Last week the world was rocked. Partially because of explosions in New York City and ongoing horrors in Syria and other places around the world, but mainly because Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie announced they are getting a divorce.
Brangelina’s demise beat the discovery that Donald Trump settled legal disputes for his for-profit businesses using $250,000 in funds from his charity as the most important news topic of the day. It also detracted from President Obama’s speech at the United Nations.
The divorce saga culminated in a possible FBI investigation into Pitt for potential child abuse. Though authorities say they will likely not pursue the charges, people were shocked and outraged.
Given the long list of celebrities who have retained their wealth and fame after committing horrible crimes, it is unclear why anyone would be surprised.
We Need to Talk About Chris Brown
In 2009, singer Chris Brown attacked his then-girlfriend Rihanna until, in her own words, she was “battered” and “bleeding.” This is actually an understatement. Brown choked her until she nearly passed out, threatened to kill her then bit her and beat her until her mouth was full of blood. He was convicted of a felony and spent five years on probation.
Three years later he performed at the Grammys and won the award for Best R&B album. Earlier this year he was arrested for assault after a woman called the police claiming Brown pointed a gun at her. Investigation into the incident led to a stand off with police that lasted hours.
Brown isn’t alone. The list of famous men in the entertainment industry who have committed incredibly violent acts with little to no repercussions is depressingly long.
A Brief Primer On Hollywood’s Leading Abusers
Terrence Howard, the star of Fox hit show, Empire, has been repeatedly accused of assaulting women. He admitted to hitting his first wife (“even slapping her was wrong”), and his second wife accused him of beating her as well. He reportedly makes $125,00 per episode and the showrunner, Lee Daniels, has defended him.
Woody Allen’s daughter has repeatedly accused him of molesting her. His latest movie Café Society has made 20.7 million so far at the box office in 2016.
Sean Penn once dangled a photographer over a balcony and allegedly beat Madonna with a baseball bat. He is usually described as an activist and humanitarian.
Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist. Sean Connery— has said “it’s not the worst thing to slap a woman now and then” and “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong in hitting a woman.” Johnny Depp reached a settlement in charges of abuse from his wife Amber Heard. She submitted photos documenting the abuse as part of her case.
Dr. Dre attacked journalist Dee Barnes in a bathroom. Charlie Sheen shot his fiancé in the arm.
And Marky Mark (people who call him Mark Wahlberg are only fooling themselves), was convicted of assault in 1988 for beating a man to the point of making him blind in one eye. It was racially motivated. Also, he asked to be pardoned in 2014.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Who’s to blame?
Most careers only require minimal morality. The kind that applies only to how well you perform your professional responsibilities and can be checked at the door when you leave work.
Celebrities are necessarily different because they have sold their lives—their personalities, morals, and choices—as the product. A celebrity is less a person and more of a business idea. If you are a successful celebrity it means millions of people implicitly approve, and in many cases, idolize, your lifestyle.
“When we don’t hold these men accountable, when we prop them up on pedestals with awards and accolades and lots of money, we’re saying that this is OK,” writes Zeba Blay, in a piece for The Huffington Post.
“Terrible crimes don’t automatically negate an artist or celebrity’s contribution to society—but rape, sex crimes, and brutalizing women are not hobbies that audiences should tolerate,” Asawin Suebsaeng wrote for The Daily Beast. “It’s the sort of behavior that is now unacceptable in virtually all other forms of business. Surely, Hollywood should not be exempt from such a standard.”
Suebsaeng isn’t wrong. Hollywood shouldn’t be exempt from the standard. But he wrote this piece in 2014 and nothing is different.
Numerous other essays and opinion pieces have been published, including Aly Neel’s much lauded “No More Free Passes for Famous Men Who Abuse Women” for The Washington Post in 2013 with no discernible changes.
But the free passes have not expired. Nothing has changed, including the fact that, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 10 million men and women will be the victims of abuse by an intimate partner this year.
Why write on this topic when so many have already called out the ridiculous leeway granted to male entertainers? Precisely because none of the “calling out” has worked.
The economy of celebrity relies on our eyes and wallets. This means the person to blame for Chris Brown’s continued popularity is not the Grammy’s or media. It’s me. These men are still famous, wealthy, and receiving free passes because we allow them to.
If we believe that physical abuse is wrong and not to be tolerated, then it is time to stop expecting more from Hollywood and start expecting more from ourselves.
Come back tomorrow for a more detailed breakdown of what you can do to abstain from supporting violent, male celebrities.