy, it should be OK to support them and what they make? I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. Simple making something enjoyable or interesting or great should not excuse actions, and we should hold people like Chris Brown or John Paul Pitts to the same standard that we do anyone else who commit these actions. Maybe once they begin to repair what they’ve done, to remove themselves from their actions, we can go back to appreciating what they’re making. But to throw up your hands and say something along the lines of “These things happen, and we should allow for the split between art and artist to allow for it”, to me, seems wrong and akin to avoiding the issue.

  8. In my opinion, art is about harvesting humanity to generate representations of the human consciousness. It doesn’t really matter who taps into our collective consciousness to create compelling art, what matters is that the art provides a function to us. It is by now a cliche to say that we should separate art from artist, but I think it holds true because art can often transcend the artist. It is a separate argument whether or not we want to support a person’s music, if we consider said person deplorable.

    • Most artists exist in a weird dichotomy nowadays, though, where their art is both “art” and a “commodity”. We can separate art from artist but commodity shouldn’t be separated from producer. I guess what that means is that it’s ok to like Chris Brown’s music as long as you don’t support him in any way?

  9. As I get older, I find myself less mystified by the concept of pop culture having an actual effect on people psychologically. For the most part, I’m pretty happily free of hero worship when it comes to most artists. There are some people that I’d get nervous/self-concious around, but by and large I’m rarely infatuated with anyone. Now, I don’t think there’s some kind of direct line of causation between teenage girls going giddy over Chris Brown and then growing up to tolerating being battered or being in an abusive relationship in the first place. However, wouldn’t we be rightfully disturbed to see how his charm and fame overtake what should cause serious consternation among our daughters? I don’t think people should get caught up in vitriolic fury over Brown, because it’s just not terribly healthy, but when awful behavior just doesn’t seem to register ANY reaction from young fans, let alone that behavior turned into some kind of cutesy-sick joke, I think that has to be addressed pro-actively, in a more intelligent and effective way than just banishing all knowledge of Chris Brown.

    • There was a compilation of tweets a few months ago, I believe on Buzzfeed, of Brown fans saying they want him to beat them, because they love him so much. It was really terrifying to read.

  10. Really interesting article. I think the debate becomes much simpler when the antagonist/artist is dead. Then the conundrum of giving money to Chris Brown/Wagner etc (it’s nice that this is the only way they’ll ever be compared together) is essentially removed.

    The difficulty is with let’s say Surfer Blood, if you happen to love their first album and post-beating want to order a vinyl of it, you know you will be directly contributing to the fortune (especially in Brown’s case) of a criminal.

  11. My problem with Chris Brown is not so much the person himself, but the culture in which these Top 40 pop stars thrive in. You listen to 90% of the lyrics in ANY pop song, and you end up expecting this kind of behavior out of people like Chris Brown. Rihanna is just as guilty. I don’t mean to be THAT guy, but the majority of the fans for TOP 40 is kids, teenagers, and high-schoolers, all of which are very impressionable. What kind of message does this behavior send? What, that you can act like a total jacksass 24/7, beat your significant other to a pulp and she’ll still come crawling back to you? After all this, Brown is invited to perform at the Grammy’s 3 TIMES (see last year), as well as various other appearances. People who don’t know any better think this is cool and that this is alright. Just look at the post Grammy tweets from girls saying they’d let Chris Brown beat them up. Disgusting! This, among other things, is a main reason why I can’t stand this pop-music culture that has grown within the past decade.

    • Please clarify what you mean by “Rihanna is just as guilty”. That statement has some SERIOUS implications. Are you saying that her lyrical content is partly to blame for creating a nasty celebrity culture, or are you implying that she is somehow to be blamed for what happened to her? I really hope it’s the former…

  12. I just realized something. The photo above the article is the literal realization of the phrase “chilling like a villain.”

  13. What about a dude on dude beat down? We still love Jack White and he did this…

    • Some of us love Jack White BECAUSE he did that

      • because he settled a disagreement over money (as best as i can recall) by beating the shit out of a guy? i sincerely hope you’re kidding.

        • I think it had more to do with “producer credit” than it did money which is even worse

          • Another fun fact, this was at Brendan Benson show at the Magic Stick in Detroit, which, if memory serves, the Greenhornes were serving as opening act meaning all four Raconteurs were in attendance 3 years before they existed

        • I went back and looked at what Jack White had to say about this. He said that he had endured this guy talking smack about him behind his back for two years. Meg added that she thought Jack had actually exercised a lot of restraint in the matter. Jason Stollsteimer went out of his way to exploit the fight, and his manager (who also took the photo) mailed the photo to the NME the next morning. Jason was the one who initiated the physical contact; he grabbed Jack by his hair hard enough to pull out some of it. In addition to the obvious black eye, Jack gave him a bloody nose. Jason refused to wash off the blood before the photo was taken, the reason being that he wanted the photo to be as sensationalistic as possible.

        • I hve to remind myself sarcasm doesn’t read very well on the internets. Even so, I’m only partially kidding. (I agree with Michael Hanna’s response below.)

    • Wash his face and he’d just have a black eye. He milked it.

    • We do this with lots of artists. Surfer Blood is a pretty average band, with one alright album. So they get treated with disdain and outright venom once you hear about the lead singer’s genuinely horrible actions. Christ Brown on the other hand is a great singer and dancer and fantastically popular, therefore he gets a free pass on the same issue.
      And its not just consumers that are guilty. The critical establishment is just as bad about handing out free passes. David Bowie remains hugely popular because of his exemplary run of great music, but we forget his flirtation with fascism, and his arrest at the Russian/Polish border for possessing Nazi paraphernalia. No one cares that the Thin White Duke had a Hitler fetish during the 70s, because his music is so great. We’re all guilty of this. Burroughs, Wagner, Polanski, hell people still cheer on the Penn State Nittany Lions, and they had an institutionalized system of denial that their def. co was a child rapist. Greatness begets a special kind of forgiveness.

      • I’m glad you mentioned Roman Polanski, because he’s the main artist that came to my mind reading this article. I really love his movies, but every time I watch one I have that thought in the back of my mind: “How guilty should I feel for being a fan of his movies?” Obviously the source of this uncertainty is his rape/sexual assault of a 13 year old girl. But then my mind tries to do some sort of balancing act where I think “Well, his wife was murdered, and he had a difficult childhood growing up in the Krakow Ghetto,” events which of course have no real bearing or relationship to his sexual assault case. But it’s like I have to think about his own hardships in order to humanize him in my mind. And the fact that I’m willing to make the effort to humanize him stems from the fact that he makes great art, whereas I would not bother to make such an effort to humanize a lesser artist, and instead choose to dismiss them.

        What this article seems to point out so well is that we can find ways to humanize any artist we like, while solely paying attention to the crimes of artists we don’t like or don’t care about, especially when the media only focuses on those bad things. I mean, I doubt Chris Brown really does many saintly things in his private life, but we still view him through a somewhat distorted or limited lens.

        Getting back to Polanski, one thing that boggles my mind is that some of his movies call attention to rape/sexual assault/incest (Repulsion, Chinatown), and then he went and did it himself! I guess it’s a tragically ironic case of “love the artwork/hate the artist,” or at least “love the artwork/don’t worship the artist.”

        • you forgot Devil date rape…………Rosemary’s Baby

        • Take this line of thought a bit further and you end up somewhere interesting: why can’t we (speaking of States-dwellers here) make the same effort to humanize criminals that AREN’T artists? Our country is willing to execute minors and also willing to idolize girlfriend-beaters. It’s a bit schizoid. IMO, the degree to which we glorify artists is the inverse of the degree to which we allow the dehumanization of the people around us in everyday life. I doubt many people would come straight out and say “artists deserve more leeway because they’re artists,” but it is implicit in any discussion like this, for the very reason that we’re talking about Chris Brown – as if HE really matters, as opposed to the say, hundreds of millions of other people who are not Chris Brown. And in the end, don’t THOSE people have a more direct impact on our actual lives, and deserve more of our efforts at understanding? I appreciate the writer’s attempt to grapple with this issue, but it seems like his guilty conscience led him to over-consider one angle while neglecting another.

        • I rationalize watching Roman Polanski movies by telling myself I’m enjoying more talents than just those of Polanski. I mean are we just supposed to forget about Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway’s performances in Chinatown because of Polanski? It would be erasing too many other histories to punish one guy. I dunno. I’m usually pretty harsh in judging artists by their personal lives, but hot damn I love Chinatown.

          Which is to say I don’t think there can ever be clearcut way to answer this. Everyone is going to have their rules and contradictory exceptions. The only wrong approach is to NEVER take the artist’s personal life into account, or to ALWAYS hold artists to an impossible standard of morality. I dunno. I’ve avoided commenting on here because I feel like i’ve said everything I could possibly say when this topic has come up on other threads. But that’s my two cents.

  14. As far as the music goes, it bothers me somewhat but if the person makes good music, I usually listen anyway. The thing I hate more about famous and rich people who do shitty things is when it’s obvious that this happened and yet they don’t get punished. There’s a lot of inequality in the legal system that really disgusts me.
    As far Cheif Keef goes in particular, I usually find myself more worried for the guy than critical of him. Yeah the JoJo thing was a Jackass thing to do, but he’s a young kid who’s grown up in a city with one of the highest murder rates in the world, and his music does no thing more than reflect the ugly shit going on there. It certainly isn’t causing the violence, and it’s actually making it something more well known. In the words of Chuck D “Hip-Hop is the CNN of the ghetto” and the only real way to change the drugs and guns talk is if we as a nation decide to actually make a change and stop ignoring the issue.

  15. This is a great piece. I haven’t had a ton of my personal favorite artists stir this kind of inner moral debate within me, but one of my all time favs could be a poster child for this topic: Michael Jackson.
    I’ve loved MJ my entire life, but it definitely got hard to justify from the 90′s on, because of this very dilemma. My excuse was usually “Hey, sometimes the craziest people make the best art.” which I still think can be true to some degree, but would I say the same about Chris Brown? Probably not, but that has a lot to do with the fact that he’s a public douchebag (and I don’t really like his music). Like you mentioned, the ones that seem to get hated on the most are the ones that flaunt it publicly. No matter what Chris Brown has done to right his wrongs, his image is that of a complete and total asshole and it is so easy to hate him because of that. MJ got accused of some serious things, and was definitely more than a little “wacky.” But he wasn’t a public douchebag either. There were elements of MJ’s personality that allowed for some sympathy.
    Someone above said this is a hard question to answer, and I agree. It’s obviously up to the individual. But if I’m going to invest in someone’s art despite their moral flaws, it better be some DAMN GOOD ART. MJ fit into that category. Chris Brown? Hell no.

    • (When I say “despite their moral flaws” I’m referring more to the blatant and serious ones that get thrown around in the media, of course.)

  16. I am a huge Beatles fan and a minor scholar in Beatles-stuff. But I also realize how much of a dick Lennon was, and how Harrison cheated on his first wife like a bastard. Hero worship is a tough disease that ends badly most of the time. Why do our brains expect great artists to be great people? A lot of great historical figures do terrible things contrary to the great things they’re commended for.

    • I really hope Chris Brown decides to pick a fight with Lil’ B, inducing a world twitter war between the Task Force and Team Breezy that ends in the BasedGod touching the hearts of all the twitterverse and using his Based energy to reduce Chris Brown to the ugly slime that he is inside, and then all the wars end and the BasedGod rides into Jerusalem on a white donkey and takes his rightful place as the Messiah who brought peace and love to all the earth, even the haters.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • I dunno, I don’t think this kind of smug, sanctimonious moralising is anything to celebrate. It turns my stomach.

  17. That picture of Brown and Rihanna is so sad.

  18. I’ve always referred to this sort of separation of an artist’s behavior and art as the “Kanye rule.” The main point being that, even if I think (or know) that the artist is a dick/criminal/misogynist/insert-any-negative-character-trait, I won’t let that get in the way of enjoying their art.

  19. Honestly, I think it does depend on the quality of the art. Wagner did things for music that no one else could have, and so I’m inclined to ignore his personal failings. I don’t listen to Burzum, but based on the innovation of the art I can understand a persuasive argument for the other side. But Chris Brown and Surfer Blood are both artists intent mostly on recreation–Surfer Blood of traditionalist indie rock, Brown of Michael Jackson. If all you’re after is a formula, why not go to the source? Listen to Michael Jackson. Or any of his other imitators. I’m not sure why we need to forgive the sins of a knock-off artist. Morally, that’s an easy one for me. I’ll just listen to other competent guitar rock. Obviously, the okay-if-you’re-an-innovator thing isn’t standing on the firmest ground, but I do feel strongly that there’s really no difficulty when you’re only providing something that can be gotten by many other means. Like you said, that Surfer Blood album is empty calorie art.

  20. If this discussion gets people to think critically about the art/artists they enjoy (and presumably financially support in their enjoyment), then I’m all for that. I don’t like what Chris Brown did, and I don’t really care for his music, but the discussion can’t just focus on his behavior (in a way that seems to reinforce negative stereotypes about people of color) while giving white people who do the same things (especially critically-acclaimed and celebrated ones) a free pass. It is also possible to be a person of conscience and enjoy problematic things from time to time… doesn’t make them a bad person, unless said person refuses to learn from their mistakes and acknowledge their privileges.

  21. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.

  22. The only artist whose music I’ve ever listened to is Wagner, though I’m sure I’ve tuned out Brown or Rhianna at a ballgame or some other public space. Loves me some Ike Turner and Miles Davis, though.

  23. No. Just no. The difference between Wagner, Carravagio, Hemingway, Polanski, George Harrison and any of the other artists who have done awful things – is that those infractions have little to no relationship to the reasons WHY they are celebrated as artists or public personas. In Chris Brown’s case, there is a disturbing symmetry between the infraction and the reasons WHY people like him: A guy who beat on his girlfriend is subsequently worshipped and adored FOR his “hunkiness.”

    That’s something that deserves a special category – and while I commend this piece for raising interesting questions about the relationship between art and the artist, its weak, subjectivist “who are we to judge?” conclusion seems like a punt.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • Who are you to draw the line on adddo drawing the line? This is where you start to lose me. There is a massive difference between pronouncing judgement on someone (IE “They are an irredeemably bad person, different from me in some distinct way, and thus lower than me morally.) and saying “I cannot in good conscience support this artist because I think it is unjust to do so based on their crimes. I don’t want to financially validate the glorification of gang violence.” I don’t think someone is wrong if they can separate the art and the artist, but I would think someone is justified if they see a real problem with giving money to someone who is potentially profiting in direct relation to their wrongdoing. Simply saying “I’m finite and flawed and thus cannot make an objective moral decision about what to do with my money and time in regards to art.” is way too flimsy, and it’s hypocritical to criticize someone else for doing the opposite.

      • Listen, I live according to a set of values. Those values are the standards for my actions. I used to LOVE Pizza Hut; they served the greatest, junkiest, Americanized pizza. Oh, meat-lovers’ pan pizza. Then I found out that they were hooked up with Taco Bell, the same company that won’t pay their tomato pickers diddly. I haven’t eaten there since. The same goes for Wal-Mart, who have connections to sweatshops and discriminate against female employees. When I heard about that, I stopped going there. It’s been eight years, and God, it has been hard. I miss my Dyna-Mocha and Double Fudge Yoo-Hoo so much! My point is not that I am some infallible being; it’s that values are not values if they don’t govern your actions and that sometimes that means sacrificing something you enjoy. Every artist I like has done something wrong because they are human beings, but if you have thought about what you believe and particularly the effect of opportunistic and predatory actions on others, then you begin to develop an internal scale of wrongness. Kant, who is one of the most revered philosophers, spoke of using intent to calculate the moral value of an action. I don’t require the artists I like to be saints, but they ought to be decent enough people, someone whose presence would not repulse me. That means no domestic violence, rape, or murder. It’s hard to know if someone has cheated on his/her spouse if if s/he is not a really famous person, but I do read a lot of interviews and try to steer clear of those people as well. The fact is, I form deeply personal connections to my music. I don’t want to support someone who has something rotten at their core if I can avoid it, not only because I would never want to pay the bills of that sort of person in my everyday life either but because, for me, loving an album is like forging a spiritual connection with another human being. To me, that is the value of art, and I don’t want to have any kind of connection with someone who is manipulative and self-serving. That would be a false connection anyway because that is not the sort of person I am. Does this make my listening life complicated sometimes? Yeah, it can, especially if I only find out about one of my designated “dealbreaker” behaviors well after I am into the band. The Beatles are the best example of this. I fell in love with their music at a very young age. When I found out much later that John had hit Yoko and that George had ruined Ringo’s first marriage, I didn’t know what to do with all that. I guess I still don’t, but the Beatles are the one case where I have bought their music after hearing about something like that. Thinking about this stuff and acting accordingly is just about trying to be as true to yourself as possible and trying to support good people as much as possible, and it is totally ridiculous to say, “Who are we to judge?” Every single person that has any values is constantly evaluating the world and forming judgments. It is unavoidable, and the process of forming judgments is valuable because if no one did, then no one would be able to act in a way that was good or see the value in doing so. Whatever difficulty science has had in accounting for it, the conscience is widely acknowledged as something real, and it is the faculty that forces us to unconsciously form judgments about actions. More curious though, is the way that so many humans across very different cultures agree that certain actions are right and certain actions are wrong. Make of that what you will…

        • I agree with Gmarley about the difference between outright judging a person and opting to withdraw your support. That’s a good point. It’s fair for you guys to take a pass on supporting artists that breach your conscience. Everybody has to live by their own conviction. What I take greater issue with is using certain human beings as avatars for evil so that we can feel like the good guys or designating people who have failed in extreme ways as “those people” whose presence would “repulse” us — particularly when M. Hanna admits outright that he can’t live by his values consistently.

          • I totally agree with your main point. The danger of exiling someone from the moral community is in the risk of the exiled becoming more resolute in their wrongdoing. We all need validation, and when condemnation becomes severe enough, “me vs the world” can result in self-validation and a distrust of everyone else. I think Sarah Palin was a good example of this. She was obviously misguided and not someone anyone should emulate, but it became ok for everyone to be absolutely brutal towards her, and it just fueled the flames and the brutality increased in proportion to her self-assertion. We eventually allowed a woman to be called a cunt publicly, and derision about a mentally handicapped child was just fine. That’s totally regressive and has no place in a moral society. We became less thoughtful, more self-righteous and ended up betraying our own standards of behavior and what is socially acceptable and it accomplished nothing.

          • Well, I would say I have been painfully consistent in living according to my musical values, barring the one noted exception. As for other moral considerations, I’m sorry, but some people are just not capable of certain actions. I would never cheat on anyone. My word is good, and I’m real. If I want to end a relationship, I end it face to face and make a clean break. So if I call cheaters “those people,” that’s why. If there is anything to you, certain behaviors should disgust you. If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.

          • Michael: I think you’re touching on a huge fallacy in today’s broad thinking. “Don’t judge others.” is a very important moral concept, I just think it’s hugely abused. We simply cannot avoid judging behavior, to the point where I think people are much more in tune to an objective moral framework than most moral relativists are willing to admit. When someone does something wrong I think it’s necessary to communicate that, there just doesn’t have to be judgement of that person to point out that they are doing wrong. I think you’re flirting with personal judgement, because you seem to be saying that it takes a certain kind of person to be capable of a certain kind of wrong, and that’s true only in a relative sense. Environment effects emotional reaction to moral concepts. I think it’s too reductionistic to say a person’s choices are entirely produced by environment, but it’s just as reductionistic to say everyone is solely responsible for their tendencies. To not judge someone is to understand they may have circumstances that make right choices more difficult, but it does no one any good to alienate them from the dignity of responsibility. Wayne Coyne should say “I have to be honest, fidelity to my wife is very difficult in these situations which are increasingly hard to avoid, take that as a warning” instead of just saying “Well, I’m here and therefore I can do what I please.” (if that’s actually what he’s saying)

            The case of Chris Brown is actually perfect. We do not want to consider that this is a young kid suddenly surrounded by sycophants and a ton of money that has clearly aggravated a displaced sense of self-importance and a lack of responsibility. He 100% should not have hit Rihanna, but it’s much more frightening to consider that he might not have done that if he were in an environment that engendered humility and maturity than it is to say “What a monster, I’m very different from him.” I don’t feel a great deal of pity for him at all, but to think that he’s just a human of some other sort than me is simply me protecting myself from identifying my own moral struggles and their sources.

          • @Michael Hanna

            “I would never do that” is what everybody says until they do it. Sometimes they keep saying it afterwards.

          • Zygmunt, I’m sorry to hear that you have relinquished your autonomy to some unseen force.

          • Ha, it’s not that. The opposite in fact. If you do not set standards for yourself, you retain your ability to adapt to situations. You can then do anything, which is hardly sacrificing autonomy. It’s about being pragmatic, not dogmatic. I would say that living against some kind of code or value system which includes absolute, black and white rights and wrongs is more of a sacrifice of autonomy; unless you can change the parameters of that system at any time, in which case, what’s the point of having it?

        • I like this argument – it’s true, everyone has the right to make their own moral choices, but you can’t complain about the world you live in when the choices you make contribute to the propogation of a world you don’t agree with.

          The Violentacrez debacle is the perfect example of this – he refused to accept that people are responsible for their actions. Internet anonymity is not a human right. You can consume and post and do whatever you want as a free human being, but you are not invincible against what happens when your actions create a situation you don’t like.

          So when it comes to music or any entertainment – again, you are free to consume and contribute to whatever you like. If you don’t feel any moral responsibility for giving Chris Brown money, then go ahead, but the world you created is one where you gave Chris Brown money.

          I am however curious how you feel about ideas – consumption of art and entertainment is one thing, but an idea propagated is much harder to rationalize. How do you say “well the socratic method is pretty decent, but he liked young boys, soooo pretty much all of critical thinking is off limits.”

          • A person who is clearly more bad than good can still have a good thought. A good thought can have value independent of the person who created it, and one can appreciate the value of the thought and apply it in positive ways in the world without admiring or in any way supporting the person who had the thought. I do not think this is the case with art. Art, and particularly my own experience of it, is very personal. The whole self is required to make art. Anyone go from point A to point B to point C and have a rational thought. A process of rational thought is cold like a math problem. It reveals a truth; it can even reveal emotional truths, but the process itself is divorced from emotion or identity.

          • Throwing around statements like “I would never do that” seems like risky business to me.

          • Yeah, well, if I were the sort of person who would essentially give myself a pass to act however I want all the time by saying morality is something totally arbitrary to which no human being could possibly have access, it would be risky. I remember reading an interview with Wayne Coyne where he was saying that this Flaming Lips song was about how we can never really know how we would act in certain situations. I immediately thought, wow, this is someone who is not very hard on himself, who doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions and who would like to convince everyone else that they cannot control their baser urges because he either has no conscience or he just doesn’t feel like listening to his conscience all the time. Guess what? I later found out Wayne Coyne is known to sleep with groupies. He has given himself a pass to sleep with whomever when his wife isn’t around. I’m sure he told her something like, “You have no idea how you would act if you were in my shoes. Don’t judge.”

          • DJFreshie, that’s even weirder and grayer because it brings up questions of moral relativism. In Socrates’s time and place, men coupling with boys was a societal norm, an element of their educative, religious, and military structures. Abstractly, you could retroactively declare all works, ideas, and achievements of Greek philosophy to be null and void, because they were spawned by a culture that accepted and encouraged practices we today believe to be immoral. But to do so in practice, you’d basically have to dismantle all human society entirely.

          • @ Michael Hanna – But most of art IS ideas, no?

            I mean, if I’m dismissing Wagner (I don’t, for the record) I can flat out not consume his music. But I can’t dismiss his harmonic progressions/tonal shifts/rhythmic choices. Particularly if they’re innovative. Those are ideas. His overall compositions I could avoid listening to if I wanted to (but at some point I’m going to consume something derivative of him anyway.)

            Once I’ve acknowledged that those artistic ideas are valid, why am I stopping myself from consuming them, in whatever form they come in. What purpose does avoiding a Wagner symphony make a difference. More modern – at what point does not watching a Polanski flick make a difference. Is it strictly a matter of $$$?

            @Michael Nelson – Obviously you have to be forgiving of a time when things now disgusting were then acceptable/legal. I think that’s the point I’m trying to make though – I don’t think you can dismiss ideas at any time, no matter how horrid the person who came up with them is. And if art is made up of ideas (legit art – I don’t really see Chris Brown as an artist, per se. Certainly there’s no threat of me being worried about having to accept or dismiss his innovations, because they don’t exist) then for me I think the way you can tow the moral line (as an individual) is to just recognize where you’re supporting the artist in question.

            Like, re: Surfer Blood – I can consume their music for free and enjoy it and not feel like I’ve done anything that contributes to them. Or I can acknowledge that maybe I gave them Youtube page views. Or if they track their P2P downloads, I gave them a digital pat on the back. It’s up to me to decide what I’m doing, and how that affects the world, I guess? But probably if you don’t like physical violence, you should stop contributing to the growth of Chris Brown outlets for earning money?

          • I have said that there is a difference between a cold, rational thought process, which produces ideas like 2 + 2=4 and can be divorced from individual identity and emotional ideas that are projections of a person’s unique self. Of course there are financial moral concerns if the person is still around, but the other thing is that art is a personal, spiritual kind of thing for me, as I explained above. I can’t really engage in the listening process in any way that is fulfilling once I know that I am basically trying to forge a connection with someone whose actions I abhor. Since it is a personal thing, if I do not think I could stand that person at all in real life, I can’t be bothered with the music.

        • Albert Einstein repeatedly beat his wife so we better boycott the theory of relativity.

          Where do you draw the line?

      • So let me get this straight, human judgment can only go as far as the judicial system? Is it wrong to disagree with a judicial decision? Is forming an opinion about a judicial decision that differs from the decision of the court an unjust act of human judgment?

        At what point do the words opinion/judgment differ?

    • Adddo, this is a great point (though I disagree with your assessment of Chris’s conclusion as it pertains to the artists discussed in this piece). HOWEVER: With regard to Burzum (and to a greater degree, black metal in general), which Bryan Mack brought up in the first comment on this article, I sincerely feel that the artist’s transgressions are central to the audience’s curiosity, and are at very least inextricably tied to our recognition of the work. When people say, “I find Burzum’s criminal actions and hate speech repugnant, but I put that aside because I love his music,” there seems to me an implication that the listener would love the music as much or even more if Burzum didn’t have a history of hate speech or criminal actions. And consciously he or she may believe that to be true. But I believe listeners are captivated by those grotesque qualities of Burzum’s character — qualities which are not totally separate from his music, BTW — and are drawn to his art very frequently PRECISELY BECAUSE the artist himself has done things and espouses views that are truly, horrifyingly vile.

    • You don’t have to be omniscient to know that beating women is wrong.

    • Since my comment sparked some discussion, I feel somewhat obligated to reply to other people’s thoughtful comments and elaborate on my own. What troubles me is that while the article espouses our culture’s enchantment with morally complex (albeit fictional) figures like Walter White — it makes no effort to show that Chris Brown or, say, Chief Keef is one of these complex, morally ambiguous, people. Instead, it draws weird parallels and suggests speculatively that these “avatars of evil” most likely have hidden depths. I’m sure if Vince Gilligan wrote “Breaking Bad: Team Breezy” we’d all come to identify with Brown’s plight, his capacious humanity – but at the end of the day, there’s no demonstrable evidence that this is anything more than a case of “assholes making music about being assholes,” as Steve Albini said.

      The article then hedges by suggesting that lots of music falls into this category – and asks what’s the difference between Chris Brown/Chief Keef and other types of similar music, like Frank Ocean. I’d say that the difference is clear. The defining factor is self-commentary, self-criticism, distance between ‘persona’ and ‘identity’ or, if you will, art and the artist. This can be achieved in any number of ways – from the hyperbolic (Biggie Smalls: Gimme the Loot) to the self-referential (Kanye West: Runaway) to the overtly moralistic (Wu-Tang: Tearz). You say you sympathize with Walter White – but, at the same time, no one wants to BE Walter White. Breaking Bad isn’t glorifying his moral disintegration, as much as it’s simply demonstrating the horror of it. Macbeth ends up with his head on a stake; Biggie gets shot by the cops at the end of “Gimmie the Loot.” Most art about horrible people and horrible things is, inherently, moral.

      So at the end of the day, I take Albini’s statement as a guide. I’ll listen to music written by assholes, or music about the treachery/horror of being an asshole, but I can’t stomach — personally, aesthetically, morally — art that is simply “about being an asshole by an asshole.”

      Forgive me if I’m being reductive or obtuse.

      • I think you’re well spoken, and you’re bringing a lot of interesting ideas into the conversation, though I definitely disagree with a lot of your assertions. You’re telling me nobody wants to be Biggie or Kanye? Or Don Draper? Or Scarface (the Pacino character)? Or, to veer back into real life, Freeway Ricky Ross? I don’t buy that. “Breaking Bad” is cited here as the exception, the show that points out the fallacy of romanticizing these people. But I think it’s just as much a fallacy to assume they are 100 percent pure assholes until we can dredge up evidence to the contrary. It doesn’t seem like a leap to suggest that people like Keef and Chris Brown contain a glimmer of redeeming humanity underneath all the darkness. Isn’t it kind of a given that people are complex?

        As for your initial point, I do understand why love songs by Chris Brown would be difficult to stomach. If hearing some dude who beat up his girlfriend sing about romance and sex is a turnoff, people have every right to not listen. I just think there’s a lot of hypocrisy, self-protection and posturing involved when people decide where to take a stand. I don’t think it’s possible to be consistent in your moral position on this stuff without acknowledging a moral authority outside yourself and, unless you are a flawless beacon of purity, admitting your own infractions against that same moral authority. We all approach these conversations very differently from a humble perspective than we do from a position of moral superiority.

        • Thanks for your reply, Chris. And while I obviously disagree with a lot of YOUR assertions – I’d just like to say that this is one of the most interesting pieces I’ve read on this site. Very insightful, provocative work.

  24. I would respond to this whole thing, but I am still laughing at the writer’s notion that Chris Brown’s music is anything resembling “art.” Since when does selling a bunch of records or getting a lot of radio play constitute quality music or art? I am not saying anything that is “mainstream” is necessarily bad or whatever, but in Chris Brown’s case, can we call a spade a fucking spade here?

    • Because taste is something that’s pretty damn relative. Art that you and I think is shit is still art.

      • That is true. I just really hate it when people try and put this crap on the same level as music with actual artistic integrity. And I want to stress again that I am not saying this because Chris Brown is “mainstream.” There are plenty of “mainstream” musicians that I would not be saying this about (Kanye, Drake, Lady GaGa, Beyonce for example, and for the record I don’t care for Drake). But this guy is trying to sell records. He isn’t trying to express something, or make you think about a certain topic or idea, or invoke any real emotional response. His music isn’t genuine. I don’t care if Chris Deville likes Chris Brown’s music, but I do care about him using terms that imply it is on the same playing field as music whose creators actually give a shit about what they are saying or doing and who put a lot more thought and work into their music than he does.

        • The “he” in “put a lot more thought and work into their music than he does” is meant to be Chris Brown, not Chris DeVille, just to be clear.

  25. This is a really good piece. I loathe Chris Brown, but I realized recently that that was sorta hypocritical because I continue to support rappers like Gucci Mane, who is one of my favorites, but who also once got into some trouble for throwing a chick out of a moving car… Why does Gucci get a pass for his violence against women, but Breezy doesn’t? At the end of the day, I think it’s all just about personal taste regarding the music, and a willingness to put blinders on when faced with horrible shit, as we all must do quite often these days. But I will still continue to hate Chris Brown, because you’ve got to draw the line somewhere, you know? Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Brown’s music is generally shitty (except the “Deuces” remix, which remains hot as fuck).

  26. There’s a fine line.

    John Lennon hit his first wife, and generally treated women pretty poorly until Yoko. Hard to stop listening to The Beatles though.

    Chris Brown on the other hand has nothing going for him, and no shame, so he’s pretty easy to boycott.

  27. I feel like your article is missing the point, though its heart is in the right place. Personally, my issue with someone like Chris Brown is that he did something terrible and continues to act like it was nothing and that he’s worth forgiving. He can have good songs and people can like them, but it’s one thing to screw up once, it’s another thing to keep doing it and acting like we’re the ones messing up. When Chris Brown beat Rhianna, if he had honestly said “I’ve done a terrible thing” and repented for his actions I’d have less of an issue with him, but it’s well documented that everything he’s done since seems half-assed, and he continues to act like a repugnant jerk. There is a moment when you have to put your career to the side and acknowledge there are more important things than your fame, fortune or recognizability. He clearly hasn’t gotten there yet.

    Regarding the fellow from Surfer Blood, I don’t know much about him and will openly admit that. It’s well known that couples, even loving ones, have fights, sometimes quite violent ones. I’m not saying that’s alright or that they should stay together, but do we know the whole story? I’m sure only those involved know all the facts about the Chris Brown story, but the kernel of truth shines through Brown’s actions, and that kernel says he’s an asshole.

    Let me jump to another well-known musician, or at least formerly better known, that has had issues with violence against their lovers. Nick Oliveri was kicked out of Queens Of The Stone Age for beating up his girlfriend. Josh Homme has openly noted that Nick is and always will be his friend, but he wouldn’t allow him to remain in his band as he didn’t support his actions. Josh has a criminal record himself, but he hasn’t beat up any girlfriends or wives to the best of my knowledge, and I guess there is a line between being an outlaw and a villain. Is that kind of stupid? Yeah, but I’d much rather support the person with good intentions who is concerned about those around them than the one that isn’t. All of this said, Nick has had multiple problems since, has substance abuse issues, and has been trying to rectify them. Is he innocent? Of course not, but unlike Chris Brown he’s got a surprisingly better track record.

    I have a hard time supporting anyone, be it monetarily or via publicity, if I know they’re doing wrong. 2Pac is recognized as a star and classic by many, but I’ve always had an issue with a guy that was convicted of rape and could openly yell to the world about his hatred for other rappers that was fueled by record label politics. I don’t buy his records, don’t support his legacy and don’t like more than a few songs I’ve heard by him. I care even less for Chris Brown. I choose to dislike everything about Chris Brown because I don’t see anything redeeming about him, and I don’t want to hear his songs or look at his art because that’s how I feel. Furthermore, his attitude continues into his art, with the infamous “beat the pussy up” line in a mixtape after the Rihanna incident. Why is that so shocking? I don’t hear anyone defending Ike Turner. And like Chris, Ike never made a real attempt to right his wrongs, and he deserves to be ignored for that. I’m amazed R. Kelly keeps getting chances, though I get the impression he might not fully understand how insane he looks to the public. Chris Brown has no excuse.

    Okay, my attempt at a well written rant is over.

  28. I’m not going to stop listening to Joy Division because Ian Curtis cheated on his wife. The guy was in a situation and mindset nobody will/can ever understand. I think a lot of people seem to confuse people’s weakness of character with maliciousness. He wasn’t out to get anybody or harm anybody. He was just spiralling out of control. I think the same could be said for a lot of people who reach these extremes. I don’t want to banish them from society. A lot more damage has been done by laziness or even through good intentions, traits that we all share.

    To me Chris Brown just seems like a really insecure and immature person. I get this feeling because he acts in the exact opposite way like any playground bully might. He probably does have a lot of remorse for his actions but is too proud or weak to act mature about it.

    Though i’m reading “The Idiot” right now so I’m feeling a Prince Myshkin vibe.

  29. I feel like liking someone’s art does not make you complicit in their crimes. And the decision of whether or not to support them via buying/investing in their art is entirely up to you.

    That being said, just because someone is an artist does not mean they should be exempt from having to pay for their crimes of physical abuse. And certainly how you perceive the artist, whether you like it or not, can shape how you view their art.

    It’s my opinion that violence is incredibly unacceptable in all forms. And because I have this view, it has shaped how I view both Chris Brown and John Paul Pitts. Because part of why I respond so strongly to music I like is because I feel some sort of connection with the artist and I feel no connection/kinship with abusive people, I don’t listen to their music. But if I heard some of it and happen to bob my head or get some sort of acute enjoyment out of it – I mean it could happen. And, again, that doesn’t mean that I condone violence. It just means I had a reaction to a song.

    But I’m sure we all have our own ways of working through these situations – navigating our morals through our enjoyments and/or vice versa.

  30. My blots don’t involve beating up a woman.

  31. Hold on a second Chris DeVille, are you actually saying the music Chris Brown has made pleases your ears? yikes

  32. What makes Brown so reprehensible is the complete lack of remorse along with the fact he has made seemingly no efforts to better himself as a person. He’s just an odious shit who revels in his odious shit-ness and acts like anyone who takes him up on it is in the wrong.

  33. Here’s the thing. I kinda do agree with the central thesis of this article that it’s not a good thing to hold an individual as the sum of all evil and the devil incarnate.

    That being said though Chris Brown has done some REALLY bad stuff. Like beyond just a poor choice here and there. Like a committed, long term campaign of ignorance, hatred, violence against women and poor choices. And I don’t have to forgive him for that. I don’t think we SHOULD forgive him for that. Not that he’s made any attempt to seek forgiveness, but the media’s desire to whitewash him is preposterous, and it’s damaging. Why are we mad at Rihanna for going back to him? The cycle of abuse is a thing! Why are we so willing to say “Oh Chris Brown, you know that one time he beat a woman to a bloody pulp it was a bad decision but we can’t hold it over his head forever” but it’s so easy for us to condemn Rihanna and say “Oh well if it was that bad then why did you go back to him?”

    I think one of the reasons I am so strident in condemning Chris Brown is because it’s important to remember that he has hurt people. He has done a LOT of bad things, not just once but over and over and over. His actions have consequences and it sickens me to think that he can do something like that and have people just brush it aside like it was nothing. It was not nothing, and I personally feel he should reap some consequences from it.

    Frankly I don’t have any problem with people enjoying Chris Brown’s music, even though I think it’s terrible. But please don’t come up and feed me this line of ‘well I like his music and so I must defend him as a person’ because frankly I think he as a person is indefensible, and I refuse to apologize for feeling that way.

    • My sentiments exactly, the article sounds like a verbose excusal masquerading as a thesis that preaches for us to look within ourselves for the same wretched peoples and judge not, just because it deconstructs doesn’t mean it does so in a transparent and neutral way. I don’t care, we have minds for a reason, in this case, its to filter entertainment and not internalize its behavior. I wouldn’t support an artist like Chris Brown because his material stands as stark contrast to the person, his audiences are impressionable and not only influenced by his albums, but his conduct, and his behavior creates a culture that caters to his abhorrent behavior. There is no dichotomy here, no music separate from the person, they’re one in the same. Sure I have my demons, but the difference here is that if you’re requesting us to look within ourselves it implies that we have a conscious that exhibits some morality, some conscious. There’s the difference between anyone capable of asking that question and Chris Brown, (who’s narcissism is public record), we have a conscious.

  34. David Bowie was a Nazi?

  35. I don’t mind consuming art made by criminals or assholes. I won’t defend their actions or their character like Team Breezy does. And just for all you commenters, “conscience” and “conscious” are two different words.

    • I have always used them correctly. Back in my STP fanboy days, it used to annoy me to no end when Scott Weiland would confuse them in interviews. A high-school kid should not know more than a 30-year-old man.

  36. Being a musician means having a public persona. If your persona is that of a fuckhead or an assholes, then I am less likely to enjoy your music. I use to love Kanye, now he is a bloated unrealistic fuck of a waste, and I don’t gravitate towards his tracks… he’s a penis. The Surfer blood guy, thats a whole other story. He might’ve had a domestic, but isn’t getting the girls battered face tattooed on his neck. Perhaps I’d still like them if the new single didn’t SUCK. But his personal life had very little face time in the long run and I dont like them all too much, ergo, I don’t really care as much. But i loved Kanye, and he is now a fuckbag, so I don’t relate to the jams now.

    So I say, keep your poop in a group if the public is watching closely. How hard is it???????????

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