In a unique take on daily news hits, Free The Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger go behind the headlines to explore how the stories you read are connected to the causes you care about. You'll never read the news in the same way again.
The headline that caught our attention: Did Chris Brown tattoo a battered Rihanna on his neck?
It seems Chris Brown can do no wrong. It's like a familiar fairytale retold to redeem the villain; the alternative stories in which we learn that the Big Bad Wolf is vegan and the whole three pigs' debacle was just a big misunderstanding. And the witch in Hansel and Gretel? Really, this elderly woman builds her retirement home -- out of gingerbread, no less -- and these spoiled brats wander onto her property and eat it. Naturally, she stews them in a pot; a proportionate response. Then the witch releases a cookbook and we all buy it.
Except that it's real life and it's actually happening.
Three years ago, in the early morning hours before the Grammy Awards, Chris Brown brutally beat up his then-girlfriend Rihanna, smashing her head into the passenger window of a Lamborghini and uttering death threats. Horrifying images of the battered songstress surfaced the next day.
The latest in a string of disturbing Chris Brown antics is his newest tattoo, an image of what appears to be a battered woman inked on his neck.
The media are all over it. Is it Rihanna? Is it, as Brown's reps have told reporters, a "random woman," or is it a symbol for the Mexican Day of the Dead (Brown's reps have said both). And this "random woman" just happens to look beat up and resemble Rihanna? Is that scenario really any better?
We just want to shake the collective consciousness and demand --"Have you no perspective!?"
When we look behind this headline, the real issue is that no one is talking about the real issue. It's not just about Chris Brown or Rihanna. It's about domestic abuse. It's also about celebrity-issued get-out-of-jail-free cards.
After Brown pleaded guilty to felony assault, he avoided jail time. He was sentenced to five years probation and six months community service, an indication of the seriousness of the attack. Afterwards, no one boycotted his records (at least, not enough to make a dent in his career). No one shunned him from popular culture. Instead, we're living an alternative fairytale in which, after attacking his girlfriend, Brown is welcomed back to the industry with open arms, makes more records and has a meteoric rise that begins with a "comeback" -- sad irony -- at the 2012 Grammys. Except this is no fairytale, it's happening in real time.
We believe in second chances. But we don't believe in the collective pop culture amnesia that has so quickly and decisively returned Brown to super stardom, sending a message to his many young female fans that battering Rihanna's face was really no big deal.
There were 102,500 victims of intimate partner violence in Canada in 2010, according to police reports compiled by Statistics Canada. Young females are disproportionately represented among victims.
Public awareness of domestic violence is only beginning to catch up with the issue. The Pink Ribbon campaign to end breast cancer, for instance, is so instantly recognizable it's transcended its cause and become a symbol for female empowerment. We'd like to see the same thing happen with the White Ribbon Campaign to end domestic violence. If you're in Toronto on September 27, you can start with Walk A Mile in Her Shoes. Men, don your high heels.
Rihanna, for her part, has gotten flak for her very forgiving public treatment of Brown and her 2010 single, "Love the Way You Lie," which allegedly romanticizes domestic abuse.
It's hard to say what would be the palatable response here. It would be awesome if Rihanna had become the poster girl for fighting domestic violence. But that is expecting a lot of her. We know that victims of abuse can fall into dangerous cycles involving depression and reduced self-esteem, and above all: not shunning their abusers. Maybe it's unfair for the public to question her behaviour.
Regardless, behind all of the media tittering over the former lovers public and private encounters, the issue remains the same -- it's a much more pervasive problem relating to domestic violence, and to perspective: The villain. The victim. The role reversal between the two. And the storytellers.
Who's afraid of Chris Brown?
All of us ought to be. Not just for obvious reasons. Both Chris Brown and Rihanna appeal to a younger fan base, particularly the young women most affected by intimate partner violence in Canada. But it's not the responsibility of "the artist" to be a moral barometer.
So whose problem is it when celebrities get away with questionable behaviour? Sorry, parents, but like most things affecting your children that happen outside of your control: it's you. Not Chris Brown. Not the media. But these things are launching points to have meaningful discussions with your children. Tell your daughters about Rihanna, your sons about Chris Brown, tell them all where to go to get help, and most importantly: give them some perspective.