Redemption Song: Why Chris Brown’s Man in the Mirror Performance Will Save His Career


Chris Brown has had a rough year: 1,400 hours of community service and a dropped endorsement with Wrigley;  banned from the UK and blasted by Oprah; the nation was turned against this guy. A platinum selling artist out the gate, his last project Grafitti sold fewer than 100,000 units.  So now, a little over a year after pleading guilty to assaulting pop princess Rihanna, he has done the impossible.  He has redeemed his career.

Browns’ performance did what an appearance on Larry King and a scripted video apology could not do.  It showed the frailness of humanity and how our moments of greatest weakness can be the dawning of our greatest days to come.

To me Brown’s performance was a purely redemptive moment that sent chills up my spine and I was as mad at Chris as anyone. Prior to the BET awards, he was in R. Kelly territory for me.  And there was little to nothing he could do to get out because I just could not wrap my mind around how he could batter this girl in this way. Young, gifted, and Black, he was throwing it all away. I’ve had friends tell me various versions of the “he didn’t beat her, they were fighting” line, but I just could not get past it.

Brown’s tribute to Michael Jackson at the BET Awards was nothing less than transformative.  An insanely talented dancer, Brown mimicked the late superstars moves with the perfect combination of pinpoint accuracy and breathtaking artistic freedom.   As Brown tried hopelessly to croak out vocals to Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, he was overwhelmed with absolutely genuine emotion. I mean I can’t listen to that song without crying, much less trying to sing it live in front of a audience, perhaps less hostile to you than the general public, but still skeptical.

Yet watching him  stammer across the stage lost in emotion, I can say without the slightest doubt that we were watching a humbled and talented man emote in a way that is so rare in our culture, but particularly within Black community.  The collective experience those who watched performance had was transformative in many ways. It showed “black maleness” in all its strength and frailties to a Nation.  Therefore, this moment means  more than just forgiveness for Chris, it will represent seminal moment in the re-launch of a career destined for superstardom.

In our community, it is often said that Men Cry in the Dark.  Yet Brown cried in the light.  No doubt his tears were for the pain he caused his mother, the disappointment he brought to his fans, his personal foibles and failings, challenges throughout year—and for the loss of one of his mentors—Michael Jackson.

His performance left me asking, how often do we see Black men cry in our lives, much less in the media? Last Year, in an article for Black America Web, Tonya Pendleton asks: Can a Black Man Cry Openly Without Ridicule? She names D.L. Hughley, Ne-Yo, and Stephon Marbury as notable Black male celebs who turned on the tears, only to be mocked and scorned by the public:

“Since black men in particular are encouraged from childhood to show a stoic face to the world, is it possible that their pain is viewed as unimportant? Could that be why black men tend to die earlier than white ones, and are often disproportionately violent towards women and others? Is the inability to express pain keeping black men from healing from various wounds” (Black America Web 2009).

The cynics will say that Brown’s tearful and broken effort was a ploy for the nation’s forgiveness and regain his career.  This conclusion marginalizes Black male pain and illustrates a disdain for any kind of weakness shown on their part.  But let it not go unsaid that he was entirely wrong for beating Rihanna.  He was more than wrong.  What he did was absolutely unconscionable.  His behavior showed an immature spirit carrying demons that one will hope were released with this cathartic performance.  I don’t doubt that this man carried and continues to bear a lot of anger and pain from childhood and beyond; ironically having expressed this pain in a  wholly different way than the Rihanna beating, he is now being questioned and doubted.  I’m am convinced this is unfair.

Ironically, the same folks questioning the Brown’s authenticity, condemn President Obama for not showing enough emotion for the Gulf Oil spill.  When it comes to emotional expression, Black men face a difficult catch 22.  Show too much emotion and you are angry or somehow damaged, and too little you are haughty, professorial, and unfeeling.  Go figure.

Americans want to forgive talented people: Kobe Bryant, Robert Downey Jr., Bill Clinton, Ron “I want to thank my psychiatrist and hood” Artest, and any number of celebs and politicians have, through the continued execution of their genius, overcome the darkest of moments.  Tiger you’re up next if you can win another green jacket.

This is Chris Brown’s moment to say: “America, let me transform you; I’m about to do genius.  Watch”.

The Happily Ever After Myth – Comparative Analysis of the Speidi and Gore Marital Separations


Last week, the nation was collectively stunned when news broke that the Al and Tipper Gore were separating after 40 years of marriage.  Media commentary and the response on the blogosphere largely focused on the changing nature of marriage in society, and especially within the baby boomer set.  Apparently, till death do us part takes on a whole different connotation when Americans are living longer more complex lives.  Accordingly, pundits are interrogating the institution of marriage with renewed vigor.  When the culture is dominated by messages of personal fulfillment and happiness as an end game, can traditional conventions of marriage still work and what does “work” really mean?

While news of the Gore’s break-up dominated headlines, they were not the only famous couple announcing a marital separation last week.  Perhaps more infamous than famous, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt collectively and nauseatingly known as Speidi announced their separation, after only one year of marriage.  Unlike the news of the Gore break-up, the imminent demise of the reality couple was first met with delight and then immediate skepticism.  With the fame hungry couples’ reality show—The Hills— slated to end,  much of the entertainment media is reporting the separation as a hoax.  While it may very well be a publicity stunt for Montag’s upcoming  reality show, the Gore and the Speidi separations represent why this is a unique cultural moment for the institution of marriage.

The Gores lived as man and wife for forty years.  While the public face suggested they were the quintessential happy couple, there is no way for us to know the extent of the joys and pains,  dreams fulfilled and promises broken that this couple would have no doubt experienced.  Unlike Speidi, the Gores  private lives were not being documented for a reality TV show.  Accordingly, we can only conjecture that after raising children and pursing individual ambitions, they simply grew apart.   I believe that there is authenticity and dignity in the way they handled this very  private matter and I’m sure they are shocked that their personal choice has resulted in a public outcry on the state of baby boomer marriage.

In contrast, Heidi and Spencer, who bear a striking resemblance to The Flowers in the Attic, have after one year  separated in a calculated move to remain relevant in this cultural moment.  Blogs are calling the split as fake as Heidi’s surgically enhanced mammaries.  Yet, I would argue the couple is doing “marriage as spectacle”.  It is a uniquely American proposition that marriage and love go hand and hand.   Marriage is an economic contract, as much as it is a partnership based on myths of often fleeting emotions.  Therefore, what Heidi and Spencer are doing, as they play with the conception of marriage, may be more representative of marriage throughout most of history: an economic partnership about survival, more than any kind of romantic notion.  As they seek to enrich themselves by being obnoxious, blithely stupid, and most importantly ubiquitously present, their marriage simply becomes another means of production.  We can only hope these two don’t decide to procreate, in an effort to commodify parenthood ala the Octomom and the Gosselins.

I was only married for a little less than five years, before I cried uncle—but I can tell you unequivocally that it is probably the most challenging and selfless endeavors one can make next to parenthood and say monasticism.  And despite the brevity of my first marriage, I still believe in the convention and I consider my “failed” marriage successful because it taught me the beauty of resilience.

Marriage is a religious, civil, and yes economic arrangement between a couple that will become characteristics of which will evolve  in our increasingly complex world.  How we “do marriage” is representative of our time in history and the larger culture? So what represents a successful marriage to you? Is longevity the only metric?  It is a civil or religious arrangement, or could it be both?

Discuss.

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