On Sunday we looked at the troubling aspect of emotional spousal abuse through the prism of celebrity. In many cases those routine psychological attacks spill over into violence and even death. Nicole Brown Simpson had repeatedly complained to friends and police that her famed football husband, O. J. Simpson, might ultimately one day kill her. Physical abuse has a storied history in and around Hollywood, dating back to the early days of cinema. It continues to this day.
It was just after midnight on February 8, 2009 – the day of the 51st Annual Grammy Awards. After a party, an argument heated up between recording artists Rihanna and Chris Brown, who were dating at the time. Both were scheduled to perform at the event later that evening. Instead she would be hospitalized, he would be in police custody, and Justin Timberlake would be filling in.
Ironically just three years earlier Chris had appeared on The Tyra Banks Show, and on the subject of domestic abuse he said “I don’t want to put women through the same thing my mother went through.” Because of what he’d seen, he suggested he would not repeat that pattern.
After the incident, Tyra reacted, saying that what he saw “does not give him or anyone the excuse to put his hands on a woman, ever.”
Not since Tina Turner’s biographical account (I, Tina) of ex-husband Ike Turner’s brutal attacks had such a graphic view of celebrity abuse been depicted. The film version (“What’s Love Got To Do With It”) stirred some conversation on the subject at the time it opened. But the Rihanna case had ‘art.’ A handful of disturbing photos depicting the aftermath to the singer’s face launched a thousand news segments.
The concept of spousal abuse somehow gets clouded by a strange tradition that lingers in too many corners for an advanced civilization. It’s the same type of thinking that allows some to view date rape as a lesser offense. Prosecutors would be quick to remind that there’s no such thing as ‘behind closed doors.’ A crime in the kitchen is the same as in the street.
Salma Hayek views the issue as having more of an institutional grounding in the U.S. She tells Handbag.com “If you give me any problem in America I can trace it down to domestic violence. It is the cradle of most of the problems, economic, psychological, educational. Most people who are in jail come from homes with domestic violence.”
There’s also a weird paradox wherein abuse gets lost among more shocking details of a story. Those bombastic Mel Gibson sound bytes all but drowned out allegations of physical abuse against wife Oksana Grigorieva. He even semi-admitted to attacking her in one of recordings. Yet the press quickly moved from the serious issue at hand to ones of privacy (he was taped without his consent) and divorce settlement figures (she got $400M). Lost was the real issue.
Unlike many anonymous offenders, Chris Brown paid a steep price professionally. Shows were cancelled and radio stations pulled his songs from their lineup. The criminal consequences were considered a slap on the wrist to many – 5 years of probation along with court-ordered therapy.
Some dismissed the Rihanna incident as a reflection of Chris Brown’s immaturity. To lose perspective on the severity involved is to ignore both his responsibility as a grown adult, and the question of where this behavior is learned.
There are the rare glimpses at wives abusing their husbands. Humphrey Bogart’s wife (before Lauren Bacall) was nicknamed ‘Slugsy’ around Hollywood for booze-laced bursts of violence. And in 2003 Christian Slater required twenty stitches at a Las Vegas emergency room after wife Ryan Haddon threw a drinking glass squarely toward his head. She was subsequently arrested.
However, these examples usually involve two people who share a mutual problem with anger management. Duel abuse by way of intoxicant is somewhat disingenuous to the real problem – where one partner is in control and the other lives in fear.
Seeing famous people experience problems like this can make for high ratings, and yes, juicy gossip. Thankfully though, it can also serve to remind that this is an issue prevalent across age groups, nationalities and even socio-economic statuses. It can effect anyone, and where it happens – it effects everyone. If you or someone you know needs help, contact http://www.safehorizon.org/ or a local abuse prevention agency.
Will King is a television and media critic who splits his time as a stand up comic. He collects conspiracy theories and claims to have invented Teflon. In his spare time he follows presidential politics and all traffic signs. He lives in Charlotte, NC.
Selma: I would like to start off by saying anyone who causes their partner physical pain is true a*shole. But it also makes me wonder why people stay in an abusive relationship. Love yourself and leave. Love is not pain!! If you are the abuser, get help or go to jail where you belong. Play this DiscoveryGame with your partner before it you get really serious to help find out how they deal with conflict within a relationship.
Giulia: Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. No one should live in fear of the person they love. I recommend this Tokii Lab article to help recognize if you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse. There is help available.