There’s a lot of issues at stake here, and its really hard to peel through all of them. Critical to everything are what you think about music, economics, justice and forgiveness.
Music is something transcendental. It has a magic that can’t be explained in purely human terms. It seems like something divine and separate from this world. (I’m not saying Chris Brown’s music is like this, I honestly don’t think I’ve heard it.) It seems cruel to judge a creation on the basis of its creator. Part of me wants music to stand free of politics and reality and just be allowed to be a dreamlike trip outwards.
But then, everything is political, and it is a terrible shame that music, one of our most powerful means of communication, is increasingly apolitical and escapist. I feel guilt about music, knowing that its basically an opiate that keeps me engaged in a cycle of consumption. That transcendence is fleeing.
Because the nature of our capitalism is that the music you love is co-opted into the economic system. It’s hard to listen to music without engaging with the economic system, and giving money to someone, often the recording artist. Your money (or your attention, in the page-view economy) motivates the artist and the industry, tells it what is okay and what isn’t.
And even if you don’t pay at all, your attention and commentary becomes an advert for the music.
If you’re judging a record for a magazine or site, you are advertising it. You are asking people to give money to the artist.
So there is an ethical decision to make there. Which artists are okay to advertise or give money to?
Chris Brown has been through a legal process, has made public apologies and claims to still be friends with a person he has abused. (He has also seemed much less repentant recently on twitter).
The question boils down to ‘is that enough’ and ‘do you really know the full story’.
Having done hideous things in the past, and knowing that I am sorry to the depths of my everything, and am trying to build a new life remembering the past, and stopping it from being the future; I want there to be a system of forgiveness. I want a way to move on
But there’s something scary about a celebrity abuser. There’s something about the example being set. I don’t trust Chris Brown, assume he’s manipulated the legal system, apologised only under the advice of his PR team.
It’s impossible to know the truth, and that makes it difficult. You end up judging the appearances of the situation, exposing yourself to your prejudices. I don’t trust the rich and commercial, so I assume he’s lied.
I assume he should be punished.
Our celebrities are humans, but we’ve written their mistakes so large on the wall that they are unforgettable. Does that make them unforgivable? What does that teach the world?
I really, truly don’t know.
Illustration by Henry