The problem with Bliss N Eso's apology for domestic violence 'joke'

One of the misogynistic posts on Max MacKinnon's Instagram account, now removed.

One of the misogynistic posts on Max MacKinnon's Instagram account, now removed.

It takes a special form of human detritus who’ll stand in front of a waxwork model of singer Rihanna and think hey, wouldn’t it be hilarious if I pretended to punch her in the face and took a photograph of it? Yet that’s exactly what Australian hip hop artist ‘MC Eso’ did earlier this week while on holiday in the US.

Eso, who’s one third of hip hop group Bliss N Eso, uploaded the photo to his Instagram account with the caption, “Where did ya throw those fucking car keys woman !?!” Just in case that wasn’t witty enough for you, he hashtagged the image with #smackmybitch and #shelovesthewayithurts.

You might remember that, in 2009, Rihanna was violently beaten by her then-boyfriend, Chris Brown. While arguing in a vehicle, Brown punched her, pushed her head into the car window, bit her on the ear and threatened to kill her. The attack was so savage that Rihanna was hospitalised. In a tangential assault not dissimilar to the recent theft of private photographs of female celebrities, the police photos of Rihanna’s battered face were leaked and published by TMZ, with no thought as to how it might compound her trauma to have images of it broadcast without her consent for the entire world to see.

Max MacKinnon, also known as MC Eso, with a wax work of Raquel Welch.

Max MacKinnon, also known as MC Eso, with a wax work of Raquel Welch.

So you can see why it might be considered not just grossly insensitive but also deeply offensive for anyone to make light of that event and pass it off as a harmless bit of fun. Yet that’s exactly what Eso’s fans did, as they flooded his account to defend the rapper against criticism from the killjoys who find little to laugh about in domestic violence. In a curious melding of both Anita’s and Lewis’ Law, comments defending the post as ‘just a joke’ quickly moved from ‘get over it’ and ‘people are too politically correct these days’ to actual threats of violence.

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You see, violence against women is funny. And if you disagree, you are uptight, humourless, prudish, probably ugly and you hate freedom of speech.

After the intervention of someone who clearly has the interests of Eso’s bank balance at heart, the photograph was removed and a pro-forma apology posted in its place. In it, Eso writes:

“Violence against women has no place in our society and I am sincerely sorry for the offence that my previous Instagram posts have caused. The photos were not intended to promote violence and were shot in a comedic manner, which upon reflection I realise was in bad taste and unacceptable. #peace #love #unity”

Meanwhile, in a longer statement published by the Herald Sun, Eso’s management said, “It’s easy for some to focus entirely on the negative but people should be mindful of his acknowledgement and subsequent actions relating to the incident. The artist has subsequently expressed his strong stance on domestic violence, and violence against women being unacceptable. We hope that the very direct post he issued on his Instagram will continue to instil these messages amongst his fan base and followers.”

Except that it hasn’t. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that this apology was clearly written by one of his representatives and posted as a form of damage control, Eso’s Instagram fans continue to viciously excuse and downplay the impact of the rapper’s ‘joke’. In a script that’s becoming all too familiar when famous men are accused of acting in a way that’s harmful towards women, Eso has been described as ‘awesome’, a ‘good bloke’ and ‘the last person to ever hurt a woman’. Even his management seems to think that merely expressing opposition to domestic violence is enough to make the whole thing go away - as if all a person has to say after crudely embodying the cultural attitudes and behaviour that sees at least one woman murdered in Australia every week is, ‘Oh, but I didn’t mean it because actually I’m a Really Great Guy.’

But paying lip service to what is no doubt privately considered the irrational squawkings of overwrought feminists has become par for the course when protesting the swaggering entitlement of male privilege. And while famous men are forced to deliver their pre-scripted mea culpas, none of them ever seem to challenge the rampant misogyny expressed by their fans in an increasingly ironic show of support. If Eso truly cared about instilling the message that violence against women is unacceptable, why hasn’t he waded in to directly contradict the downplaying of it that’s currently occurring on his own account?

Easy. For the same reasons felt by everyone who apologises by ‘for offence caused’. Because they don’t actually think they’ve done anything wrong. Instead, like Cee-Lo Green’s outrageous tweets arguing that it can’t be rape if the woman is unconscious, they argue that they’ve been ‘taken out of context’ or that they had a ‘lapse in judgement’. What they don’t ever do is truly pay penance for their misdeeds, or accept that maybe they deserve to lose a little cultural capital for their sins; even Chris Brown has enjoyed lucrative contracts and chart success since attacking Rihanna.

These things matter not just because people should be held to account for their actions but because their actions have consequences. Violence against women is a serious cultural problem which results in the dehumanisation, abuse and even death of countless women around the world. It isn’t fodder for for cheap wannabe comedians to plumb the depths of because it makes them feel dangerous and interesting to tackle topics that are ‘off-limits’.

When Eso ‘jokes’ about punching Rihanna - a woman who has not just been the very publicised victim of domestic violence but who, as a member of the music industry, is also his professional colleague - he isn’t making a light hearted Dad joke. He’s contributing to the degradation of women in society, and the demands that they be quiet about it. Worse, whether he intends to or not, he’s confirming to every single person who secretly (or not so secretly) believes that violence against women isn’t that big a deal that they’re right. That sometimes women ask for it. That it’s funny to laugh about. That it might just even be okay to do. So here’s a joke for Eso and his fans to think about.

What do you tell a woman who has two black eyes?

Nothing. Because violence against women isn’t funny.