Author: Gladys Angle
These days we know the personal lives of celebrities in intimate detail. The Twitter explosion leaves no room for mystery – gone are the days when we sat around wondering what kind of candy bar Aaron Carter likes (“There’s a new Nestlé Crunch bar that just came out . . . fantastic!”). Blurring the line between public persona and private individual creates confusion among a non-famous, average Joe audience: Are these celebrities above us, or are they normal people who just happen to be in the media spotlight?
Questions like these take on a more serious tone when celebrities commit acts of violence or crime and are not held accountable to the same standards of law and social regulations that most of us are. A succession of these high profile individuals who have dodged an array of consequences suggests reason for concern: When celebrities are so quickly forgiven and the justice system is so quick to sell out, doing the crime doesn’t result in paying the time.
When Chris Brown turned himself in for repeatedly punching and threatening singer Rhianna in February of this year, people were outraged. The 19-year-old had enjoyed considerable success up until that time and looked to be making a successful career for himself as an artist. Immediately following the charges, radio stations and fans alike issued boycotts, refusing to buy his albums or listen to his music. Hostility gradually subsided, and in August he pled guilty to a charge of felony assault and was issued five years probation, domestic violence counseling, community service and a restraining order.
Brown, aided by an expert public relations team, made numerous statements about his regret and responsibility for the incident, such as this statement to MTV News: “Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired.” The question is, do we, the consumer, forgive him? With his new single “I Can Transform Ya” at number 23 and climbing on the Billboard Top 100, it appears we have.
This is far from the first time a celebrity has been given a second chance. The American public has long shown compassion for troubled stars. Our legal system also reflects leniency in dealing with cases involving persons of elevated status. Though Chris Brown’s sentence was more appropriate, many others in the entertainment industry have literally gotten away with murder. Actor Robert Blake was acquitted of murdering his wife in 2005, even though he was pronounced liable for her death. If found guilty, Blake would have faced life in prison.
Sexual violence against women, in particular, repeatedly goes unpunished when the accused is famous. R. Kelly, for instance, was charged with 14 counts of child pornography – he allegedly videotaped himself having sex with girls as young as 14 – yet pleaded not guilty to all counts after a short trial in 2008. Since the accusations surfaced in 2002, Kelly released several hit singles and was named one of the most successful artists ever by Billboard.
Another current example of this is the controversy surrounding the film director Roman Polanski. Polanski was accused of drugging and raping a 13-year-old in 1977. He fled the U.S. and emigrated to France in order to escape his sentence, and was protected from extradition as a French citizen. When he was caught by Swiss police in September 2009, due to his standing warrant in the U.S., many actors protested his arrest and trial. More than 100 members of the film community, including Martin Scorscese, Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar, signed a petition demanding Polanski be released because he was arrested while going to receive an award for his creative achievements.
Does the recognition of someone’s artistry cloud the recognition of the artist as a liable individual subject to the American legal system? And, if said artist is deemed worthy of praise, does he then become invincible, outside constraints of ethical and moral code? The dilemma seems to suggest an audience at once enthralled and appalled with the corrupt pedestal of the elite population.
Crafty PR handlers can convince us to embrace the changed man, the misunderstood womanizer, the domestic-abuser. We sit, considering: Should Chris Brown score a “get-out-of-jail-free” card on the basis of talent and fame?
No. Yet the cycle of violence continues silently in the background, as people continue to endorse abusive celebrities. It seems that Chris Brown will indeed “pass GO” and collect $200.
Galdys Angle is a junior Theater major. She can be reached at [email protected]
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