Tuesday, March 24, 2009
As has been much discussed, a staggering 46 percent of a survey of Boston teenagers believed Rihanna was "responsible" for being attacked by her boyfriend, Chris Brown. Of the 200 teenagers surveyed, every single one had heard of the incident, which made me think about celebrity. I wondered how the survey would have turned out had Rihanna and Chris Brown been regular people and not icons to the 12-19 year olds surveyed.
Apparently other people had the same thought. Dosomething.org created this educational video that is a "re-enactment," featuring two non-celebrities, about what supposedly happened between Rihanna and Brown. In detail that is blood-chilling even if you already know the specifics from the police report, a young male repeatedly punches a young female in the face, chokes her, generally assaults her while a dead-pan narrator explains the scene. Seeing it played out without the gloss of US Magazine or the backdrop of an MTV soundtrack truly magnifies exactly what is at stake, exactly what the case against Brown is.
But I am likely preaching to the choir. Amongst every single adult I know, the immediate reaction to the entire Rihanna-situation is outrage and pity. Do you know one person who is entertaining thoughts that Rihanna "deserved" to be abused? Even Oprah has weighed in! Which is, of course, the most disturbing aspect of the Boston survey. How did the lessons we teach our kids--"use your words" and "don't hit" come to mind--translate to an acceptance of violence and, even more mind-boggling, a re-calibration of responsibility and blame?
In law school there was this entire jurisprudence that I called "starfu&%ing"--situations in which it seemed that the bench was treating people differently because they were famous. Sometimes it seems like we are harsher on celebrities because they are in the spotlight--think: ostracizing Mischa Barton or that girl from Party of Five for tiny bits of cellulite. Other times, I suppose, we give celebrities more leeway. Is that what's at play in the Boston survey?
And I wonder: How much of the issue has to do with race, if at all? What were the races of the teens surveyed? Does it matter? In talking about the whole thing with friends, I have repeatedly heard amongst some black friends clear overtones of disappointment that such young African Americans in the public eye are perpetuating old African American stereotypes. One friend, in defending Puff Daddy (or is he P Diddy now? Or Puff Daddy Redux? You know who I'm talking about) for lending the teenage couple his estate for a supposed reconciliation said, "Man, he was trying to do damage control for an entire race."
True? What do you think? What would you think if the story involved two South Asians? Anything different? What would the Boston teens in the survey have said if it involved two South Asians?
Obviously...I have no answers. My kids are little and I don't have to worry yet about the potent interaction between celebrities, race, icons, impressionable teenagers. But, especially just having had a girl, the idea of a world in which 46 percent of kids think a woman deserved to be hit? Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. Hopefully one of you guys can figure out what we should do about this sometime in the next, oh, 14 years or so...