The problem with the ban against Chris Brown

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Chris Brown blocked from entering Australia

The Australian government issues US R&B singer Chris Brown with a notice of intent to refuse him a visa because of his domestic violence history. Courtesy ABC News24.

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GetUp! this past week launched a campaign to prevent Chris Brown from touring Australia. The petition, titled 'No, Chris Brown. You're Not Welcome In Australia', asks the Minister for Immigration (Peter Dutton) to refuse Brown a visa. "If we stand by and do nothing while he performs around the country (even if we don't have the faintest interest in Brown's career or pop music in general), we are implicitly sending the message that if you brutally beat a woman, in a short amount of time you will be forgiven, or even celebrated."

Under the terms of the Migration Act, anyone with a "substantial criminal record" (a prison sentence of 12 months or more, including a suspended sentence) can be refused a visa. Brown was sentenced to five years probation in 2009 for the punching and strangling assault of his then girlfriend Rihanna.

It appears the campaign was successful, with reports on Sunday that Brown has been issued a notice of intent to refuse his visa; he'll now have a window of opportunity to challenge the notice, or withdraw his visa application. 

Chris Brown leaves court in 2009 after facing assault charges against former girlfriend Rihanna.

Chris Brown leaves court in 2009 after facing assault charges against former girlfriend Rihanna. Photo: Getty

It's a higher profile variation on a theme set by the previous campaigns led by "grassroots campaigning movement" Collective Shout against Brown, and rappers Tyler The Creator and Snoop Dogg.


"We haven't spoken with Collective Shout," GetUp Campaigns Director Kelsey Cooke told me via email, when asked about the similarities some commentators had noted between this petition and Collective Shout's. "It's an official GetUp campaign."

(Collective Shout did not respond to my request for comment.)

Rapper Tyler the Creator's Australian tour was cancelled earlier this year after pressure from Collective Shout.

Rapper Tyler the Creator's Australian tour was cancelled earlier this year after pressure from Collective Shout.

The notion common to both GetUp and Collective Shout's campaigns is that denying visas to touring celebrities with either a history of domestic violence (Brown, boxer Floyd Mayweather) or whose lyrics can be read as misogynist (Brown, Tyler, Snoop) is a way to send a message about Australia's stance against violence against women.

That would be admirable were it not for the fact that such campaigns seem almost entirely concerned with the alleged misogyny of rap and R&B. "Recording artists who glorify misogyny and degrade women for entertainment" were the exact words used by Collective Shout in an unsuccessful petition to then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison against "pimp rapper" Snoop Dogg in 2014, and yet death metal band Cannibal Corpse, whose songs include Addicted To Vaginal Skin and Entrails Ripped From A Virgin's C---, have regularly toured Australia.

When questioned about this inconsistency by music site Tone Deaf, Collective Shout's Director of Operations, Coralie Alison, claimed, "There are many additional campaigns that we could run if we had more resources".

Similarly, where Collective Shout and Melinda Tankard Reist campaigned widely to have the music video for Kanye West's Monster banned, there was no such level of effort put into having Maroon 5's controversial (and equally as disturbing) clip for Animals torn from the airwaves; again, according to the Tone Deaf interview, Collective Shout "didn't have capacity to run a campaign at the time".

Where is the outcry over the misogyny of The Decemberists, appearing at Byron Bay Bluesfest early next year, whose lyrics frequently concern the rape and mistreatment of women? Or is it okay because they're not rappers, and folk music isn't seen to "incite violence against women"? If you're going to decry the misogyny inherent in music, then apply the same lens to metal, country, pop, rock and alternative artists.

Make no mistake: Chris Brown is an entirely unpleasant man whose abuse of Rihanna remains abhorrent, as does his apparent unrepentance. But this desire to "send a message" to abusers must be consistent; as it stands - with Brown and Tyler having had their touring visas revoked while other artists are free to tour - these campaigns are inconsistent at best, racist at worst.

The use of immigration law to "send a message" is something any feminist should be profoundly uncomfortable with even in the face of Brown's well-documented crimes. What feminist can comfortably campaign to Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton to revoke the visas of certain touring artists when he's the same man steering Australia's cruel immigration policies?

These campaigns suggest it is okay to turn a blind eye against Dutton and the Government's hand in the abuses of women in detention so long as it means a few thousand concertgoers won't be subjected to Chris Brown's misogynist lyrics. There is also appalling irony in employing the language of Sovereign Borders and Border Force in these campaigns; witness the echoes of 'No Way, You Will Not Make Australia Home' in 'No, Chris Brown. You're Not Welcome In Australia'.

I asked GetUp whether they will be running similar campaigns to the 'No, Chris Brown' one for, say, the upcoming farewell tour by Black Sabbath; after all, Ozzy Osbourne has a history of domestic violence and once woke up in jail after attempting to strangle his wife, Sharon (in his words: "I regret trying to kill my wife").

"Unfortunately there are plenty of terrible, violent men in the entertainment industry, but none with greater access and influence to our youth," Cooke told me. "Consider this a campaign against any and all perpetrators of violence - with the hope that Chris Brown's example will enforce the precedent of sticking to the character test guidelines in future."

Whether or not the youth in question will get the message, or are just disappointed that the tour potentially isn't going ahead, will remain to be seen. But it seems optimistic to suggest that the campaign against Brown will be read as a one-size-fits-all statement about violence against women, and not just against the one man.  

"The point of the Chris Brown campaign is not, ultimately, Chris Brown," Cooke said. "It has very little to do with the popstar, and everything to do with how seriously we take domestic violence, and what we as a culture are willing to turn a blind eye to."

If that's the case, why not a campaign against the transgressions our culture is apparently happy to turn a blind eye to?

Following the alleged assault of a woman in the crowd at Friday's Hawthorn v Fremantle match, AFL Chief Gillon McLachlan decried the act as "completely unacceptable". By that token, one might ask why Wayne Carey - who has faced a number of allegations of domestic violence - is employed as an expert commentator. Similarly, given the NRL's stance on domestic violence, it's confusing to see Shaun Kenny-Dowall - arrested and charged with ten offences against his former partner including six counts of common assault - still on the field.     

When Kevin Andrews denied Snoop Dogg a visa in 2007, he remarked, "He doesn't seem the sort of bloke we want in this country." It's time to turn the spotlight on the abuse and misogyny inherent "in this country" - in our own sports and entertainment industries - and realise that there's nothing feminist in employing the rhetoric of border policing in the fight against misogyny.