Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

The Politics of Attention: On Chris Brown and Syria

Today, Chris Brown–the singer probably most famous for beating the shit out of Rihanna–tweeted a series of somewhat nonsensical, but awareness-raising tweets about the horrifying massacre that took place yesterday in Houla, Syria.

My cynicism immediately kicked in, and I tweeted: “Oh look, @chrisbrown took time off from beating his girlfriend to show empathy for Syrians.” While the tweet got quite a bit of positive response, I also got some death threats, nasty words, and criticism for my outburst. Since the former is not worth my time, I’d like to focus on the latter: Some folks feel that because Chris Brown–who has 10 million Twitter followers–tweeted about Syria briefly, that something might change. Let me put it bluntly: I do not.

How, exactly, do you think anything might change in Syria because the people who follow Chris Brown–a man whose opening salvo on Syria was “#HoulaMassacre OMG!!!!! Not cool!”–are now vaguely aware that something happened in Syria, a place that Americans (whom, I’m guessing constitute most of Brown’s followers) have no control over whatsoever? I mean, Americans have been fully aware for a decade now that our own troops are killing Iraqis–something that we, as Americans, actually do, in theory, have the power to stop with our votes–and have done just about nothing.

Rather, I suspect that those who learned something today from Chris Brown might pause for a moment, hug their children a little tighter tonight, but tomorrow go on as if before.

Or perhaps I’m wrong. And if so, what is the best possible outcome of Chris Brown’s tweets? Is it like the KONY 2012 campaign? Surely, awareness was raised, though I doubt Ugandan children are better off for it. Perhaps if enough celebrities tweeted, maybe the US would intervene in Syria (an idea which debatably could make things worse on the ground). Ideally, a (more than a) few people would turn into activists themselves, and work toward tangible societal change. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for.

The nice folks who tweet from @openAwakening responded by saying “Hope springs eternal… awareness is step 1″ – and I don’t think they’re wrong. But as they later tweeted: “Anyone else feel that the way hashtags rise and fall is a form of passing indifference? We need sustained awareness! #HoulaMassacre.”

Because that’s precisely it: Sustained awareness is what matters, awareness enough to care, to do something. And perhaps there is not a single thing any of us can immediately do to fix Syria*, but if, one by one, we become aware, and keep caring, and activate, then eventually we will accomplish something. But I can assure you that won’t come from a few million people seeing a poorly-written tweet from a pop singer who beats women.

*Not entirely true: I think there are lots of little things we can do. For my part, I’ve focused on helping Syrians resist online surveillance.

13 Comments

  1. Yes, just him tweeting this does not mean thing are going to change. But what is so wrong for him to show sympathy for people that are dying? You, and I tweet whatever is on our mind why do his tweets have to be analyzed so extensively. If anything, his tweets would be raising some awareness, I’m not saying this will drastically do anything but so many people don’t even know what is going on in Syria. People are dying, and right now you are being a bitch about it, sorry to put it bluntly but thats the truth.

    • second that, but without the B word. 0:)

    • Totally agree with this. I was a bit skeptical when reading Chris Brown’s tweets about Syria – that they came somewhat out of nowhere and probably will not continue. But I also admire that he took a minute out of his self-promotion tweeting and the normal chat to comment on a serious international problem. He should not be condemned by holier-than-though college educated professoinals in the field of ‘freedom of expression.’
      And I shake my head reading that line calling it a “poorly-written tweet from a pop singer who beats women.” The boy had one instance of mental breakdown at age 19 and had a physical fight with his girlfriend. He has not laid a hand on a woman since. That makes him a ‘woman beater’? Go take your slander to the gossip blogs – you would fit in well. And yes, its poorly written – he barely finished high school. I see something close to racism in that irrelevant condescending remark.

    • Spot on Chianne! I’d be curious to see the author’s replies to some of these comments.. hmm

  2. It may be icky, it may end up going nowhere, it may make one feel like a whore, but politics demands one work with everyone possible to achieve an objective. If that means Chris Brown, so be it. No matter how often cynicism is confirmed, it cannot be allowed to take root in one’s heart for long. The result is always apathy, demobilization, defeat. So let’s all vomit in our hats and welcome these folks to the struggle we have been waging for over a year to shine a light on the crimes of the Assad regime and assist those who are its victims.

  3. The last time I checked, everyone is entitled to their opinions. Not sure why your so mad and what his past has to do with what he tweeted. I pray that people like you find GOD. BLOG ABOUT GOD!

  4. Sometimes I feel so conflicted because I read all these horrific news articles of things happening around the world, and I wish that I could do more than just retweet or share the articles on Facebook, only that I’m already invested in so many other issues in my own country. It gets to a point where no matter how willing I am to start working on these causes or finding ways to help countries like Syria, there’s a limit to what more I can pile on my plate before I burn out and stop being able to help anyone at all. Which leaves me with the retweeting and sharing. It feels so inadequate and yet I don’t know what more to do. :(

  5. Whoever wrote this is seriously off. Let me tell you why. Chris brown tweets this not because he thinks “I want to help the cause” but because he wants to show 9 million people how stupid the world can be. He wants to tell 9 million people “don’t do dumb things like this, don’t even think about dumb things like this, because we want peace in our world”. He doesn’t want to unkill the 90 people who were murdered, he wants to give a message.

    His message of recent has always been one of positivity, and telling the world about this incident, sure, won’t do much about the conflict specifically, but will influence positivity on a crapload of youth around the world. Now is that wrong? No, not at all.

    What IS wrong is people like you shooting someone down because he shows some sympathy to the world. And if this is about you thinking he is just doing this for PR, so be it. It seems then that YOU are the one being negative and not allowing someone the chance to show that they can care for people and have sympathy.

    And a little side note here – what annoys me is that people like you bring up his incident with Rihanna in such a joking manner and then proceed to get angry that he seems to be handling it like a fool. Are you serious? If you genuinely cared you would not be poking fun at the incident. And more than that you just show that you are the one that is angry and negative when you do things like that, and you are ironically getting mad at Chris Brown for doing exactly that.

    And I’ll end off with a taste of your own medicine. You tweeted this – “Oh look, @chrisbrown took time off from beating his girlfriend to show empathy for Syrians.”, right? Well let me ask you the same question you asked Chris Brown, as if twitter deserves the analysis of a PHD thesis. Did you think you were going to accomplish anything that would benefit victims of domestic abuse by tweeting that? Did you accomplish anything with that tweet but negativity and cynicism? No. Check yourself.

  6. What does Chris Brown past have to do with people dying? Someting else you got twisted Chris Brown had a fight with ONE woman. This is US and Chris Brown just like you and everyone else have their own opinion. Talking about someone past have you looked in the morror lately. You are an evil bitch. I myself can say that you don’t give a damn about people being killed just what Chris Brown tweeted.

  7. Also if you hate Chris Brown so damn bad why the hell are you following him on twitter.

  8. @Jillian
    People talk about what celebrities is doing? But you too it a bit further by talking about his past incident. What does that have to do with people being killed. This killing is hurtful reminds me of what they did to the Jews. Also out of all the blogs on line YOU were the one being so negative about this matter. The only thing I see here is YOU worrying what Chris Brown is doing. Tell us how much time have you spent at Domestic Abuse Ctr. ,being that you are so worried about Rihanna’s ONE fight with Chris Brown.

    *People like you forget about what Sean Penn did to Madonna. He really hit her I think with a bat but you people keep that quiet. Oh yea I can name alot of the real women beaters. Emimen

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