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What Chris Brown's Tattoo Says About Abusers

Photo: Getty

Was R&B singer Chris Brown’s mysterious new neck tattoo really meant to depict Rihanna, the ex-girlfriend he battered in 2009? Was it just a generic woman’s bruised face? Or was it, as he and his team now claim, a Day of the Dead-themed skull (known a sugar skull) based off of a cosmetic company’s design?

And really, does it matter when the ink is in such poor taste and the inked — a man who remains a successful singer with major chart hits — has never fully come forward to express real contrition, or any sort of remote understanding of the impact and context of his actions that infamous night when he was arrested for assaulting Rihanna?

If you need a reminder, read a summary of the police report here, but note that it’s not for the faint of heart.

Feminist thought on the Brown case has been solid and uniform. Zerlina Maxwell at Feministing wrote down opinion before the “day of the dead” explanation surfaced, noting that whatever the explanation, the disturbing power of the image will remain:

Indeed, Chris Brown is one of thousands and thousands of abusers and batterers walking around with impunity in our society — along with other celebrities who have been arrested for hurting women (ahem, Charlie Sheen). The fact that Brown does outlandish things like getting this tattoo and constantly acting in defiance of the public and his critics makes him an easy target for public outrage.

Still, as Amanda Marcotte noted, the publicness of his example provides a great explanation for the behavior of pathological abusers in general:

Indeed, compare Brown’s tattoo with Charlie Sheen’s bizarre public behavior last year and his insistence — despite multiple women calling the cops on him — that he was “winning.” The way the public and entertainment industry react to these scandals by enabling the perpetrators is instructive of exactly how not to treat abusers.

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