Dr. Boyce: Do Black Men Have To Act Stupid To Sell Records?

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kanye west and chris brown

They say that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. This truism might also include public celebrity tirades. Another name for these outbursts might be “publicity stunts designed to sell records.” This is the case where a celeb goes bananas in public and does something that is both unthinkable and conversation-worthy, sure to grab headlines right before his/her album release. An example would be Kanye West running up on stage to steal a microphone from Taylor Swift, or Chris Brown punching out a window at Good Morning America.

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The rest of the formula is simple:  Make sure you look good when the press meets you outside to take your picture (as Brown “just happened” to take his shirt off right after the Good Morning America incident, even though it was 40-degrees outside).  The next day, you sit back and wait for the media to ring your phone off the hook, begging for an interview.  That’s when you appear in public again, genuinely remorseful for your behavior and describing how your album expresses all of the pain which led to your cry for help.  The world seems to love the conflicted and out-of-control musician, and managers know how to manipulate this sentiment perfectly.

The formula seems to have worked for Chris Brown, who is probably as remorseful as a fat puppy falling into a bucket of hamburger.  I don’t believe Brown’s tirade was real and neither was his apology.  I can also guarantee that he will almost certainly do it again in the future.

What’s most interesting is that the celebrity flip outs don’t just sell records, they can also significantly strengthen the brand of the artist who is trying to show the world that he “really doesn’t give a *&^%.”   On Twitter, Brown went out of his way to say that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks, except for his fans of course.  You have to always stay loyal to the folks who are paying the bills.  What’s most interesting is that the “keeping it real” attitude that many celebrities profess to represent is about as artificial and contrived as a politician promising that he will be different from other politicians.

At the end of the day, these seemingly random events are carefully calculated business decisions.  Chris Brown’s advisors likely let him know exactly how much he could get away with without violating the terms of his probation.  He also knew exactly who it was OK to anger and who he dare not cross.  It’s all about the Benjamins, and Chris is going to cash in from the publicity.

But Brown and West are, to some extent, trapped by their fame.  By aligning themselves with the highly dysfunctional hip-hop music industry, both of these artists are constantly being judged by those who think that a black man “keeping it real” must be an inch away from a jail cell or spend his time living on the fringes of society.  Had Brown tried to keep it real by going back to school, mentoring young boys or speaking out on important political issues, he might have been deemed too square to sell records to the American public.

Much of Brown’s distorted perception of manhood is not of his own making.  America has created a set of inner city circumstances where far too many black men spend their time dodging bullets, barely staying of jail, and not being properly educated.  This marginalization (created by all of America, not just black men) has built a culture in which reckless behavior from black male artists becomes both rewarded and expected.  Brown and others must be taught new ways to reflect manhood and realize that a black man’s default role in society is not that of the social deviant.

As it stands, I don’t expect Chris Brown or anyone on his team to internalize this message.  But the message can be accepted by all of us, whether we are raising wannabe Chris Browns or seeking out models of manhood within black America.  The message should also be accepted by those who work to sustain the society that builds social cages of black male trauma that serve to create the Chris Browns of the world in the first place.  We all played a role in creating the problem, so we must all work together for solutions.

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