Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Paying Lip Service to Abuse

The other night, I watched the Grammy Awards with my teenage daughter. Well, to be more specific, I watched the first two hours or so (or less, most likely) with her, then excused myself and went to bed while she finished the show without her lovin' mama.

I don't know about y'all, but I just can't stay up that late these days.

Anyway, the presentation was fairly fast-paced, moving quickly from aging metal stars (AC/DC) to pop princesses (Taylor Swift) to significant artistes (Madonna and her bevy of bulls — btw, were those things creepy or what? Almost as creepy as the Material Girl's shiny (dare we say "plastic?") cheekbones.)

There were some inevitable political statements: both Pharrell and Beyonce had backup dancers strike the now infamous and unutterably sad "don't shoot" pose. Prince, channeling his inner Hindu in orange silk pajamas, explained that "Like books and black lives, albums still matter." But, the biggest, most coordinated statement was around the issue of domestic violence.

President Obama, in a prerecorded video, stated that "It’s not okay and it has to stop ... it’s on us, all of us, to create a culture where violence isn’t tolerated, where survivors are supported and where all our young people, men and women, can go as far as their talents and their dreams will take them."

Domestic abuse survivor, activist and poet Brooke Axtell performed a powerful autobiographical written-word piece. And Katy Perry (backed, it seemed by the ghost of Martha Graham), shed her violet hair and dancing sharks for a very serious rendition of "By the Grace of God," a very serious song about a very serious topic.

The whole thing would have been very serious.

If it didn't seem so hypocritical.

Sitting in the audience (and nominated for awards that evening) was Chris Brown, along with his ex-girlfriend (and alleged victim) Rihanna. You may remember that both musicians missed the Grammy Awards back in 2012: Brown, because he was being detained; Rihanna, because her face was smashed in.

And while they may currently be the most popular poster children for domestic violence, their abusive relationship (should I denature it by saying "domestic incident?") is by no means unique or new. The music industry has a long history of physical and sexual abuse. And some of the accused — in many cases, universally acknowledged — perps are among our most beloved idols: Paul McCartney, James Brown, Ike Turner, Tommy Lee, Ozzy Osbourne, Michael Jackson, Cee Lo Green, Slash, Vanilla Ice, Axl Rose, Vince Neil, Lou Rawls, Scott Weiland, even Yanni. 

Apparently, the issue crosses boundaries of age, race and musical genre.

I'm not complaining about the domestic violence PSA inserted into the Grammy Awards. The President's message was important, Axtell's poem was moving and even Perry's kind of dull performance was well-intentioned. But, I would encourage the music industry to take a closer, harder look at itself. Standing up against domestic violence in an awards broadcast is all well and good, but more substantive change needs to take place. Songs and performances that objectify women's bodies, that undermine women's roles as equals, that, in some cases, celebrate rape and violence. These need to be stopped. 

The trouble is, all of the above make money.

So until the recording industry is willing to forego its ill-gotten gains, it all seems like lip service to me.

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