America’s concern over sending a message of tacit approval or even forgiveness of domestic violence motivates a level of vitriol directed toward Brown that provides a case study on the way we shame now. In London stickers warning “Do not buy this album! This man beats women” labeled Brown’s 2012 album Fortune (RCA). The same album received this six-word review from Chad Taylor of Iowa’s independent weeklyCityView: “Chris Brown hits women. Enough said.” On any slow day, comedians on Twitter can rely on a lazy dig at Brown to earn them a satisfactory number of favorites and retweets. Twitter comedian Jenny Johnson displayed a particular penchant for antagonizing Brown, manually retweeting him with references to the assault. He tweeted, “Can I wow you?” She retweeted with, “You misspelled “beat the shit out of you.” Brown tweeted “#DontGiveUpBecause you are special!,” Johnson added “ #GoToPrisonBecause you are a woman beater! This went on for years until last November when, to Chris Brown’s tweet of, “I look old as fuck! I’m only 23…,” Johnson added “I know! Being a worthless piece of shit can really age a person. This resulted in Brown replying for the first time, telling her to perform a number of sexually explicit acts and eventually deleting his twitter account. To Glamour magazine, which congratulated Johnson last month for “speaking her mind,” Johnson said, “Any type of abuse should never be tolerated.”
Hating on Chris Brown isn’t part of a buzz cycle; that would imply an arc towards irrelevance. It’s a cross between being a meme and a national hobby, with all the depth of the former and the level of engagement of the latter. From Facebook statuses broadcast to friends and coworkers to publicly shared tweets, the assault on Rihanna is made all the more significant for occurring in an era that mutated water cooler tut-tutting into self-righteous, far-reaching pontificating. Brown’s detractors, while not wrong, are hailed as heroes and ascribed a bravery they probably didn’t employ in deriding one of America’s most reviled pop stars.
While a slew of white celebrities have assaulted women with not so much as a footnote on their IMDB pages, Brown’s constant defamation has become a drone as common to the Internet as making fun of Nickelback or upvoting jailbait. The loathing he inspires can’t be divorced from the obvious circumstances that fostered it: He perpetuated a vicious assault that sent a woman to the hospital; that woman was Rihanna; the photo of Rihanna’s face after the assault was made public; Brown has espoused a consistent, goading churlishness since the incident; his music isn’t exactly vital.