On Domestic Violence, Rihanna, Chris Brown, And Running Out Of Ph-cks To Give


The other day I got lost in an internet vortex, as I am wont to do. It started on Twitter (naturally), as Dream Hampton was flipping out beautifully about the Jovan Belcher case and how everyone was sort of hailing Jovan (who murdered his girlfriend and committed suicide later)—rather than Kasandra— as the victim.  I hadn’t been following the case closely—some things just make my stomache churn so much that I’d rather turn away. But when I read Dream’s tweets, I knew I had to learn more about what happened. And it finally got me thinking somewhat productive thoughts about the Rihanna/Chris Brown reunion special that’s been driving me cray-cray, hurting my feelings, and finally, bringing me to the point where I almost ran out of ph-cks to give. Almost. Join me inside for a long-overdue pop culture theory piece on Chrianna, domestic violence, and our role in it all: PITNB’s popCULTURE CLUB: theoretically putting the “culture” back in “pop culture,” one post at a time…

So here are the tweets from Dream Hampton that started it all. It’s a screen shot so you gotta read from the bottom, up:

After Dream’s tweets, I found myself thinking back to all the TMZ headlines about how nobody suspected anything troubling about Jovan and Kasandra’s relationship; they were a happy couple, he was a great guy, etc. And I remembered not believing any of that because, as the President of the National Family Justice Center Alliance wrote:

Relationships do not go from healthy, happy and functional to murder-suicide overnight. It never happens. There is almost always a history and there is always a pattern. Over time it will be clear that friends, family, and colleagues knew things and saw things and did not take action.

I got that quote from an essay by Jessica Valenti titled Kasandra Perkins Did Not Have To Die. It sucks how much that’s true.

My vortex continued and I ended up reading a beautiful piece on The Crunk Feminist Collective (lmao… don’t ask me how I got there– like I said– it was a vortex) about Kasandra and other women whose murderers received more media coverage than they did. It was called Remember Their Names: In Memory of Kasandra, Cherica & Others. The author’s closing words really struck a chord with me:

And please… pay attention in your relationships!

Look for signs of danger… if someone threatens to kill you, believe them! If someone is emotionally or verbally abusive, leave the relationship. Love should not hurt, and despite the romanticization of manic love in popular culture, it is not worth dying for.

As soon as I read those words, I did something I do about 72 times a week; I thought about Rihanna and Chris Brown. LMAO. Kinda sad, but totally true. And honestly, I didn’t just think about the two of them. I thought of so many of my favorite shows and movies (i.e. Scandal), and other places in media and pop culture where there’s always a little bit (or a lot) of aggression tied up in the relationships we love to witness. (90s moment: can’t help but think of Buffy… remember that episode where Spike told Riley that Buffy always wanted her men with a little ‘monster’ in them?)

It’s also called passion, but it’s a very complicated idea.

Please believe that— although I haven’t been writing much about Rihanna or Chris since they debuted that abominable song Nobodies Business— I’ve been following their whole shizz and Twitter-stalking Rihanna like cray. But I’ve legit been struggling with what to say about it all. Still, I’ve seen the pics of them boo’d up:

And the pic she tweeted of him in her bed:

And the other pic she tweeted of him in her bed:

Oh, and then there was the one that Rihanna tweeted with the caption ‘Risky Business’ that’s allegedly of her… um… on her knees… in a hotel room with Chris. Maybe she was praying! But um. Yeah, no. She probably wasn’t.

So I see all these things (and you know every time I see pics of them together I really only see one pic), and then I see her cussing him out on Twitter after he was allegedly spotted in Paris with his ex-girlfriend Karreuche (remember, he said he loves them both so it’s fine). Oh, and in between all that are her pictures of, like, Scripture quotes… lmao. And I’m all like OMG.


And then after I release my rage, I always remember a class I once took called Reaching Out To God: The History Of Sufi Thought And Practice. Sufism is a sect of Islam and that class changed my life. Completely. One of the best discussions we had was about perception of the other. And my professor told us to think of one person who just irks the CRAP out of us. Visualize that person, and think about everything they do that drives you crazy.

So, yeah, let me do that exercise real quick:


And then my professor said something I’ll never forget, try as I might. She said that when there’s an individual who drives us crazy, whose actions offend, annoy, and disturb us to no end… it’s usually because we see some semblance of ourselves in them and that reflection– that familiarity– is the real thing that’s pissing us off.


So yeah, even though I’ve never experienced what Rihanna experienced the night Chris Brown attacked her, I see some of myself in her. And no, I never, ever picked up my ish and walked out forever on a guy the first time he hit me or put his hands on me (nor him on me, for doing the same); it was always a process.

  • ceebee

    Eh. I’ll ramble because now I’m tired of these two. It’s hard not to just trash this messy couple (triangle if I include KT).

    At first glance, there are children that see images of Rih beaten to a pulp (and readily so on the internet) and that she repeatedly goes back to the person who hurt her. Children can start to believe that this behaviour is normal, and I suppose it is if stats of the abused leaving X-amount of times and going back to their abuser/the person they love are true (and who am I to argue?).

    But then there’s the ph-ckknuckle (new word for you Shannon) CB, who is let off time and time again for his petulance and poor behaviour socially and in relationships. He, whom has the balls (and probably in some ways is congratulated on) and ego to juggle two women who clearly crave his attention.
    I still listen to the music of Rih, but the heart wants what it wants. Stupid people do stupid things. It’s a vicious cycle, but you can only teach children good things and hope they grow into good people, like Shannon has said. I have a step-son (no children of my own) and I see him pulled into so many directions so people can one-up each other and get his affections (and sometimes I just offer him a cuddle and I think it beats all the spoilings he gets at other times), maybe it’s no different. People want love at the end of the day.

    We need to protect the ones we love and hope they do good things, and encourage good choices without pushing them too hard because sometimes in the end, we push them away.

    • Shannon

      ceebee, thank you for sharing this! Thank you for ‘ ph-ckknuckle’! LMAO.

      And I love what you wrote about your stepson. Cuddling SAVES ALL. So much of who we are begins with our family life (and family drama), which is why I always try to stress the importance of worrying about our own families when we we’re worried about the state of the world, lol.

  • emily

    Shannon, love your essays. This one esp caught my interest b/c RiRi seems a train wreck to me, and much like LiLo, I have to read posts about train wrecks. But then your essay makes me all look inside and figure out why I love celebrity train wrecks.

    In real life, I’m a compassionate friend who takes no pleasure in other’s pain. In gossip life, I love to see the ridiculousness that is LiLo, and Ri Ri angers me. Why, why? I feel like it’s b/c celebrities are put on pedestals and I like to see egos taken down a peg. On the other hand, as your article says, if we were friends with these people, we would work hard to help them or let them be, but either way we’d care. But celebrities aren’t our friends, so we’re free to judge them and treat them the way we’d never treat people in our real life … but why? It’s so twisted. I do it, and it’s so twisted. You complicate my gossip brain Shannon.

    Also, just love your sentence, “Most parents are not giving their kids the tools they need to unpack this ish” Truly, since we can’t change the “breathless stupidity” that is RR & CB, we can change what our kids are learning from this. It’s much healthier to learn than ridicule. You often make very insightful and thoughtful comments about parenting, you’re going to raise such wonderful young men who will be smart enough to stay the ph-ck away from women like RiRi. :o)

    • Shannon

      emily, ‘You complicate my gossip brain Shannon.’ OMG! Thanks for this. I lit’rally laughed out loud :)

      You know what? Trent is really good at talking about celebs, but also responding to them (even LiLo) as if they were, you know, real people, lol. I think that’s partly where I get it from. As much as I wanna just dismiss some of the trainwreck-age, I can’t help but be interested in the roots of it all… and then connect it to some of my own personal trainwreck-age, lmao.

      I swear to the gods. If one of my boys EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER brought home anyone who even, like, remotely reminded me of a girl who would post Twit pics akin to badgalriri’s… I would just give up on life. I would have failed. And I would know that I had somehow railed soooo hard against RiRi, that I’d somehow encouraged them to go after it, LMAO. Thanks for reminding me not to do that– see? This parenting stuff is tricky :)

  • Megan

    I hope people take the time to read all that, because it is all very interesting. Personally, I’ve given up on having any emotion when it comes to those two. I can’t even being myself to formulate my reaction to what you talked about. Ugh

    • Shannon

      Megan, I hear you. It took me forever just to get these thoughts out– the whole situation can really be exhausting. But it also can be enlightening, if we choose to see it that way. Thanks for commenting :)

    • Joan

      I find myself right where you are, Megan. I gave up on this two a long time ago. I never really liked Chris Brown so it was fairly easy do ignore him complete existence. I recently started doing that with Rihanna as well. I think she’s desperately looking for attention and I’m sure as hell not going to give it to her. Part of me believes she has learned to love the controversy and attention that comes with dating Chris Brown. I’m over her rebellious attitude towards everything (clothing included LOL) Anyway, good riddance to both and hopefully, for her sake, it doesn’t end bad.

    • Shannon

      Joan, ‘I think she’s desperately looking for attention’– for sure! I mean, you just don’t share Twit pics like that unless you’re starving for attention, lol. And it sucks that, at this point, it doesn’t matter what kind she gets. But like I said, I can understand that way of thinking, I just hope that her fans are being exposed to something (anything) other than RiRi in the nude :)

  • RachelW

    I read this article and realize that I am guilty of something completely different. I will define what that is as I write this because I can not find the word for it right now. I read the comments of those who said they would ‘fight’ for their friend if she was in an abusive relationship. I read the tips on how to talk to a friend who is an abusive relationship and how to and now talk about the abuser.

    But I also know what it is like to truly be the friend of a woman being abused. The panic every time the phone rings, especially after 6pm when you know he is home from work. The anxiousness that is caused when you don’t receive at least 10 texts from her during the day to make sure she is okay. The brave face you have to put on in front of him and company until she can make her escape and make her escape for good.

    My point…Rihanna and Chris fascinate me because I can place them in the category of OTHER. I don’t know them personally so there is no call to action, no sense of obligation to do anything. I mean they have managers, lawyers, agents, assistants, etc. Their relationship also serves as a point of reference. I remember the day my friend called me to say “Love the Way You Lie” perfectly described her relationship with her ex. I had to inform her the song was about domestic violence.

    My friend is no longer with her ex but she is different. I guess I struggle with following Rihanna and Chris Brown’s personal life because it is so easy to get yourself lost in a toxic relationship, even if you are not one of the main parties. I have struggled with guilt since at times I resented her for “just not getting it” and taking so much of MY time versus my unfaltering loyalty to her. The more I tried to create boundaries the more attention she sought.

    I am sure everything that has been mentioned here has been done at some level but the bond between Rihanna and Chris – unhealthy as it is – is too strong. And I do believe that somewhere in both of their camps someone is tired of fighting it; tired in the name of self preservation. (Please excuse any typos–It’s late and I”m catching up on my blogs :)

    • Shannon

      RachelW, thank you so much for sharing your experience with this subject. I think you’re right about Rihanna & Chris having people in their camps who have probably exhausted themselves with the issue– ‘tired in the name of self preservation’ indeed!

      And I also like your point about how there’s something about their story that’s kind of appealing, since we’re NOT their friends and we DON’T have to think about the best way to support them. In a way, it’s a lot like watching TV where we can kinda get involved in a character’s life, but we don’t owe them anything at the end of the day– we tune in and out as it suits us.

  • Joe

    It’s all too obvious to us, looking outside in. But from the inside–and considering their ages–this unfortunately is not terribly uncommon a scenario. Add fame/wealth & possible poor parenting/mentor/role models/family histories… and we have seriously f*cked up young love–and I use the term “love” EXTREMEly loosely if not ironically. See 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 right? Can’t believe I’m actually referencing the bible :-(
    Great essay, Shannon. Lots to think about! Thanks for putting it all down & sharing.

    • Shannon

      Joe, thanks for commenting! Years ago, I wrote a GINORMOUS paper on Corinthians 13– are you kidding me?! Love that book, love all the misinterpretations of love, love that you brought it up here.

      Actually, there’s been some research done on the role of religion and the religious understanding of love and how it plays into women in abusive relationships. I know that’s not exactly where you were going, but Rihanna loves to post scriptures on her Twitter (when she’s not posting pictures of herself, naked, smoking a blunt… lol… no judgement!), so it’s interesting to consider. It’s so easy conflate forgiveness with romantic love; to assume that love is difficult… even to the point of being painful. You could EASILY read Corinthians (and other depictions of love in religion and pop culture) that way, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing.

  • Shannon m.

    Thanks for an insightful post, Shannon. It’s nice to justify reading a celebrity gossip site instead of doing homework lol.

    • Shannon

      Shannon m., lol! Call it a semi-intellectual study break. Thanks for reading :)

  • Grace

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Shannon.
    You are right about our response to it, about how we need to explain it to our children. At the end of the day, Chris & Rihanna are adults who will do what they do. We are not their support systems. I can only hope that they *have* some sort of support systems, but the lack of it seems to be part of the problem here.

    When I was young, about 9 or 10, my stepmother shared her past experience with me. Before marrying my dad, she had married a violent man who was abusive to her. She stayed because she had no immediate support system. She had a child with him, and for that reason, her family thought she should preserve the family unit, no matter what. What ultimately pushed her out the door was when her abuser raised his hand on her son. Her reaction was: What am I teaching my son about love by staying? And so she left. It was hard. She was alone with her small son, but she didn’t look back.

    And maybe that’s what we need to do? To strive to become role models to children (whether ours or any children in our immediate circle) instead of letting pop stars fill that role?

    Thanks again for your wonderful post, Shannon!

  • Ella

    Shannon I love these thought conversation starting posts of yours because they are important to have. I don’t think blaming Rihanna or hating Chris or trying to figure out their deal is not what’s important. It’s starting a real conversation for their younger more impressionable fans. Like you said, their music and music like it, needs to be unpacked for them. They really don’t understand what they’re hearing or what they’re reading on social media sites like Twitter.

    Consider this huge chunk out of Lupe Fiasco’s B*tch Bad:
    Yeah, now imagine a group of little girls nine through twelve
    On the internet watchin’ videos listenin’ to songs by themselves
    It doesn’t really matter if they have parental clearance
    They understand the internet better than their parents
    Now being the internet, the content’s probably uncensored
    They’re young, so they’re malleable and probably unmentored
    A complicated combination, maybe with no relevance
    Until that intelligence meets their favorite singer’s preference
    “Bad bitches, bad bitches, bad bitches
    That’s all I want and all I like in life is bad bitches, bad bitches”
    Now let’s say that they less concerned with him
    And more with the video girl acquiescent to his whims
    Ah, the plot thickens
    High heels, long hair, fat booty, slim
    Reality check, I’m not trippin’
    They don’t see a paid actress, just what makes a bad bitch.

    Our society still applauds bad behavior(See-Jersey Shore and that new horrid WVA reality show on MTV) so young people are getting a lot of mixed messages about what’s “cool” and how to act. As a future English teacher I want to take popular music and talk about the lyrics with my students.

    We can easily roll our eyes and say say who cares, but keeping silent no matter how annoying Chrihanna are, is as dangerous as as the message their “love” is sending.

  • Rachel

    Thank you for discussing this pop culture “couple” in such a high-level, intelligent, big picture type of way. I think the quotes from your friends paint a pretty clear picture of how divisive this issue is: everyone is gonna have an opinion on intimate partner violence, and these opinions vary widely. I personally think Rihanna has shitty taste in men, and she could likely do a lot better. Just down to CB’s personality, not just his dastardly ways.

  • Dezden

    Very interesting!!! Good post. I just want this to be the last thing I read about them ever. I’ll be perfectly content if that can happen.