By Arturo R. García
And I am
Whatever you say I am
If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am?
In the papers, the news, everyday I am
– Eminem, “The Way I Am”
My first thought while watching Chris Brown’s debacle of a Good Morning America interview: WTF is up with his hair?
My second thought: This is horrible. Didn’t his media people give him a better gameplan than this?
My third: … What if this is the gameplan?
It’s fair to mention Brown’s tweet about how he’s being treated vis-a-vis the Charlie Sheens of the world. But it’s at least partially inaccurate to accuse THE MEDIA for that disparity. If the past decade should have taught us anything, it’s that there is no One Media anymore. Sure, the power and influence centers might be depressingly consolidated, but there’s too many individual media outlets catering to too many individual tastes these days to believe Brown and/or his publicists couldn’t lead him toward a network show more willing to ignore his past violence against Rihanna.
By comparison, one of the reasons Sheen is getting a pass in the Tiger Blood era is that his appearances have been limited to strategically-sound outlets. Did anybody really think he would get any intelligent questions from Piers Morgan, who makes Larry King look like Edward R. Murrow? Did anybody really think Jimmy Kimmel, who makes Piers Morgan look like Larry King, would call Sheen out? Even if Sheen is rightly excoriated across the blogosphere, he, or whoever is coordinating his PR blitz, is steering him toward shows catering to patrons of his brand of misogyny. It might be reprehensible, and cunning, but you can’t say it’s not better for his brand than, say, trying to match wits with Rachel Maddow.
So, this post from TMZ, saying Brown “insisted” GMA host Robin Roberts ask him about the expiration of the restraining order put on him by Rihanna, is suddenly just this side of plausible, even if trusting anything from TMZ requires three grains of salt, a thorough hand-washing and 100,000cc of penicillin. So why would a guy with the top album on iTunes and three hit singles, whose career is actually rebounding in spite of what he’s done, give himself a Sisqórectomy and then swing a chair more recklessly than a pro wrestler? Kevin Powell might have unwittingly given us a clue in his open letter to Brown:
Why are they often forgiven, given a pass, allowed to clean themselves up and to redeem themselves in a way Black males simply cannot, Chris? It is because, to paraphrase Tupac, we were given this world, we did not make it. And it is because of power, Chris, plain and simple. Whoever has the power to put forth images and words, to put forth definitions, to determine what is right and what is wrong, can just as easily label you a star one day and a thug and a has-been the very next day. Or make you, a Black male, the poster child, for every single bad behavior that exists in America. Just ask Black males as diverse as Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, or Kanye West.
What Powell doesn’t say is that, aside from Simpson, nearly all of those men he name-checked were able/allowed to use their offenses as part of a more marketable persona: Tyson has traded for years on spoofing his image as a Boogeyman in boxing gloves; the Kobe who emerged after his sexual assault case in Colorado was embraced as the ruthless, title-winning “Black Mamba”; the payoff to Kanye’s Borat job on Taylor Swift was his most critically-acclaimed album yet; and don’t think for a second that the golf world won’t rejoice if and when Woods starts winning more consistently.
So maybe these new touches – the bad dye job, the extra ink on his arms, the stunningly arrogant name for his album, and creepily nonchalant remarks about handling “girl business” and the Rihanna saga being “not really a big deal” – are not just a plea for help or publicity. Maybe they’re a way for him and/or his team to gain control of his story.
Maybe they’ve decided that, as long as Brown is going to be held accountable for what he did to Rihanna (as well he should be), then he’s better off using the implied threat as part of his package. As Roberts pointed out in her ill-fated interview, Brown had a number of supporters in the studio; how many were there just to see him sing “Yeah 3x,” and how many were there wondering, I wonder what he’s gonna do next?
As a plan, it’s far from original. But a hyper-fast news cycle and a fanbase with less of an attention span and more of a willingness to blame the victim in abuse cases can only work to Brown’s benefit. If the idea behind this outburst is to embrace his inner “thug,” his team might be thinking it’s better to be a sideshow than to not be in the show at all. At least for now.