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Should domestic abuse ever be forgotten?

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domestic abuse How should we judge a society that allows violent men the chance to regain their former popularity?

In 2003 French musician Bertrand Cantat struck his girlfriend Marie Trintignant, a successful and revered actor, repeatedly about the face following an argument over a text message sent to her phone.

It was seven hours before Trintignant’s’ brother called the emergency services to the couple’s Lithuanian hotel room, by which time Trintignant had slipped into a deep coma.

She died five days later, suffering from multiple head and facial injuries.

The post-mortem suggested Marie Trintignant had been hit in the face at least 19 times, although Cantat would only admit to ‘slapping’ her four times before putting her to bed.

This was a shocking case of domestic violence in a country where one woman is murdered every four days by a partner or former partner.

The murder of Marie Trintignant brought the issue of domestic abuse to the fore of France’s political agenda and calls to domestic abuse helplines increased dramatically in the wake of her death.

It also, with depressing inevitability, lead some to deem Cantat’s actions a tragic accident; the natural denouement of too fiery and intense a passion.

Fans and media publications alike traded, insultingly, on that fabled ‘doomed romance’ scenario, allowing facile and hollow comparisons with Romeo and Juliet or Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.

In 2004 Cantat was convicted of murder with ‘indirect intent’ – meaning he had not intended to murder Trintignant but knew this to be a probable consequence of his actions.

He was released in 2007 after serving just four years of an eight year prison sentence; the brevity of which is perhaps indicative of how, culturally and judicially, violence against women is often minimised.

In a chilling coda to this tale of violence and murder, Cantat’s former wife Kristina Rady, with whom he was reconciled after his release from prison, hanged herself in 2010 in the home they shared together.

A book recently released in France alleges Rady left a phone message for her parents six months before she died saying that Cantat had broken her elbow.

She is also alleged to have said that “Everyone thinks [Cantat] is an icon, a star, then he comes back home and does horrible things to me in front of the family.

Patterns of repeated and systematic violence against many women are not unusual in cases of domestic abuse and Rady’s suicide has leant further credence to the idea that Cantat was neither remorseful nor rehabilitated after his time in prison

This question of rehabilitation looms large over Cantat’s slow, incremental, attempts to rebuild his career.

He played his first comeback gig in Bordeaux in 2010 and has since played a handful of venues, released a theatrical concept album and featured on the latest release from Malian duo Amadou and Mariam.

Last month, the UK press reported that Cantat’s solo album is ‘tentatively’ slated for release in November.

But what, in cases such as this, does it mean to be rehabilitated?

As Jessica Reed has argued on this subject in the Guardian, to be human is to believe in repentance and redemption and I’m not sure where we are as a society if we unequivocally deny people the chance for both.

It is, of course, deeply illiberal to disallow a person the chance to rebuild their life after they have served their time

However, in cases such as Cantat’s, should not rehabilitation and atonement be done quietly, respectfully and out of sight, rather than by trading on an image that is at once tarnished but also burnished with the icky sheen of the brooding ‘bad boy’?

If Cantat had been jailed for tax evasion prior to announcing his imminent comeback the manner of his rehabilitation would matter little, if at all.

And I say this because, although tax evasion is a crime, the damaging cultural messages implied by a return to the spotlight post-conviction are, in the artistic world at least, relatively benign.

The cultural messages implied by allowing a man who beat a woman to death to return to the public eye, and receive a platform for adulation and influence, are deeply damaging, both aiding the ongoing oppression of women and compounding the trivialisation and glamourisation of violence against women.

But then we seem to have a short memory and an easy willingness to forgive, or at least forget, the vile acts of our male heroes.

And here I reference but a few: Roman Polanski, Sid Vicious, William Burroughs, John Lennon, Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn, Chris Brown, Mickey Rourke.

All have committed terrible acts of violence against women, and all are still revered or venerated for their talents.

It is almost as if violence against women doesn’t count in the way other heinous crimes do, and a manufactured mythology has built itself up around famous male perpetrators which mitigates and excuses their acts.

They are crimes of passion, an extension of eccentricity, the ultimate end to a life of nihilism, the expected behaviour of a bad boy, or superceded by towering talent.

Personally, I would hope that Cantat’s comeback album fails miserably; that domestic violence campaigners picket every one of his gigs and that men and women alike decide that there is a line beyond which you cannot come back – that some acts are so brutal, so horrific, and the culture and myth that we have allowed to grow up around such acts so nullifying that there has to be a way to send a message that it will no longer be tolerated.

Some will, undoubtedly, argue that artistic merit should be divorced from the personal history of the artist.

Some will, conversely, see Cantat’s work as more fascinating and alluring because of the dark brutality of his past.

For me it is rather more simple: if you beat another human being to death you forfeit your right to adulation; you forfeit your right to trade on an erroneous image of a complicated, passionate man and you certainly forfeit your right to benefit financially from any type of twisted notoriety you gain in the aftermath.

  1. Vickiwharton says:

    If we stopped calling it by the locational tag and refered to it by the attitude that drives it we would begin to tie the violence to the perpetrator as is the case with all other hierarchal violence such as racist/homophobic/child abuse. This is about domination and sexist supremacy, not who chops the onions…

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