A Chris Brown/Rihanna costume is not funny

Bobby Harvey | Op-Ed Submission

Halloween is fun. Battering your girlfriend until her face is swollen and her lips are bloody is not. Stephanie Spera’s Oct. 28 article on last-minute costumes (“Last minute costume ideas”) is a light-hearted piece, offering Washington University students some tips for those of us who have been too busy with midterms to get a costume. Her suggestion for a Chris Brown and Rihanna costume, however, betrays her ignorance as to the severity of a trauma that affects men and women all over the world, including students right here at Washington University. She suggests that for the costume, “You just need makeup and a fake restraining order.” While this is a tasteless suggestion to begin with, she then ups the ante by mocking Rihanna for her supposed lack of talent. Not only is Rihanna attacked for being the victim of a violent crime, her artistic worth is questioned on top of it. Chris Brown escapes any reproach. After all, his only crime was felony assault.

As a member of the Washington University community, I find it deeply alarming that ignorant, hurtful statements like this are included with suggestions for Halloween costumes. The 2007 American College Health Association’s survey of Wash. U.’s campus revealed that 11.4 percent of Wash. U. women and 6.5 percent of Wash. U. men have been in emotionally abusive relationships in the last 12 months. That adds up to hundreds of men and women on this campus being victimized by their partners. Right here at Wash. U. The survey also showed that between 0.5 percent and 0.7 percent of students report being in physically or sexually abusive relationships. It is important to note that these numbers, like all numbers involving sexual assault and relationship violence, are under-representations because survivors of these crimes are unlikely to report. Surveys of colleges nationwide reveal that nearly one quarter of students experience physical violence in a relationship in college. Of course, just one student being victimized—emotionally or physically—by his or her partner is far too many.

I understand that Spera was trying to be funny. Humor is not a bad thing—I’m kind of a fan. The problem comes when the humor actively and willfully contributes to the oppression of a group, especially to an already traumatized and victimized group, for absolutely no reason. What is to be gained by poking fun at Rihanna’s face being pummeled by Chris Brown? Where is the humor in that? The reason Spera’s comment comes vaguely close to almost being socially acceptable is that relationship violence is a largely invisible crime, especially on college campuses. That is why many students may be shocked (and hopefully outraged) to find out that a sizeable percentage of their peers have been abused by a partner. When we joke about domestic violence, about a man beating the crap out of his girlfriend, it makes her suffering seem trivial, which only serves to minimize the trauma that survivors experience. Survivors of abuse have enough to deal with. There is no reason to add insult to physical and emotional injury by mocking their pain. We need to stand up and show our peers that we are willing and able to discuss these issues in a mature and understanding way so that those of us who are in violent relationships can feel comfortable asking for support. After all, if we can mock Rihanna for getting beaten bloody, how are we going to treat our peers whose injuries are not so conspicuous?

I would also like to remind everyone that the Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H.) is available 24 hours to be a listening ear for any member of the community. It can be reached at (314) 935-8080.

Bobby is a senior in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at bobharvey7@gmail.com.

  • Lauren

    Melba – are you serious that one needs to have perpetrated an act of violence to know that it’s unacceptable? As a campus community we should be supporting survivors of dating violence, not belittling the abuse they have experienced. I’m very disappointed in your and several of the other comments up here.

  • John

    Thats almost as good as Ike and Tina!!! This article sucked but it got a few laughs.

  • Melba Narberth

    “Halloween is fun. Battering your girlfriend until her face is swollen and her lips are bloody is not.”

    Unless you’ve done this to your girlfriend, how would you know?

  • cue the card

    “Not only is Rihanna attacked for being the victim of a violent crime, her artistic worth is questioned on top of it.”

    OK, I agree that making fun of her for being the victim of violence is quite insensitive and ignorant, but why are you criticizing the part where the person said she sucks? People have been saying that BEFORE the incident, just as people have been saying Britney Spears is talentless before she went crazy. People didn’t decide to “question Rihanna’s artistic worth” because she got beaten up, just as people still agree that Amy Winehouse is talented, in spite of her personal problems. People’s opinions on an entertainer’s talent are already made and set in stone before any scandal comes along to ruin that person’s image. If they genuinely enjoyed that person’s work and thought they were special for it, it doesn’t change much after they no longer like the person for whatever reason. A lot of people dislike Michael Jackson, but they don’t decide to say he sucked if that wasn’t their opinion of his talent before his scandals. Overall, I agree with the article EXCEPT the “on top of that, they make fun of her supposed lack talent” part. People have been questioning her lack of musical skills even when she was still a squeaky clean good girl who made no mistakes in people’s eyes. And Chris Brown hasn’t exactly skated by criticism free, either. His name is now synonymous with “punk”, and Oprah hasn’t let light on him.

  • Melanie

    I’m so glad you wrote this. What started as a fairly witty list of costume ideas ended on an insensitive and offensive note. Domestic violence is neither funny nor edgy.

  • Larry
  • David

    Actually Bobby is one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet. Consider the actual point, don’t try and belittle the author.

  • Man, what Halloween party are you going to? Thanks for the costume idea!

  • The person who wrote this article doesn’t have a sense of humor.

  • David

    Great piece Bobby – very eloquent.