What do Chris Brown’s fans think about the Australian visa controversy?
On Sunday the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection issued R&B artist Chris Brown with a “notice of intention to consider refusal” in response to his visa application. It telegraphs the Australian government’s view that Brown should be denied a visa to enter the country. The singer was heading to Australia to take part in a national tour so I decided to speak to a couple of would-be concert goers to gauge their response to the controversy.
The government’s decision followed a grassroots campaign calling for Brown’s visa to be rejected spearheaded by progressive activist group, GetUp!, who cited his domestic violence conviction as a reason to bar entry into the country. GetUp! has come under some criticism for the campaign, not from supporters of Brown, but from those believe a visa dispute is not the ideal mechanism through which to address issues around domestic violence.
The debate over GetUp!’s strategy has been interesting but so far a crucial voice has been missing — that of Chris Brown’s Australian fans. One of the key justifications for the campaign targeting Brown was his unique “access and influence” to Australian youth. The idea of Brown’s fans as uncritical and slavish admirers of everything the singer has ever done seems jarring, particularly when it appears his fan base is overwhelmingly female. Is there a genuine fear that Brown’s fans, by attending his concerts and consuming his music, are making a statement in support of his violence against women, or tacitly approving it?
Emily* believes that such a perspective underestimates Brown’s fans.
“If you look at the evidence, his fan base is predominantly female, and they are willing to fork out to see him perform, for entertainment purposes knowing fully that he has been convicted of domestic violence.”
Mona, another young fan, was well aware of Brown’s domestic violence conviction and made a conscious decision to support the artist.
“I like to think of me supporting Chris the artist now, is me supporting a young black male who has changed his life for the better. Not to mention he is an incredibly talented performer, we don’t have many of them these days.”
“Does watching a Mark Wahlberg movie mean you’re endorsing racism or attempted murder? Does watching a Tim Allen show mean you’re endorsing drugs? Does watching Charlie Sheen mean you’re endorsing domestic violence?”
Both Emily and Mona shelled out up to $200 for pre-sale tickets to Brown’s show and were disappointed to hear the tour might be cancelled. They also proudly consider themselves feminists.
They believe the targeting of Brown was an arbitrary and hypocritical act by the government.
“Chris Brown has been convicted, charged and served his justice. He entered Australia back in 2011 after the conviction was passed, so why should we be kicking up a fuss now,” Emily argued. “We aren’t endorsing his actions by listening to his music or attending his concerts.”
Mona agreed, “Many other artists and actors have committed crimes and we seem to be able to separate their personal and professional lives. The entire Hollywood industry glorifies violence, just watch a movie or music video. Does watching a Mark Wahlberg movie mean you’re endorsing racism or attempted murder? Does watching a Tim Allen show mean you’re endorsing drugs? Does watching Charlie Sheen mean you’re endorsing domestic violence?”
Kim is a former student representative council Women’s Officer and, like Emily and Mona, had bought pre-sale concert tickets.
“It’s belittling to the consumer to say that they are endorsing the actions of the individual by enjoying the art they produce and that they can’t separate the two ideas,” she told me.
GetUp! and supporters of the campaign argued that the government’s actions would send a strong message about its stance on domestic violence. I asked all three fans whether they agreed.
“No, not at all. Banning Chris Brown doesn’t change a thing in Australia regarding domestic violence. The government will still turn a blind eye to violence against women in detention centres and the government will still not have done anything substantial to eradicate the problem that is a rising issue in Australia,” said Mona.
Emily thought the government was distracting attention away from its own inaction. “ I think the government’s actions are just to show they are doing something about the issue, but they’re not going about it the right way. They need to address what’s going on in their backyard first.”
“When almost two women have been murdered each week on average in this country, this year alone, due to acts of domestic violence, I believe we need to be looking to find solutions to our own situation, not a five year old case where criminal and social justice has been served,” said Kim.
All three had concrete suggestions for what the government could do to address domestic violence.
“Getting our communities better educated on knowing the signs, how to get help and providing assistance to those affected,” suggested Mona.
“More education, tougher laws and more funding being poured into support services for women who are experiencing domestic violence. The government needs to look at international examples and start implementing. Action locally would be more beneficial than banning a singer who is being used as the government’s publicity stunt,” said Emily.
Kim also highlighted the issue of funding and education as well as crisis accommodation.
It was apparent after talking to Emily, Mona and Kim that the predetermined stereotype of Chris Brown fans as either oblivious or susceptible to malign influence was off the mark. These intelligent young women did not conflate their own views regarding violence against women with their preference for a particular kind of pop music. The depressing thing is that Chris Brown’s fans are far more likely to be victims of domestic violence rather than perpetrators, by simple virtue of the fact that domestic violence victims are overwhelmingly women — like Brown’s fanbase. This is a group of people who should be treated with respect and whose views should be engaged with to when it comes to trying to fix the issue — rather than being written off as pliant and easily influenced.
*Name changed at the request of the individual.