"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

"It's a Man's Man's Man's World"

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul", the "Hardest Working Man in Show Business", died of heart failure on December 25th. The tributes, of course, started immediately. The three days of public funerals, the Rolling Stone tribute, the endless list of celebrities who spoke out about what Brown meant to them. Article after article put the singer on a pedestal for his musical legacy and even his charity, citing toy and food drives, but they all conveniently left out information about how he also had a knack for physically battering the women in his life. There was no mention of the fact that he was accused of domestic violence by all four of the women he married and was arrested for it on more than one occasion.

He's not alone, of course. Brown is only one name on an extensive list of famous alleged batterers, along with Rick Allen, Steven Adler, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Lou Rawls, Dennis Rodman, Charlie Sheen, O.J. Simpson, Ike Turner, Mike Tyson, Billy Dee Williams, Yanni, David Hasselhoff, Axl Rose, Sasha Mitchell, Tommy Lee, Lou Diamond Phillips, Tyrese, and many, many more.

And as much as our culture generally disapproves of domestic violence, there are some conflicting attitudes when it comes to our "great" male performers and heroes. One of either ignoring their transgressions to keep their "private lives" private, and another of romanticizing their violent sides to show that they did brilliant work either beacause of or in spite of their tulmultuous lives. The more dramatic their experiences, the more interesting they become.

But what about the invisible victims? With the exception of possibly Ike Turner and O.J. Simpson, all of the men on the above list of names will be remembered only for their work, while the women whose bodies and lives they scarred will, for the most part, remain nameless to us. And when they die, they get televised tributes and statues of themselves so the world can remember what great men they were.

I don't need to get on a soapbox here to talk about how domestic violence is not a "private matter" that should be left out when talking about the lives of celebrities. When my Rolling Stone magazine came in the mail with James Brown on the cover, I read every word of the article that detailed his life history and entire musical career, and I was shocked to find not even the slightest reference to his penchant for smacking around his wives. This was disappointing, considering that I was already pissed off at how the magazine featured rapper Snoop Dogg as "America's Most Lovable Pimp", complete with a picture of him leading two women on leashes. (Needless to say, I will not be renewing my subscription.)