Ignorance is no defense, I’m well aware. But before yesterday, I really didn’t know the extent of R. Kelly’s crimes. I’d heard the rumors, the jokes, the Aaliyah situation, the tossed off “child predator” label. A week ago, I thought R. Kelly had a problem with statutory rape of a handful of teenage girls. I did not realize the extent of his crimes until everyone began writing about this very disturbing Village Voice piece – go here to read it. The piece is an interview with music journalist Jim DeRogatis, who spent 15 years tracking the accusations and stories of the dozens of young girls R. Kelly preyed on time and time again, sometimes abusing the girls for years before throwing them over for someone younger. I’m not going to excerpt from the piece because it’s really depressing and I think it’s worth it to go read the piece in its entirety.
I’ve written about Kelly a few times in the past month, and it was when I was covering his absolutely insane Guardian interview (where R. Kelly discussed how he was the victim of sexual abuse as a child too) that I prefaced the discussion with my mixed feelings about his past. At that point, I was ignorant to the extent of his crimes, as I said. I wrote: “Some people can separate his personal problems from his music and public persona. Can you? Can I? I don’t know.” I still have to ask – can we separate his music from his crimes? If I’m being completely honest about it… I’m capable of separating the artist from the art in other occasions. I not only saw Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, I recommended it to people. I went to see Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris and Blue Jasmine in the theater and I enjoyed them both. I also have some Michael Jackson songs on iPod. So, I’m knee-deep in denial and hypocrisies, I suppose.
But that’s what gets people into trouble, right? It’s not enough that we acknowledge that the lauded artist is actually a monster. We have to shun him, erase him, make him into a virus that infects other artists by mere proximity, right? Eh. I don’t believe that. Personally, I think “Benedict Cumberbatch performing a dramatic reading of R. Kelly lyrics” is a completely different situation then, say, Jodie Foster openly and repeatedly defending and praising Mel Gibson. Or is it the same thing? Is an acknowledgement and appreciation of a criminal’s art some kind of complicity of their horrible acts?
Anyway… we’re not going to solve this and there is no right answer. I think it’s the wrong move to cast about for secondary villains, claiming that Cumberbatch or fans or the music industry as a whole is to blame for one f—ked up man’s criminal acts.
Photos courtesy of WENN.