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Chris Brown in Film Adaptation of Steve Harvey’s 'Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.' Say What?

Brown and Harvey's collaboration suggests a subtle, if indirect, relationship between the dating advice industry and intimate partner violence.

“This can’t be real life,” a friend of mine wrote on Facebook when posting the news announced last week that Chris Brown would be co-starring in the upcoming relationship advice book-turned-romantic comedy penned by Steve Harvey, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. Think Like a Man, the movie, is set to be released in the spring of 2012 and will trace the lives of four women whose dating lives are transformed after reading the “straight no chaser” advice in Harvey’s book.

It is hard to believe. Chris Brown is the pop singer who in 2009 beat and strangled his then-girlfriend, mega pop star Rihanna, within an inch of her life. When asked about the incident on "Good Morning America" in March of this year he had a meltdown and has since shown us no real sign of rehabilitation from his history of anger issues. Is he really the most responsible choice for a movie about what women don’t understand about men?

You can probably already guess the answer. Brown co-starring in Steve Harvey’s book-turned-film is worse than the makings of a potentially painful to watch rom-com—it suggests a subtle, if indirect, relationship between seemingly well-intentioned dating advice and the epidemic of intimate partner violence.

Most popular dating advice books, such as Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man or Greg Berhendt’s He’s Just Not That Into You (another advice book gone rom-com) are tragically outdated. They obviously do not condone violence against women, but they do rely on antiquated ideas of gender and unrealistic expectations of behavior. Often the advice is just downright mean, lacking the compassion or nuance needed to address common romantic miscommunications. And most deceptively, the advice often disguises itself as the path to liberation for women in their romantic lives and as a result this type of dating advice is a multi-billion-dollar cottage industry.

Harvey went from being a lifelong comedian and radio personality to a "relationship expert." In 2009 he penned his manhood manifesto, marketed as a groundbreaking no-bull testimonial about what women don’t understand about having romantic relationships with men. His message is as simple as his characterization of men—men are simple creatures and they all think the same, so stop trying to understand them and change your behavior.

If Harvey were asked directly if he thought what Brown did was OK, I’m sure he would most likely say, “absolutely not.” But, it is not much of a surprise that he is an ardent supporter of the unofficial “forgive Chris Brown” campaign, stating on Twitter how proud he is of Brown’s newfound maturity. Harvey himself is no stranger to relationship drama. He has divorced three times, with a rather troublesome third divorce that included pending emotional abuse charges. He is now on his fourth marriage—the one he claims reformed him. Although he tells us that men are simple, his self-disclosed evolution from immature, neglectful husband to caring and supportive spouse sounds profoundly complex to any objective onlooker.

The supposed simplicity of Harvey’s proposal made it an instant bestseller. His thesis plays effectively off of the war between the sexes; it reconsolidates popular ideas about male and female desire and reduces the cultural forces that make us who we are to the individual choices we make—a very effective strategy in the self-help industry. The film purports a similar message. Yet the unintentional message being sent to women by casting the unreformed, un-rehabilitated and frankly unrepentant Brown is that men should be forgiven for their gravest transgressions -- after all, they are just being men. 

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