It must suck to be Chris Brown right now. This afternoon I was watching an episode of TMZ, and those improbably comely tabloid reporters were debating whether the allegations that Chris Brown beat up his girlfriend Rihanna, who has reportedly taken him back three weeks after the alleged attack, would be "the final nail in his career's coffin" (yes, their words -- as if his shining star had previously been in danger of flaming out). Someone mentioned that this would reflect poorly on black performers, which I don't really see, given the up-to-now crossover appeal of Chris and Rihanna; both of their images and their popularity transcend race. Someone else, hypothesizing that the death of his career was not a done deal, mentioned Kobe Bryant and how five years ago his admitted marital indiscretion spawned premature -- and ultimately inaccurate -- prognoses of career death.
I say the the two are completely incomparable. Infidelity is tolerated -- almost expected -- from celebrities. From Bill Clinton to Brad Pitt (if you believe Angelina Jolie's insinuations in Vanity Fair) fooling around on your spouse, even when she's as A-list as you are, does not necessarily hasten the twilight of your career. Consider Ingrid Bergman. After a brief Hollywood exile in the 1950s, she rebounded from her extramarital affair with Roberto Rossellini and went on to win two more Oscars.
But spousal or domestic abuse is a much more serious matter. Sure it didn't dent the career of Josh Brolin after police were called to his house to intervene in an undisclosed domestic disturbance between him and his wife, Diane Lane, in 2004. And when Madonna sang "Til Death Do We Part," a song on her 1989 Like A Prayer album that hinted at spousal abuse and which many assumed to be autobiographical, it did less to temporarily hinder the career of her by-then ex-husband Sean Penn than his general crankiness and public temper tantrums.
Will Chris Brown be so lucky? Unless you're living under a rock (or simply couldn't care less about such things), you've probably seen the infamous photos of a battered Rihanna. Not since the 1993 film What's Love Got To Do With It has a case of superstar domestic violence played out so publicly in the media.
Chris's half-hearted acts of contrition (including hokey invocations of his mother and pastor) won't slow his slide. His only hope is for hard evidence to surface (preferably from the mouth of Rihanna) that he had nothing to do with what happened to her, followed by a very public and very believable reconciliation. But then again, their supposedly in-progress reunion might not be enough -- especially for a young singer whose image up to now has been built on a sexy but clean-cut image, a la Justin Timberlake.
If the allegations against Chris are indeed true, I hope he spends some time in prison. I find any form of domestic violence to be unacceptable -- even a slap, whether inflicted by the male or the female. But looking at the pictures of Rihanna, the attack against her appears to have been savage and brutal, with decapacitating intent. If Chris was to blame, and she really is giving him another chance, she's a fool. She's one of the biggest female stars of the moment, and public goodwill would send her star soaring even higher (complete with a standing ovation at the 2010 Grammys), if she gave him the boot. Or like Hillary Clinton, she could stand by her man, be condemned for taking back a louse and end up being both the victim and the villain.
As for Chris Brown, in my eyes -- and to my ears -- the damage has been done. "No Air" will never sound the same again.