As part of the promotional efforts for his new album, X, Chris Brown gave a long interview to the Guardian‘s Decca Aitkenhead, which was published over the weekend. Perhaps the most startling revelation in the piece was this: Chris Brown lost his virginity at age eight. Eight. Years. Old. Here in America, we call that “sexual assault.” If the quote came from any other famous entertainer, you’d imagine it’d be everywhere by Monday morning. And in a way, it is — but only as part of the ongoing narrative of sinking the boot into Chris Brown at every opportunity.
This is a difficult subject, and one that’s easy to misinterpret, so I want to be clear here. This piece is not an attempt to defend Chris Brown for what he’s done, or to mitigate the severity of the crime for which he’s infamous: beating then-girlfriend Rihanna in February 2009, injuring her so severely that she required hospitalization.
Having established that, it is possible to observe and comment that the ongoing hatred of Brown seems disproportionate to the treatment of others convicted of similar crimes. This isn’t to suggest the hatred is unwarranted; it’s more a question of why it’s Brown who gets this level of hatred while others get a free pass. Why, for instance, are people still booking Surfer Blood? Why has John “Give Peace a Chance” Lennon’s history as a wife-beater failed to tarnish his messianic reputation? Why does no one ever mention anymore that Nick Oliveri from Queens of the Stone Age held his girlfriend prisoner, necessitating the intervention of a whole fucking SWAT team?
Clearly, there are many answers to these questions. Rihanna was more famous than the victims of any of the abusers above. There was all-too-clear photographic evidence of Brown’s actions. And Brown’s generally seen as being unrepentant, because he hasn’t traveled the well-trod road of penance and redemption that America demands of its errant celebrities.
Is that all? In a piece for Noisey earlier this year, the ever-excellent Ayesha A. Siddiqi made a compelling argument that there’s also an element of racism at play in Brown’s treatment, comparing and contrasting his treatment with that Charlie Sheen, who was arrested in December 2009 for holding a knife to his wife’s throat, the latest in a long line of domestic abuse complaints against him. Does Sheen get the same opprobrium as Brown? Hell, no. It’s all “tiger blood” and “winning” and nudge-nudge-wink-wink-isn’t-Charlie-kerrazee?