Two things about my bias on the topic of Frank Ocean fighting Chris Brown:
1. I’ve been on team Frank Ocean for a while.
2. I think Chris Brown is a douchebag.
In the days following the fight between Frank Ocean and Chris Brown a lot of discussion about both of the artists were made visible in the commentary about the fight. One of the most interesting to me is the January 28 MissInfo report on the disagreement. Shortly after this post appeared, Frank Ocean chose not to press charges and forgave Chris Brown, but for a day in January 2013, the hip hop world thought Frank Ocean was snitching. When the reports came out that Frank Ocean was going to press charges, MissInfo authored a funny send up of the New York Post’s coverage and added her own humorous image seen above.
It is worth taking time to talk about Missinfo’s choice of representation. I assume that this graphic suggests that Frank Ocean took it too far — fighting for a parking space. A tactic to minimize the significance of the violence and in particular associate the violence with the parking space rather than . . . say . . . anti-gay slurs. MissInfo explains why she asked her friend to make the parody image of Frank Ocean as Malcolm X:
At least that hogwash about this being a “hate crime” got kiboshed. That would have been absurd. Correction…more absurd. This whole thing is already all the way Absurdistan.
In reaction to the story, I asked my buddy Phil to create a parody-homage for my instagram.
The image of Malcolm X has such an amazing history — it was taken during the under-discussed late years of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz where he was actively struggling with the Nation of Islam and building a new organization all while under heavy government surveillance. Death threats, shootings and the 1965 firebombing of his house (almost killing his family) are necessary context for this image itself. Separate the visual from the history or context and it becomes malleable, able to be bent to the representation at hand.
(I wonder if MissInfo thinks that the armed Malcolm X is absurd, or is this just one more heavily armed person taking it too far and fighting over a parking space? If it is Malcolm X in this parody — reduced to someone who is a stand-in for armed extremist then we cut out a serious political history — sanitizing Shabazz. If this is a comparison intended to mock Frank Ocean’s choice to press charges — in essence anchoring the act of violence to the parking space. “Defend your parking space.” then the seriousness of Malcolm X is used to trivialize Frank Ocean.)
Today’s lengthy piece on Frank Ocean in the New York Times magazine gives a slightly more journalistic edge to the history between Chris Brown and Frank Ocean.
A feud with the notoriously violent and thin-skinned singer Chris Brown began on Twitter in June 2011 and included a couple of Brown’s associates following Ocean’s car after he left a studio. They posted footage of their interaction — the cars side by side, threats being hollered through open windows — to Worldstar Hip-Hop, a Web site that does many things but mostly hosts videos of fights. Ocean made an oblique mention of that situation when we were together, but I thought it was over. Then last month, the feud boiled over again, with conflicting reports that agreed on one thing: There had been an altercation between Ocean and Brown and a few other people on the street in Santa Monica.
I’m pretty sure that last sentence is the best the New York Times editors feel safe releasing — without knowing more they don’t make a claim about what caused or what happened.
TMZ got a copy of the police report, and we get a slightly more direct choice of representations here.
Our Investigation revealed Victim Breaux, a music artist also known as Frank Ocean, was battered by Suspects Brown, Omololu, and Glass due to an apparent argument over a parking space.
The victim was initially uncooperative and did not want to give any details of the fight at the location of the incident, except for saying that he was assaulted. The victim also refused any medical treatment for a cut to his right index finger and minor cut on his left temple. The victim went to Cedars Sinai Hospital on his own and agreed to talk to us once at the hospital. Therefore no arrests were made at the time of this report.
Once at the hospital, the victim told us Suspect Brown, also a music artist, was parked in the victim’s assigned parking spot at Westlake Recording Studios. he walked to Suspect Brown in the lobby of the Studio and told Suspect Brown that he was parked in his parking spot. Suddenly, Suspect Brown punched the victim on the side of his face. Thereafter, suspects Omololu and Glass jumped in to help Suspect Brown beat the victim. The victim fought back to defend himself as all three suspects pushed him into a corner and attempted to kick him while on the ground. The entire fight lasted 1 to 2 minutes. The victim believes he might have heard someone yell, “faggot!” but was unsure, who if anyone, made the statement. After the beating, Suspect Brown said, “We can bust on you to! “Bust” is a slang term sued on the street to mean shoot. The three suspects left the studio in an unknown direction.
There is a lot in this segment of the police report to contrast against MissInfo arguments. Layer the police report against her choice of language to describe the fight.
Late last night, our worlds were rocked by the outbreak of violence between two sweet R&B crooners, Chris Brown, of the Greenish-Yellow Locks Vs. Frank Ocean, of The Exotic Headband. The two bumped heads (and a finger) after an argument in the parking lot of the Westlake recording studio. There were reports that Frank was upset over Chris parking in his space, and that Chris was blocked from driving off, and that Chris attempted a handshake, but then the scuffle popped off between the stars and their crews…and then doves cried.
There is a sexualized tone to her trivializing writeup in the choice of “sweet,” “bumped heads,” and “doves cried,” to describe the fight. And of course the notion that the fight is about the parking space instead of perhaps the long-standing disagreement that the New York Times was unable to uncover, or the refusal of the offered hand shake. (I dunno, would you shake Chris Brown’s hand?)
Mostly MissInfo is enforcing — quite effectively — the ideology of no snitching. She writes: “Frank Ocean doesn’t care about your silly “code of the streets”…He wants JUSTICE!”
And the funny part of this is that Frank Ocean has embodied the same code. The police report makes this clear: “The victim was initially uncooperative and did not want to give any details of the fight at the location of the incident, except for saying that he was assaulted.”
And regardless of the cultural impact the fight and the representation present in MissInfo’s blog, Frank Ocean never did actually press charges. Not only does he stand firmly with the wave of no snitching, but he recognized the intense negative public relations effects of being the person who testified sending Chris Brown to prison would have on his career.
Isn’t that how abusers often get away? Relying on the fact that it sucks for any survivor of violence to have to deal with the police and courts. It is totally unfair to suggest that it is Frank Ocean’s responsibility to press charges. I don’t know and can’t begin to judge. But I can be sympathetic to the forces at work triggered by this sublime moment of violence. And I suspect that most people would do the same thing — and like any other survivor of violence whose perpetrator is not in any way accountable — live with the conflicted reality of that choice.
As an anti-violence educator, I always make clear that the choice of violence is in the hands of the person being violent. You don’t blame domestic abuse on survivors of domestic abusers. The choice and responsibility for violence is solely — and intensely on the shoulders of those who choose violence.
It might seem like nit-picking, but I think it is fruitful to look at this one moment and the choices of this one hip hop intellectual (MissInfo) in her choices in telling the story of this fight.