Cancel culture is the internet’s version of shunning someone from society, whether that be on social media or even in person. A significant case of cancelling was seen just last year with Ellen Degeneres ending her talk show after nineteen long seasons due to reports of workplace discrimination and toxicity.
That being said, the power of cancelling and its culture never holds the same energy for each celebrity. This is evidenced with the return of David Dobrik to YouTube despite allegations of aiding in the rape of a young woman. So, what allows for some celebrities to continue to work with other artists or brands whilst others are forced into unemployment? Santhana Kanapathippillai delves into this topic, focusing on R&B artist Chris Brown.
In the early 2000s, Chris Brown was an up and coming R&B artist, who shot to fame with hits including No Air and Forever. His downfall began in 2009 when he pleaded guilty to physically assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna. Whilst the internet was rocked by the viral triggering photos of the attack, his songs started dropping from the radio and Brown himself was sentenced to five years probation and community service.
Lizzo’s reaction to meeting Chris Brown… received tons of backlash and brought back up the question of his relevancy
Despite the extremity of his crimes, Brown went on to win Best R&B album in 2012 at the Grammys and continued to work with other artists including Kelly Rowland and Chipmunk.
Lizzo’s reaction to meeting Chris Brown, which went viral, received tons of backlash and brought back up the question of his relevancy. She referred to him as her “favourite person in the world.” This was particularly insensitive and ignorant as it was said during domestic abuse awareness month. It also reiterates the query of how he continues to be held in such high regard despite his continued violent offences. This, plus his feature on Kanye’s new album ‘Donda’, highlights the inefficacy of cancel culture.
Many believe that it’s okay to forgive Brown because of Rihanna’s own public forgiveness of him. On Oprah’s show, ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter,’ Rihanna said “I have to forgive him because I cared about him still.” She shares her healing process and states how, “the minute I let go of that, I started living again.” By forgiving Brown, she was able to move on and start afresh despite her traumatic ordeal. As she continued to date Brown on and off after, many felt that it was okay for them too to forgive and forget, disregarding that she was still very much stuck in that cycle of abuse.
This, coupled with Brown’s 2017 autobiographical movie, paints him as a sympathetic character that is deserving of second chances. The movie, ‘Welcome To My Life’, is Brown’s apology letter to his victims and works as an intimate piece of PR that serves as an honest tell-all.
He shares his experiences and puts forward his extreme remorse for his actions. Usher in this movie details how, “it’s a life lesson for all of us because it’s affected all of us,” and “if you truly do love Chris Brown, then you’ve felt everything that’s gone on with him.”
separating the art and the artist has become the social norm
To have other successful and loved black men speak highly of Brown compels the argument of whether forgiving and accepting him is the right thing to do. Especially since separating the art and the artist has become the social norm so people can morally enjoy music and TV that they like; perhaps allowing for Brown to continue to create is what’s best for his fans. The movie succeeds in creating an image of Brown as an almost tragic, misguided figure with its use of sad music when he discusses the abuse and using popular celebrities that speak highly of him.
Sesali Bowen, a journalist for Refinery, recalls her experience of hitting the cinema for the premiere of the film. She discusses how “fans were adorned in Chris Brown T-shirts”, perhaps suggesting that Brown benefitted from pretty privilege and the cult of fangirls, who were blind in their following and fell victim to the film’s use of sad music and its sympathetic tone.
Despite this supposed change in personality and action, Brown’s remorse and apologies fall short as evidenced by the past nine years. Whilst his talents continue to take him forward, the constant violent run-ins with other artists including Drake and Frank Ocean paint a picture of a man that is incapable of change. Are people quick to forgive because as a huge male artist, his talent outweighs his actions as a person?
This then brings us to cancel culture itself. Should cancel culture itself be cancelled? How far is the toxicity, shaming and judging coming from strangers behind a screen actually contributing to justice being served? Chris Brown is not someone that is worth defending after the recurring accusations of violence, but did cancel culture further force him into a downward spiral, which negatively impacted all his relationships with women?
His 2017 film puts forward the idea that Brown was ill-equipped to handle the sudden, intense public hatred towards him and thus was forced into drug use and further violent flare-ups. Furthermore, the film explores how when Brown witnesses the domestic abuse inflicted onto his mother by his stepdad as a child it made him vulnerable.
Chris Brown’s actions are inexcusable, but cancel culture itself doesn’t have positive impacts on the internet and society
He then grew up mentally incapable of comprehending and dealing with the intense hate directed towards him. Perhaps cancel culture, instead of its aim of removing Brown from the public eye and preventing him from success, actually contributed to his continuous run-ins with the law.
Frankly, Chris Brown’s actions are inexcusable, but cancel culture itself doesn’t have positive impacts on the internet and society. Not only does it fail to hold him accountable as he continues to be featured on songs and cameo in TV shows, but it plays a significant role in worsening mental health and pushing people towards suicide. His mother in his film admits that “that was the worst day of my life and probably of his life.” She goes on to say, “I felt like I was going to lose my child.” Cancel culture has negative impacts on innocent family members and its toxicity spreads past simply hurting the culprit involved.
Amanda Marcotte, journalist and American blogger, highlights how “if we had a justice culture, would we even need to worry about cancel culture?” Cancel culture should not replace the justice system; it drowns out the victim’s voice and story. Instead, improvements need to be made to the justice system, mental health care and the handling of male violence.
In-article images courtesy of @chrisbrownofficial via @instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.
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