Gordon Campbell on the Chris Brown furore
Thank goodness Dame Tariana Turia has been able to inject a bit of common sense into the Chris Brown visa issue – her argument being
that forgiveness has a place in this decision, and there is an opportunity here that should be taken. Namely, that that
Brown can and would communicate positive messages to those young people most at risk of violence and partner abuse.
Before Turia made her contribution yesterday, the issue had been dominated by the likes of National MP Judith Collins
and by Labour MP Sue Moroney
, both of whom seemed intent on using the Brown visit as a megaphone to promote their political credentials on the issue
of domestic violence.
Collins and Moroney have picked the wrong platform. No one – including Chris Brown – is an advocate of domestic
violence. Collins verdict: “Just another wife beater… He should just bugger off” was particularly unfortunate. Clearly,
if there is no room for forgiveness, and no potential for the perpetrators to change their behavior – which is what
those advocating the eternal punishment of Brown seem to imply – then the anti- violence message will have lost an
important dimension of repentance and rehabilitation. A few relevant points here : yes, Brown’s attack on Rihanna was
incredibly ugly. Yet it occurred in 2009, when Brown was only nineteen years old. The subsequent barring from Britain
occurred soon afterwards, in 2010. Five years later, that decision still triggers an automatic ban in New Zealand,
unless the Immigration Minister exercises a discretion to waive the ban and grant an entry visa.
Since his conviction, Brown has served the terms of his sentence, which included five years probation, community service
and anger management – all of which he has completed. His behavior since has not been exemplary – clearly, the man is no
saint. Yet when it comes to domestic violence, he has not re-offended. Clearly, Rihanna herself forgave him, and not
immediately in any sense of being captive to a cycle of violence. Eventually the couple reconciled and renewed a
romantic relationship in 2011- 2012, but then split up again a year later, apparently by mutual agreement.
As things stand, Brown has not yet applied for a visa to enter New Zealand. Ultimately, the viability of his tour here
will depend in large part on whether he gets a similar waiver to enter Australia, and that process has yet to be
decided. If Australia does let him in, and a similar approach is made here, the grounds for a waiver have been
eloquently stated by Dame Tariana Turia. There is another reason as well: consistency. Brown was (a) very young at the
time of his offence (b) has done charity work by way of atonement and rehabilitation and (c) does not advocate violence
towards women in his lyrics. That sets him part from several artists who have been given visas to perform here, no
The classic case would be Eminem - who has released one fantasy song (“Kim”) about murdering his wife, and another song
dealing with among other things, spousal abuse (“Love the Way You Lie”) That song contained this chorus sung by, of all
people, Rihanna :
Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
But that’s alright because I like way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
But that’s alright because I love the way you lie…
There is nothing in Brown’s output remotely like Eminem’s tired shock content shtick of promoting rape myths (eg the
“Medicine Man” cut on the Compton soundtrack) or like this little Eminem couplet in which he expressed support for the wife-beating US sportsman Ray Rice
“But I may fight for gay rights, especially if they dyke is more of a knockout than Janay Rice/ Play nice? Bitch I’ll
punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice, like Ray Rice in broad daylight in the plain sight of the elevator
surveillance/ ’Til her head is banging on the railing, then celebrate with the Ravens.”
So… if deterring domestic violence really is the deciding issue – how can we kick up a fuss about Chris Brown and ban him,
and yet let in Eminem, as we did last year? And what about Ozzy Osbourne, due here (again) in a few months. Down the
years, Osbourne has confessed to many instances of violence against his wife, up to and including at least one murder
attempt, and has consistently depicted these attacks as a virtual comedy routine. Tommy Lee and Axl Rose are other
acknowledged perpetrators of violence against women who have been allowed into New Zealand. None of the above have
carried out the level of community work for the victims of domestic violence that Brown has done. Finally, the recurring
feature of this ludicrously inconsistent policy is race. Those denied visas here or where a ruckus is raised – eg Mike
Tyson, Tyler The Creator and Chris Brown - are black.
In future, it might be helpful if the political decisions on entry visas weren’t conducted like a reality show, where
everyone leaps up to vent their disdain for popular culture at the latest example of it who randomly happens by. Barring
the door to Chris Brown might make us feel self righteous - but it wouldn’t do a thing to deter domestic violence. And
it would confirm to a lot of young people that their political leaders really are totally clueless.
Apropos of Chris Brown, hip hop cops a lot of flak – sometimes justified – for its level of misogyny. (Heavy metal,
which shares the same attitudes, tends to get a free pass.) For a genre rife with gangsta posturing and sexual bragging,
hip hop also has a sweet and sentimental side – whether it be Tupac’s song about his mama, Killer Mike’s song about his
grandma, or the many laments about the ‘hood’s old days gone by.
The Masta Ace song “Nostalgia” is a case in point. It mixes the races, the old dance styles, and the generations to
charming effect. Love the Pat Benatar rhymes, too.