"...nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody."
December 16, 2013 8:36 AM   Subscribe

R. Kelly's latest album, Black Panties, was released earlier this month to great praise from music and feminist outlets alike. However, Kelly's continued success has brought his history of sexual abuse and pedophilia back into the spotlight. Chicago-based music journalist Jim Derogatis speaks with the Village Voice about his coverage of Kelly's court appearances. On WBEZ, DeRogatis and several music critics, fans, and professors to discuss the intersection of Kelly's music and his offstage behavior.
posted by pxe2000 (165 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Apparently, his PR people thought it would be brilliant if he held an open interview on Twitter to promote it: "I want all my fans and everyone out there to know that this is REALLY me answering your questions, so fire away #AskRKelly #BlackPanties". And fire away they did [NSFW].

Let's just say that it went about as well as JP Morgan's #AskJPM.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:47 AM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


It should be noted that the great praise by feminist outlets linked to is simply a somewhat sarcastic and very short blog post by a writer at Jezebel, and doesn't appear to be written from a feminist perspective.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:53 AM on December 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


For the record, that "they did" link from Doktor Zed is probably NSFW.
posted by Etrigan at 8:56 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mod note: A couple comments removed, let's not go chasing after bizarro derails right out of the gate.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:57 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Chastise the man if you want but for the record, it's a great record. Bizarre and over-the-top like any great R. Kelly album should be.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:59 AM on December 16, 2013


For the record, that "they did" link from Doktor Zed is probably NSFW.

If mods could please flag the Storify link as such, that would be appreciated (R Kelly's lyrics and bio fall into that category, but we knew that already).
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:01 AM on December 16, 2013


I'm not sure the Jezebel link constitutes "great praise".
posted by thinkpiece at 9:01 AM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Crap, the WBEZ link about Kelly's appearance at P4K 2013.
posted by pxe2000 at 9:02 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Jezebel article was heavily criticized by other feminists (especially black feminists). I guess there's room in feminism for such wide views on art but supporting R Kelly strikes me as pretty similar to supporting Roman Polanski or any other entertainer who goes essentially unpunished (and unreformed) for major moral (and legal) failings (e.g. the sexual assault of minors).
posted by R343L at 9:06 AM on December 16, 2013 [20 favorites]


Mod note: Doktor Zed, got it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:07 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Village Voice article was intense and enlightening. I really didn't know about most of the harrowing details. It's sad that the public consciousness thinks about this as a punchline about peeing, when it's thought of at all, when this is about serial statutory rape, about dozens of women who were deeply affected by his blatant predatory behavior. I really think younger generations are loving the guy because they don't know the extent of it; I certainly didn't. He's just seen as an outrageous weirdo, and all his past sins are glossed over because he's swathed in irony and WTF spectacle. I genuinely like some of his music, and hey the Aziz Ansari skit is memorable, but it's going to be hard to enjoy Black Panties after reading this.
posted by naju at 9:09 AM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


probably NSFW.

Yeah, I'm not at work. But didn't need to see at least one of those pictures.

And what naju said. I'd only recalled that he'd been accused of being a pedophile. (I didn't even know about the other peccadillo that's a punchline.)

The details, that there had been such an enormous quantity of abuse with multiple girls and video evidence - ugh. I don't know what to say, as I think I'm deep into outrage fatigue right now. In some ways things are getting better in the Western world WRT sexism, racism, all bigotries. But in many ways our pop culture presents/supports/encourages horribly wrong people and images that are the worst we've ever seen, both in terms of violence and sexual attitudes.

(Oh, and now I'm grossed out by Led Zeppelin too.)
posted by NorthernLite at 9:24 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, wow that Village Voice interview. I couldn't get through it. I had no idea it was that bad. And in retrospect that Chapelle Show skit is extremely vile. I laughed when it came out. I didn't know I was laughing at pedophile's serial rape of a child.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:24 AM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I once saw a portion of a rape while working with the police department. I was in an A/V cubicle doing a very boring task while the guy next to me seemed to be watching porn. I kind of started to get mad at him and tell him off, but he stopped me and explained that he was going through a video of a gang rape to get the best still images of the men's faces. The victim was fourteen, if I remember correctly. They threatened her with a knife.

I don't know what to do with this, but it deserves to be read and reread:
"Rapes, plural. It is on record. Rapes in the dozen. So stop hedging your words and when you tell me what a brilliant ode to pussy Black Panties is, then realize that the next sentence should say: "This, from a man who has committed numerous rapes." The guy was a monster! Just say it! We do have a justice system and he was acquitted. Ok, fine. And these other women took the civil lawsuit route. He was tried on very narrow grounds. He was tried on a 29 minute, 36 second video tape. He was tried on trading child pornography. He was not tried for rape. He was acquitted of making child pornography. He's never been tried in court for rape, but look at the statistics. The numbers of rapes that happened, the numbers of rapes that were reported, the numbers of rapes that make it to court and then the conviction rate. I mean, it comes down to something miniscule. He's never had his day in court as a rapist. It's fifteen years in the past now, but this record exists. You have to make a choice, as a listener if music matters to you as more than mere entertainment and you and I have spent our entire lives with that conviction. This is not just entertainment, this is our life blood. This matters."
How can this not be known?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:36 AM on December 16, 2013 [34 favorites]


How can this not be known?

I know you know but the answer's in the title of the post. That's the biggest part of it. Add fame, fortune, and fawning to the mix and you get this. I'm going to go throw up now.
posted by rtha at 9:41 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of the "analyses" of the situation I found interesting albeit a bit off was Dave Chappelle asking but how old is 15 really? starts off a little wtf but comes around.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:43 AM on December 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Chastise the man if you want but for the record, it's a great record. Bizarre and over-the-top like any great R. Kelly album should be.


Yeah, God forbid anyone should "chastise" a dude who makes great club bangers just because he's a serial rapist who has ruined countless lives. Come the fuck on.
posted by palomar at 9:48 AM on December 16, 2013 [36 favorites]


If there's a video of him having sex with underage women, how could he not be a convicted rapist?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:50 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


in retrospect that Chapelle Show skit is extremely vile.

Yeah, and now I feel similarly about Aziz Ansari's bit about RK. Why are big names like Lady Gaga and Benedict Cumberbatch associating themselves with this guy? It's not as if they're lacking in publicity opportunities and desperately need the help of a pedophile. Ugh, I hate that I ever publicly praised that series about being trapped in a closet.

One of the "analyses" of the situation I found interesting albeit a bit off was Dave Chappelle asking but how old is 15 really?

Okay, you guys are really killing my regard for Chapelle. If Key & Peele ever do an RK sketch (even one which skewers him), I'm done.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:51 AM on December 16, 2013


Underage children, I should say.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:51 AM on December 16, 2013


I guess there's room in feminism for such wide views on art but supporting R Kelly strikes me as pretty similar to supporting Roman Polanski or any other entertainer who goes essentially unpunished (and unreformed) for major moral (and legal) failings (e.g. the sexual assault of minors).

The reporter in the interview talks at length about how he considers them different. He uses Led Zeppelin and James Brown as examples, but they're analogous to Polanski -- that in the case of these artists, one can at least argue that an appreciation of the art does not preclude a condemnation of the artist, because the art isn't about the crime. With R. Kelly, that justification doesn't exist -- some of his songs are literally about the real women (girls) he has been sexually involved with.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:55 AM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


If there's a video of him having sex with underage women, how could he not be a convicted rapist?

As the VV link states, it's because he was never on trial for rape; he was on trial for the production of child pornography. Now, how a video of sex with a child does not constitute child pornography, I have no idea -- perhaps to be considered pornography there must be intent to distribute?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:56 AM on December 16, 2013


If there's a video of him having sex with underage women, how could he not be a convicted rapist?

Have you met the law firm of Fame and Money? They have a pretty good record of defending the indefensible.
posted by Etrigan at 9:58 AM on December 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


As someone who doesn't really follow popular music, I have a weird mixture of associations with R. Kelly.

1. Space Jam
2. That weird rap opera thing that some of my friends like to get high and watch.
3. Rape.

The fact that these are all the same guy is amazing to me.
posted by brundlefly at 9:59 AM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was too young at the time to remember, but was the mainstream news coverage of the trial totally inept or something? Literally my only knowledge of the situation was "there's a video of him pissing on an underage girl, he thought she was above age but she wasn't." I figured there was some actual confusion on his part as to whether she was underage or not. Meanwhile this article's perspective is so entirely different that it has me thinking that everyone REALLY screwed up the reporting. Did he get a pass in the media?
posted by naju at 9:59 AM on December 16, 2013


Now, how a video of sex with a child does not constitute child pornography, I have no idea.

"...nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody."
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:59 AM on December 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


As the VV link states, it's because he was never on trial for rape

Right, but why not? It seems like the article says the girl in the video didn't want to testify. But can't the DA or someone else bring charges? It also says that even though the girl in the video couldn't be identified in the video, forensic experts can tell that she is underage. Isn't that enough? I mean, I don't know enough about trial law to say.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:59 AM on December 16, 2013


Lutoslawski: "One of the "analyses" of the situation I enjoyed was Dave Chappelle asking but how old is 15 really? starts off a little wtf but comes around."

Just saw that two days ago... I spent half the video edging towards turning it off... and then the brilliance of his finishing arguments floored me. Set bait, wiggle bait.... YANK hook!

Well done, Chappelle. You got me.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:59 AM on December 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Chastise the man if you want but for the record, it's a great record.

And with the terrible shortage of music in the world today, we simply don't have the option of insisting on music by non-rapists.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:05 AM on December 16, 2013 [49 favorites]


I'd only recalled that he'd been accused of being a pedophile.

There's more to it than the whole is-that-really-him-in-the-pee-video case. Like, for instance, that time he married a fifteen-year-old.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:15 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


"...nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody."

I sort of disagree with that statement, but don't want to get bogged down in race-to-the-bottom one upmanship.

I do agree wholeheartedly that from what I've read of this fellow he is absolutely evil.
posted by edgeways at 10:29 AM on December 16, 2013


The barbarity of Chicago terrifies me sometimes.
posted by srboisvert at 10:39 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Here's the most sinister. This deeply troubles me: There's a very -- I don't know what the percentage is -- some percentage of fans are liking Kelly's music because they know. And that's really troublesome to me. There is some sort of -- and this is tied up to complicated questions of racism and sexism -- there is some sort of vicarious thrill to seeing this guy play this character in these songs and knowing that it's not just a character!"

Now THAT is one of the most chilling and probably factual bits of that interview to me.
posted by Kitteh at 11:15 AM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. I knew there was more to R. Kelly's awfulness than "urinating on a girl who turned out to be underage," but I'd never read up on it because his stuff isn't really on my radar. This is pretty horrifying, and I respect the hell out of these guys for not letting it go. Wish I could say that for more people in the media.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:41 AM on December 16, 2013


Hey don't indict all of Chicago just because of some horrific crimes. The barbarity of the world should frighten you.
posted by agregoli at 11:52 AM on December 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


And in retrospect that Chapelle Show skit is extremely vile. I laughed when it came out. I didn't know I was laughing at pedophile's serial rape of a child.

I don't think it's vile. The point of the joke is not to laugh at rape but to point out pretty much the same thing that Derogatis is, namely that people excuse things like rape when black people are the victims. He's skewering people who laugh at rape.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:58 AM on December 16, 2013


And with the terrible shortage of music in the world today, we simply don't have the option of insisting on music by non-rapists.

I don't do background checks on musicians if I like the music they create. Would I ever want to hang out with the guy? HELL naw.. Do I wish he had been tried and convicted on the proper counts and do I wish the justice system/entertainment industry wasn't as fucked up as it is? Sure. But you know what? The world's a messed up place and R. Kelly's a free man along with many other rotten people. If he releases an album and it's good, I'm listening. No other musician like him out there. He releases some pretty awful stuff too. But uh, as is said time and again whenever this issue comes up (not only with R. Kelly but other reprehensible artists).. you don't like it? Don't listen.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:59 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


i was so disappointed with gaga for working with r. kelly. i almost wondered if she was making a commentary about how even rapists can use her body but she still owns her thoughts, but a) probably not and b) that still doesn't make it ok to give him work. and then she had rick ross remix it. and i think terry richardson is doing the video.
posted by nadawi at 11:59 AM on December 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


i was so disappointed with gaga

Oh yeah, she's the pinnacle of integrity! All part of the game.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:02 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


not sure where i said she was the pinnacle of anything. of course it's part of the game. some people manage to play the game without featuring well known rapists on their singles.
posted by nadawi at 12:08 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


No other musician like him out there.

I hope/wish that's true. Even so, it's one too many of him.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:11 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know where I read about this so many years ago, but I remember reading about it, and didn't understand why no one else seemed really concerned, but it's so clearly the combination of money and fame with the fact that black women are treated so despicably by the media and the judicial system and society at large.

I remember when the marriage certificate for Aaliyah came out, and it viscerally bothered me because she was 3 months younger than I was, and I knew even then that the older men who wanted to date me didn't have my interests at heart. At that moment I was so sad that she didn't have people protecting her from him like I did with my mother. To know the extent of damage he ravaged onto an entire community is unforgivable.

I was saddened to see R Kelly show up everywhere again, because in my head, he'd been in prison, which was clearly not the case. What upsets me more is that his art is seen as more important than the lives of these women. I don't watch movies by Roman Polanski because one's art isn't more important than the lives of others. I don't support artists who continue to release work with a known predator, and it's sad that the industry shelters and protects the predators instead of their victims. Reading this article was incredibly depressing if for no other reason than that none of it was shocking or surprising to me.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 12:19 PM on December 16, 2013 [23 favorites]


Interesting perspective from comics writer David Brothers about how disheartening it is when allies are unaware of/surprised by horrible shit like this.
posted by almostmanda at 12:30 PM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


What upsets me more is that his art is seen as more important than the lives of these women.

Every time I saw someone rant or cry about Miley and her VMA performance, all I could think was, "You were not remotely this distraught when they let Chris Brown back on stage at the Grammys, so fuck you very much."

And yeah. The Polanski thing, too, and all the actors and other directors who talk about how important and influential he is when the man's a rapist.

We're pretty awful about celebrities.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:31 PM on December 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


Derogatis makes the point in the interview that there is something of a difference between being a fan of the music and doing what Pitchfork did, which is promoting the hell out of him for their own financial benefit.

The art/artist dichotomy presents a problem. No less an admired figure than Shakespeare included some pretty loathsome world views in his work - views that were very mainstream at the time but have become quite correctly despised over time. We don't boycott Shakespeare because we're able to put some distance between his time and ours and, perhaps, because he doesn't get any financial benefit anymore from his work. I mean, he's dead.

Card, on the other hand, doesn't include anything explicitly homophobic in Ender's Game, but we know he uses his money to support homophobic causes. A large portion number of we Mefites at least expressed the intention to boycott the recent movie not because we felt the movie would explicitly endorse homophobia but because of where we believed the money would go.

Derogatis is still able to listen to and enjoy Led Zeppelin and James Brown. I think there's an issue of distance here. Hammer of the Gods makes some pretty clear and well supported allegations about Jimmy Page's preference for teenage girls. Maybe its the historical distance - "The 70's were a different time... and all of those people are old or at least adults now... besides nobody that we know of filed charges..." - but its interesting that even Derogatis has found a way to give Page a pass. Or maybe its that we believe that Page is no longer actively pursuing teenage girls. Or maybe its because, as Derogatis sort of weakly argues, that its because Led Zeppelin doesn't specifically have songs about sex with teenage girls.

With R. Kelly, there are some pretty well supported allegations that he had sex with a large number of teenage girls. Furthermore, there's no reason to think that, at the moment, he's not using the money people pay him to cover up more sex with teenage girls. And, as Derogatis points out, some of his songs appear to celebrate having sex with teenage girls. In this case, separating the art from the artist becomes problematic as the very thing that makes R. Kelly despicable is one of the same things he capitalizes on to make more money to do the thing that makes him despicable.

I'm certainly not saying that enjoying his music makes you a bad person - enjoying Ender's Game or "The Merchant of Venice" or "Kashmir" doesn't make you a bad person either. What I am saying is that its much, much harder to separate the art from the artist with R. Kelly and that there's a chance some of the money you spend to download his album goes to pay off people so he doesn't have to face the consequences of his actions.

Of course, whenever we buy anything, there's a pretty good chance somebody along the supply chain is suffering unjustly for it. The line from purchasing his work (like the line from buying a ticket to Ender's Game) to R. Kelly's use of his money is a little easier to draw. Would I still dance to one of his songs? Maybe. However, I'm going to try not to spend any more money on his products.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:33 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why are big names like Lady Gaga and Benedict Cumberbatch associating themselves with this guy?

I think it's called money.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:47 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Roman Polanski, Chris Brown, and R Kelly walk into a bar and disappear forever and ever amen.
posted by kmz at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2013 [20 favorites]


How can this not be known?

In the same way that you can't possibly know everything because you are an individual and what news you pay attention to might be different than that which others pay attention to.

I know very little about the people who make up the bands I like because frankly I stopped caring about such things halfway through high school. I've heard of R. Kelley's exploits fleetingly from time to time but don't listen to him and I hear about rapists and perverts all the time so he's another I presume. I haven't spent any more time on examining his history as say any other rapist's history. I pay attention to rape news, so to speak, locally, so I can warn my sisters and friends about it if they haven't heard but beyond that I can't say I know who in the history of music, art, cinema, etc. is a rapist.
posted by juiceCake at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


i mean, ian watkins still has fans. people's ability to blind themselves to horrific actions to listen to some music or watch a movie without having to do a second of critical thought is amazing.
posted by nadawi at 12:56 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I listen to R Kelly while wearing my Hugo Boss suits.
posted by The Power Nap at 1:23 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


people's ability to blind themselves to horrific actions to listen to some music or watch a movie without having to do a second of critical thought is amazing.

Incidentally, I find people's inability to distinguish works of art from the artists who made them amazing and equally without critical thinking. If we ignored every work of art made by a despicable person we'd have precious little art to talk about.

Do I think R Kelly is a horrible person who has done horrible things but do I still enjoy Echo? I do. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contain multitudes.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:26 PM on December 16, 2013


I can understand not wanting to say "well, this artist is a bad person so everything he does must be shunned," but cases like this, where you have an album about sex from a guy whose idea of sex involves ninth-graders...that's harder to stomach on many levels. It changes the character of the songs.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:34 PM on December 16, 2013 [22 favorites]


I think it's impossible to truly separate the art from the artist, but there are instances where the artist doesn't get in the way of the art. By all accounts Miles Davis was a proud wife-beater and horrible person, but I don't need to reflect on that when I listen to his music. R. Kelly makes R. Kelly the front and center of his art. It really is hard to listen to his music without thinking about his persona and attitudes towards sex, because that's the ENTIRE POINT OF THE THING.
posted by naju at 1:40 PM on December 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


And yeah. The Polanski thing, too, and all the actors and other directors who talk about how important and influential he is when the man's a rapist.

i mean, ian watkins still has fans. people's ability to blind themselves to horrific actions to listen to some music or watch a movie without having to do a second of critical thought is amazing.

Throw in Caravaggio - I mean, the man was an actual murderer. And what happens when we find more court cases against Leonardo Da Vinci because of underage boys? And what if we dig up something about Michelangelo? What if one day we dig up some documents conclusively proving that Shakespeare was a child molester or Beethoven a rapist or Bach an embezzler ruiner of widows or Mozart a reprehensible criminal of some kind?

One thing we can be absolutely sure of, is that any number of artists we celebrate today committed horrible crimes we simply don't know about. That's certain. And any number of them were horrible human beings even if not convicted of any actual crime - Wagner was famously an anti-Semite, but so was Chopin, even if less famously. Same about artists living today - there certainly are vile human beings among them, and ones who committed horrific crimes - we have simply not found out as yet.

What do we do? Celebrate until the moment of discovery, then clear the bookshelves/galleries/movie screens? Let's be hard-nosed about this. What do we practically propose to do? I'm not eager to support louts and scumbags, just because they happen to be talented artists. But practically, what do we do?

On a personal level, I separate the art from the artist, because that's the only sane way I know to approach this - and the only practical way. And yes, I actually will boycott the artwork of artists under certain circumstances - that's a personal decision. For example, if I know that Mel Gibson gives money to anti-Semitic "churches" and organizations, I will not watch a Mel Gibson movie if it involves him getting one penny as a result of my watching. I will not contribute financially through the consumption of art if I know that the artist will use that money to deny civil rights to anyone, whether based on sexual orientation, or religion, or race etc..

But I'll continue to listen to Chopin, and look at works by Da Vinci, even if it comes out that the latter was a pedofile - because I consciously separate the work from the artist.

I hope we can simply speak the truth. We can say: Polanski committed crimes and that's the truth. The Tenant is a great movie - and that's also the truth. Both are true. The Tenant doesn't diminish Polanski's crimes one whit. Last Thursday, I watched Chinatown in a theater downtown, in the same building where the old Department of Water and Power had its offices during the time depicted in Chinatown. I still like the movie. I still don't approve of Polanski's crime(s).

R. Kelly's work involves glorifying his crimes - and therefore he falls into the category of artists whose work I'll boycott. Meanwhile - per naju - I'll still buy Miles Davis records. And then there's Celine, who actually wrote anti-Semitism into his art... but he's dead, so I'll still read him, though always with the awareness of the poison he's also smuggling in. Alas, life is complicated.
posted by VikingSword at 1:47 PM on December 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


It changes the character of the songs.

I'm not completely unsympathetic to this view, but it's a pretty complex philosophical issue. Way more complicated than getting up on a soapbox and making un-nuanced moral decelerations.

It changes the character of the songs if you're listening to them from the context of knowing R Kelly did such and such a thing or is such a person. It really is a sort of hermeneutic problem. My argument is that we get to largely choose how we interpret some work or art each time we do, and that it is not, as some argue, a simple relationship of bad person = bad art and don't consume it. What if you had no idea what R Kelly had done?

The world has gone through many phases where the only allowable art was representative of the current moral dogmas and was created by relatively unobjectionable people. And in fact most of us look on those times now as being highly oppressive and producing less interesting works of art.

It's not worth here recounting all of the works we hold very dear these days, the works that make up the cannon, that were created by truly despicable people. But we tend to practice a certain selective forgetting with some and not with others. Why is this? Lots of artists get a pass, many others don't. It's a weird cultural game that deserves scrutiny.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:47 PM on December 16, 2013


R Kelly and Roman Polanski are still alive and profiting from the sale of their works. Caravaggio and Chopin, barring secret Elixir of Life shenanigans, are not alive.
posted by kmz at 1:53 PM on December 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


There's a big, big grey area, absolutely. But when somebody makes art about their crimes, that's at least on the edge of the grey.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:58 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is that the metric then? Whether or not they are alive and able to profit? When they're dead it's alright to go back to consuming their work?

I think that's a hard argument to pair with the whole boycott on moral grounds stuff. Presumably, if you believe that R Kelly's music shouldn't be enjoyed because of who he is as a person, then him being dead doesn't change the ethics of the situation, just the flow of money.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:58 PM on December 16, 2013


Black Metal fans have had to deal with issue for a while, because Burzum is a Nazi murderer. That said, he's been mostly shunned, and prominent outlets do not fawn over him, despite the brilliance of some of his work.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:59 PM on December 16, 2013


But when somebody makes art about their crimes, that's at least on the edge of the grey.

That's a good and interesting point. But I have two issues with it: often, it's difficult to say whether some work of art is explicitly about some horrible act. I mean, surely there's a Nazi reading of the Ring Cycle. Secondly, what about art about horrible crimes that weren't committed by the artist? Are those fine simply because they weren't actually done, even if their depiction is morally reprehensible?
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:01 PM on December 16, 2013


Is that the metric then? Whether or not they are alive and able to profit? When they're dead it's alright to go back to consuming their work?

Sounds reasonable. If I (god forbid) buy a R. Kelly album, R. Kelly can use that money to fund his habit of raping children. I think it certainly matters if the artist is alive or dead.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:01 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


As far as money flow, I mostly avoid pirating but I'll shamelessly do so for problematic artists. Never going to contribute a drop of money to Kells, Burzum or Tila Tequila.
posted by naju at 2:02 PM on December 16, 2013


How about if I just download Black Panties from a piratebay proxy site? Is that allowed? Cuz then R. doesn't get paid, and I get to listen to dirty naughty explicit hilarious R&B songs for free. I win.
posted by ReeMonster at 2:05 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


i think it's the "but how was i to know??" defense that gets my heckles up the most. if you bop along to a song and you don't know anything about the one hit wonder artist - whatever - but if someone in this day and age is a fan of r. kelly and doesn't know the accusations against him they are willfully blind.

it's like the fan's of chris brown - they aren't fans who are unaware of what he did - that's why his mentions are full of teen girls asking him to beat them.

i think there's a lot of discussions to have about how much the artist matters to the art, but when someone is writing songs about child rape and currently making millions on it, i don't have any problem at all calling those who contribute to his bank account child rape enablers.
posted by nadawi at 2:05 PM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Lutoslawski: "Is that the metric then? Whether or not they are alive and able to profit? I think that's a hard argument to pair with the whole boycott on moral grounds stuff.

It doesn't have to be the only metric, but it makes sense that it would be part of the moral calculus. In a perfect world, we'd be able to boycott every product that has had a bad person (by our own definition of that term) involved in its production. Of course that's impossible, so we have to take some shortcuts, and taking into account whether buying or publicly endorsing the product personally enriches a living person or a dead person's estate is completely reasonable.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Looking it up he's a Nazi AND a murderer, not a murderer of Nazis like I first thought.
posted by Carillon at 2:10 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


ah yes sorry for the confusion. Burzum is both a Nazi and a murderer but AFAIK he has not murdered any Nazis.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:12 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sounds reasonable. If I (god forbid) buy a R. Kelly album, R. Kelly can use that money to fund his habit of raping children. I think it certainly matters if the artist is alive or dead.

I don't totally agree with you, but it sounds reasonable to me as well, so thanks. I don't believe money is the only way to condone something, but I do appreciate that it is one of the primary ways to do so. It also makes much more sense to me when folks have a sort of reason for being outraged by Kelly but not by one of the myriad "historical" artists of a similar character.

i don't have any problem at all calling those who contribute to his bank account child rape enablers.

Yeah, and I do get that. But where's the line, right? In some sense, the fact that I pay taxes is technically a choice, and those are used for torture and murder and all manners of unsavory things, but I wouldn't consider myself a torture-enabler, exactly. Obviously willingly buying an album for entertainment seems like way more of an opt-in situation - but that basically means that our moral stances are governed by convenience.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:13 PM on December 16, 2013


...but when someone is writing songs about child rape and currently making millions on it...

Let's not stretch this thing. R. Kelly never made a song about child rape. Take a breath.
posted by ReeMonster at 2:14 PM on December 16, 2013


It's certainly possible that there's shades of grey in these choices, but this seems a pretty bright line case. I'm not certain where the line is but seems that this is on the wrong side of it.
posted by Carillon at 2:15 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


R. Kelly never made a song about child rape.

Based on the overwhelming amount of evidence that R. Kelly has indeed raped teenaged girls, is it farfetched to apply the idea that songs about sex are about sex with underaged girls they did not consent to, making them songs about child rape?
posted by Nimmie Amee at 2:16 PM on December 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


R Kelly and Roman Polanski are still alive and profiting from the sale of their works. Caravaggio and Chopin, barring secret Elixir of Life shenanigans, are not alive.

Roman Polanski does not profit from his old films being shown, because he didn't have profit-sharing deals when he made them. Polanski didn't make a red cent from my seeing Chinatown last Thursday, nor will he get more work in the future because Chinatown was screened downtown. If "profiting" is the metric, then you better know all the business deals behind every work.

And just because an artist is dead, doesn't mean it's harmless to buy the work. If for example - I don't know that's the case - Ayn Rand had a foundation that promoted her kind of politics from money gotten through the sale of her works, it would be totally legitimate to boycott her works - I know I would (had I been inclined to read Rand in the first place).

That is why my criteria are not simply "will the bad man profit", but "will the profits perpetrate/enable more bad deeds" - which is why I boycott Mel Gibson's work.

But it continues to be complicated, much, much beyond 'dead or alive'.
posted by VikingSword at 2:22 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


well, for starters, any song he wrong about aaliyah is about the rape of a minor.
posted by nadawi at 2:24 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I can't think too hard about her first album (Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, written and produced by R. Kelly) lest my head explode at the blatancy of it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:35 PM on December 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


Two words: Bobbi Flekman.
posted by phaedon at 2:38 PM on December 16, 2013


Based on the overwhelming amount of evidence that R. Kelly has indeed raped teenaged girls, is it farfetched to apply the idea that songs about sex are about sex with underaged girls they did not consent to, making them songs about child rape?

But see, this is over-simplifying the issue. I get that we all want to rage at R Kelly for being a generally terrible person, but this attitude toward interpretation of a work of art skips over a lot of difficult issues w/r/t hermeneutics of artworks. I mean, it makes a number of assertions - that a song can be about something specific at all, that the meaning of a song is given to it by the artist him or herself (as opposed to the audience), that even if the aforementioned were true the artist makes each song about some specific desire or event. It sounds like silly philosophical nonsense, but it's an important issue with this stuff. I don't think anyone would argue that works of art can't mean different things to different people at different times. Think about when they played the Eroica after Kennedy was assassinated. Presumably the 'meaning' of that performance had little to do with Napoleon...

I personally think a lot of this comes down merely to history and our very flawed relationship with it. We are free to interpret older things with much less logic and urgency than stuff on the airwaves right now.

The economic argument from "we don't want to financially support a rapist" makes much more sense, at least to me.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:44 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find it interesting that, to my ears at least, R. Kelly's songs about sex seem explicitly not to be about sex with teenagers. They're genuinely adult in their sexuality with an emphasis on both parties pleasure and enjoying sex for its own sake rather than aspart masculine posturing or presentation. Many of them read like they could be a dirty song written for an adult wife or long term girlfriend. Not all of them are this way, but many. I'm not sure whether that should be important, and it's certainly not a defense of him, but it's an observation.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:59 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


And again, there's a lot of room for interpretation a lot of the time. Here, we have a guy who wrote a song called "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number," which is explicitly referring to the age difference between romantic partners, for himself to perform with the girl whom he would later "marry" at the age of 15 (despite her being under the age of consent, thus the quotes).

It's like....the Offspring song "Hammerhead" is about a school shooting. If that song were written and performed by a reanimated Adam Lanza, would anybody be trying to argue that it's not about Sandy Hook?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:02 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]




Did he get a pass in the media?

Not as far as I remember.

He's up there with Michael Vick, in my mind, under the category of "wait am I seriously the ONLY person who remembers...?????"
posted by Sara C. at 3:09 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Notable difference: Michael Vick paid his debt to society in prison, while R. Kelly schemed his way out of accountability.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:12 PM on December 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't do background checks on musicians if I like the music they create.

Sure, but this is not like some big secret, or even something in the know folks are aware of but Time Magazine isn't really going to talk about a la James Brown or Roman Polanski. Rapey Pedophile is pretty much the first thing people know about R Kelly, possibly after "The I Believe I Can Fly Dude".
posted by Sara C. at 3:18 PM on December 16, 2013


Holy shit, I just realized something. Just a month or two ago, I was writing about Iggy Pop's Berlin period albums and ran into the songs "Tiny Girls" and "Sixteen." Allow me to quote from the excellent Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog:
Pop’s lyric is blunt even by his standards (and true to life, as Iggy once had a 14-year-old girlfriend)—his girl’s giving him trouble, and all he wants is some younger, less jaded girl without “tricks” or a past, or a personality. But when he gets her, she’s just as greedy and clinging and poisoned by life, and so Pop’s likely on to the next, younger model. Funny how the circle is a wheel?i>, as Gene Clark once sang.
(Italics are author Chris O'Leary's)

As I was writing, I acknowledged that this was icky, but more or less ignored it. Pop's lyrics are problematic in other ways and I tend to churn out way too many (ill-thought out) entries on music to stop and think.

Stopping and thinking now, however, Pop (at least according to O'Leary) is literally singing about moving on from one underaged girl to another. Both The Idiot and Lust for Life are amazing albums and I paid to download both of them (without ever previously closely examining or thinking about the lyrics) but I regret now that I did.

I don't know, as with Page, its possible that Pop no longer attempt to have sex with teenagers. I also don't know that "well, he doesn't rape anymore" is a decent enough argument for me to feel like I spent my money well.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:25 PM on December 16, 2013


It also bothers me that I just glossed right over this very important point about Pop as I was writing about him - as if having sex with a 14 year old is in the same moral ballpark as casual racism or (arguably) glorifying heroin.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:27 PM on December 16, 2013


If we ignored every work of art made by a despicable person we'd have precious little art to talk about.

That's not true. For every asshole who makes art, there's a non-asshole who is bullied into not making it or who has their work stolen by an asshole or who doesn't get as much publicity as the asshole because they dared to raise their voice about the asshole.

If we stopped giving a free pass to criminals, the art world would explode, not implode.
posted by january at 3:44 PM on December 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Joey Michaels -

I think - post the Jimmy Savile stuff and all the related cases still ongoing in the UK - we're now at the point where there's a fair argument to be made that the entire entertainment culture of the '60s and '70s (and beyond) was horrifically toxic and in many ways illegal by the laws of the day, though said laws were mostly ignored in ways that we see as totally unacceptable now.

I mean, everybody knows - because it's been well-documented - that Jimmy Page, or Mick Jagger, or [insert '60s/'70s rock god/media personality here] was shagging underage girls (or boys*); part of why it's so well documented is that nobody thought that this was out of order even if it was technically illegal. This was, at the time, almost totally uncontroversial behaviour that nobody engaging in it thought would come back and bite them on the arse 40 years down the line.

I think that the R Kelly situation seems different, because by the time all this started playing out, we (the US and the UK) as a culture were much more conscious of, and appreciative of, just how damaging this kind of interaction could be, for the kid involved. Now it wasn't simply "stars will be stars and fuck underaged kids and we're okay with that because Culture Of The Times", or what have you, but "this is serious stuff and things need to be done about it". And yet, for all practical purposes, nothing has been done about it.

I don't know; it's such a thorny issue and I have no idea what the real, useful answer is. Do we take every single musician or amp-lugging roadie who might have had sex with a 15 year old back in 1974 to court? Do we say "the cut-off point for having sex with underage kids is 19XX, because after that point, you all should have known better"?

At this point, it seems like large swathes of the music and/or entertainment industries are happy to overlook Kelly's behaviour, especially if there's some money in it for them. (I would say that I'm disappointed with Pitchfork, but that would imply I held them to better standards than I do.) Rather than looking back to what musicians 40-odd years ago and saying "well, they did it too, and none of you baulked", it's maybe more productive to ask: given the different attitudes of the time, what would have been the 1973 equivalent of how we look at R Kelly's behaviour now? "Eight year olds, dude"?

That said, I don't know if there's a satisfactory practical answer to that question.


*Interestingly, before the whole Savile investigation blew the lid off all this stuff, and excepting the case of Gary Glitter, who really was an "eight year olds, dude" case, Jonathan King was really the only person to be singled out, his crime being having sex with teenage boys, rather than teenage girls
posted by Len at 4:01 PM on December 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


This discussion of R Kelly is inseparable from the whiteness of this community, its relative privilege, and its unfamiliarity with "black" music. It's appalling to see so many posters cannonball into this pool without any self-awareness. Part and parcel with this is the failure to recognize black artists as artists, not as diarists or preachers.

We are capable of seeing Tom Waits as an artist singing about characters, even if his persona overlaps with those characters. R. Crumb is respected as someone channeling the weird and ugly stuff from his id. But the R. Kellys and Kanyes of the world cannot make complex, multidimensional art that can stand on its own apart from the actions of the artist. They are boogeymen and everything they do must be one-dimensional exhortations to evil acts.

I am not saying child rape is okay. Not remotely. But look at which child rapists and woman beaters that we feel free to unload on, and which ones we're pretty quiet about.
posted by gentian at 4:14 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


But look at which child rapists and woman beaters that we feel free to unload on, and which ones we're pretty quiet about.

Cursory glance of the articles and the thread: James Brown gets more of a pass than R Kelly. What am I missing.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:20 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


The especially weird thing about the 60s is that, back then, even a lot of Women's Liberation radical second wave feminists were advocating the removal of all laws policing sexuality, even "age of consent" type laws. You can read books like The Dialectic Of Sex and Sexual Politics, where feminists are saying that, in the future after the revolution, adults and children will be free to have sex with each other because everyone will be liberated from the patriarchy. With no mention of "BUT MICK JAGGER CAN FUCKING DIE IN A FIRE" or anything like that.

Not to say that this creates a hard and fast statute of limitations (fucking fifteen year olds was still wrong, even if Kate Millett said it was OK). But it's an interesting thought on the evolution of these ideas vis a vis the Baby Boom generation and 20th century pop culture.
posted by Sara C. at 4:20 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Part and parcel with this is the failure to recognize black artists as artists, not as diarists or preachers.

My take is that people have a large degree of appreciation and understanding for the whole "death of the author" aspect to art-making generally, but that R. Kelly himself has a very unique and particularly odd and creepy past w/r/t the overlap between his real life and his music and that's what people are talking about. This is a thread about R Kelly and people have brought up other artists like Iggy Pop, Roman Polanski and the guys from Led Zeppelin.

My take, again just from my perspective, is that I don't think this has much to do with "black" music as you put it. Do you think there is something special about R. Kelly's approach to this topic that puts the things he has done and said into some sort of category that isn't understandable to people who didn't grow up with hip hop, soul and R&B? Because I don't think in the absence of his actual creepy behavior people would be saying "Oh he says this so he must be like this" In fact the linked article talks more about how people have given him a pass for so long precisely because they thought there must be something that they weren't getting that wasn't just straightforward "Creepy guy is creepy"

But I also think R Crumb is sort of creepy, if you want my opinion.
posted by jessamyn at 4:23 PM on December 16, 2013 [20 favorites]


Yeah, this stuff crops up much more intensely with artists who are admittedly autobiographical in scope. God only knows how many filmmakers have had sex with underage girls, but people flip out about Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, both of whom are known for semi-autobiographical works.

And, again, R Kelly is a special case in this regard, because most of his work is highly sexually charged. Which makes it hard to separate his work from his actual real life sexuality.

I also wonder how much the age of the artist in comparison to the underage partners has to do with it -- Zepplin, the Rolling Stones, et al were considered "Youth Movement" music. That probably, at the very least, made the prospect of them having sex with teenagers seem more innocent than it really was.
posted by Sara C. at 4:29 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Part and parcel with this is the failure to recognize black artists as artists, not as diarists or preachers.

I'm not sure I think the contention here is as much related to race as it is to Kelly's music in particular and perhaps to hip hop generally (and of course hip hop and black culture are intrinsically tied, but sort of ignoring that for a minute). Not to make a totally universal statement, but my observation over the years of participating in music threads here is that Metafilter doesn't always know/love/get into hip hop and R&B music, perhaps because of the demographic here. Do I think this discussion would be different if it were about an artist Metafilter loved? Yes, I do think that. Not entirely different, but I think the general tone and degree of moral outrage would be different if, say, we were talking about Peter Gabriel.

I think this does play a role in why some artists get a pass. You're ability to be morally reprehensible and not be and have your art work be completely loathed has some proportional relationship to the quality of such art and/or the degree of its belovedness.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:43 PM on December 16, 2013


But I also think R Crumb is sort of creepy, if you want my opinion.

Was this ever in question?
posted by Sebmojo at 4:44 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Which is not to say that it is solely Kelly's music that is the cause of this outrage, at all, if that wasn't clear. Surely the whole child rape has a good deal to do with it. But to think that's the only factor I think is not correct.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:45 PM on December 16, 2013


My take, again just from my perspective, is that I don't think this has much to do with "black" music as you put it

I disagree, at least in part, in that there were plenty of people at the time (and presumably still today) who read about the allegations and the court case through the lens of "yet again a prominent black man is being publicly persecuted using his sexuality and claims of rape." That's not my take on the matter, but I heard it often and I think it remains a backdrop to the case for many people.

And it's part of the reason for the sad truth of the quote in the title of this post -- if you are going to defend R Kelly in this way, you have to do so by throwing the victims overboard.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:54 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The especially weird thing about the 60s is that, back then, even a lot of Women's Liberation radical second wave feminists were advocating the removal of all laws policing sexuality, even "age of consent" type laws.

There was a big push in youth rights at the time, too (in no small part because, as the song goes, "You're old enough to kill [i.e. be drafted into the Vietnam War at age 18], but not for votin' [21 at the time]"), and while that push achieved sensible things like lowering the voting age and ending corporal punishment in schools and whatnot, it also pushed (sometimes successfully) for lowering the age of consent--the "youth rights" angle apparently being that age of consent laws cock-block the younger party, which, uh, wtf, no.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:08 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this stuff crops up much more intensely with artists who are admittedly autobiographical in scope.

An example: Caryl Chessman, rapist of underaged women, sentenced to the death penalty, who subsequently became a bestselling author and cause celebre on the basis of his memoir. An unapologetically creepy man, of little literary talent, who nevertheless became a media darling by positioning himself as the victim of a cruel criminal justice system.
posted by mittens at 5:13 PM on December 16, 2013


with the mentions of jimmy savile i think it's important to make clear that he's not "just" a guy who fucked willing partners who were 15. he trolled hospitals looking for mentally and physically disabled victims who could not resist. his abuses were so widely known that nurses warned girls to pretend to be asleep. beyond that a lot of people in the entertainment industry knew he was fucking minors and didn't think anything of it because "everyone was doing it."
posted by nadawi at 5:25 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


i do think that some artists get an inexplicable pass from groups who are usually far more circumspect about sex - say, ted nugent adopting his under age girlfriend so he could move her to california. i don't think that's a reason to give r. kelly a pass. i also love kanye, if we're keeping a list.
posted by nadawi at 5:27 PM on December 16, 2013


R. Kelly never made a song about child rape."

He made a goddamn album.

That Village Voice article is fantastic, and I kinda wonder how many people here rewalking the well-trod paths about separating artist from art have read it.

(So, yeah, if I get Black Panties it'll be a pirate copy. Beyonce can have my money to, I dunno, pay for two seconds of gold jetpack fuel or whatever the fuck she spends it on.)
posted by klangklangston at 5:29 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean, everybody knows - because it's been well-documented - that Jimmy Page, or Mick Jagger, or [insert '60s/'70s rock god/media personality here] was shagging underage girls (or boys*); part of why it's so well documented is that nobody thought that this was out of order even if it was technically illegal. This was, at the time, almost totally uncontroversial behaviour that nobody engaging in it thought would come back and bite them on the arse 40 years down the line.

I just remembered that Sable Starr and a number of other prominent groupies of that era were underage, as well as, I am sure, any number of anonymous girls.

Strangely enough, I seem to remember a time when nobody thought it was necessarily out of order for older men to be, er, "dating" young girls - not just rock stars, normal guys. It's crazy to think about it now, girls I went to high school (and in a couple of memorable cases, grade school) with who had much older "boyfriends" and nobody seemed to think that was weird, or if they did, they certainly didn't mention it to us, the girls who were apparently in that, uh, dating pool.

So there has definitely been a cultural shift in the way we view age, the ability to consent, and what it means for an adult man to engage in that kind of behavior. The motivations haven't really changed, but the legal and social ramifications have been amplified.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:35 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


nadawi: with the mentions of jimmy savile i think it's important to make clear that he's not "just" a guy who fucked willing partners who were 15. he trolled hospitals looking for mentally and physically disabled victims who could not resist. his abuses were so widely known that nurses warned girls to pretend to be asleep. beyond that a lot of people in the entertainment industry knew he was fucking minors and didn't think anything of it because "everyone was doing it."

Just to make it clear, I never implied that Savile was a guy who "just" had sex with willing 15 year olds – he was a reprehensible monster who makes R Kelly look positively benign. I was more talking about the context in which everyone else's behaviour was viewed in a post-Savile light, and how that has changed things.
posted by Len at 5:47 PM on December 16, 2013


sorry i should have been more clear - i didn't mean to suggest you did - i just feel like in a conversation like this, and since a lot of your comment was about groupie sex, that it deserved another comment separating him even further in the scumbags who fuck kids category.
posted by nadawi at 5:56 PM on December 16, 2013


Some of my thoughts on this may be unpopular...I don't like R. Kelly's music. I do not doubt that the young women who accused him of rape were indeed victims of rape. However, I have a difficult time with the hysterical insistence that teenage girls are helpless children and that all sex with with (or between) persons under the age of 18 is necessarily monstrous. I am not saying that he didn't coerce, abuse or dehumanize anyone. I don't know a great deal about the specifics of his crimes, but it sounds like he did all of those things, multiple times, which is despicable. I guess what bothers me is the failure to distinguish between sexually immature children, and sexually mature teenagers. Like it or not, many of us reach sexual maturity at 13, 14, 15 years old. Someone who desires sex with a 15 year old is not necessarily a pedophile. When I was 14 I looked very much like a grown woman. The men who were attracted to me were not pedophiles. The consensual sex I had with men over the age of 18 when I was under the age of 18 was not rape. Legally it may have been, but no justice would have been done by prosecuting those guys.
I don't want to seem like some sort of apologist for R. Kelly. I just feel like it kind of undermines the legitimacy of the claims against him to call him a pedophile and a "child rapist." Isn't plain "rapist" bad enough?
posted by apis mellifera at 6:02 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey nadawi, no problem. I'm maybe forgetting that while in the UK this has become a discussion that has sprawled way beyond Savile himself to encompass pretty much the entire music, TV and entertainment industry, there are stratifications which aren't necessarily apparent to someone who hasn't grown up with that pop culture as a native. (And I stress, I don't mean stratifications in the sense of the seriousness of the offence, but rather stratifications in the sense of "well, this bit [TV entertainers like Savile] of pop culture is obviously rotten, but this other bit of pop culture [rock'n'roll] we can just write down as being of its time, so nothing to see here, move on!")
posted by Len at 6:08 PM on December 16, 2013


When I read the title of this FPP, I immediately thought of Mike Tyson, whose public image was reformed in a way that O.J. Simpson's was not, even though he was actually convicted of his crime. Why is that? Well, let's look at the races of the respective victims, Bob.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:09 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


yeah - i'm american and if i didn't consume a gigantic amount of british tv that involved lots of panel/quiz/news shows, i don't know that i would have heard of savile. i think a lot of people on this side of the pond aren't aware of the extent of his crimes. which is the only reason i singled him out - not to critique what you said.
posted by nadawi at 6:11 PM on December 16, 2013


I just feel like it kind of undermines the legitimacy of the claims against him

I strongly disagree. I'm not sure how a hair-splitting discussion about what is implied and/or meant by the word pedophilia is going change people's opinions about R Kelly or about his detractors. Pedophilia is a word that people have varying definitions on depending on how clinical or legal or precise they are trying to be. And again, the whole point of the Voice article was, in some ways, that saying "Oh he's just a rapist..." somehow wasn't enough to get people to really look at what people were saying about him and what he was doing. You'd have to say "Look this guy makes a point of repeatedly preying on underage young women/girls" to get people to take notice of his truly predatory actions. This isn't like "Oh I didn't check her license and she told me she was 18 and most of the people I date are adult women about my age" at all.
posted by jessamyn at 6:12 PM on December 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


A 14 or 15 year old girl is still a child. I have been a 15 year old girl and I have a 14 year old stepdaughter. The trap of assuming that teenagers are capable of understanding exactly what they are doing having sex with a person in a position of authority wanders quickly into the trap where we blame the victim. Kelly actively sought out girls who were easy to victimize. He knew their ages, it's well documented that people have known about this- and it's obvious in his relationship with Aaliyah. My personal hysteria has to do with the fact that he has never had to face real justice for crimes. Do I think that some of the encounters were as consenting as possible with a person who can't give consent? Probably. Do I think it's more likely that there were countless more where a predator of girls abused his money and power to get away with rape? Absolutely.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 6:18 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


nadawi: i'm american and if i didn't consume a gigantic amount of british tv that involved lots of panel/quiz/news shows, i don't know that i would have heard of savile.

Which is totally understandable. Imagine if you'd just found out that Mr Rogers was guilty of the same crimes as Savile. They didn't occupy exactly the same space in the respective pop cultures of the UK and the US (though there are a lot of parallels), but it would have been that big a deal.
posted by Len at 6:20 PM on December 16, 2013


i looked older than my age and tried to act older - got my period in the 4th grade, boobs a little earlier, etc. even at 12 i could tell the difference between the 21+ year old men who thought i was older and the ones who were attracted to the fact that i wasn't. r. kelly very much strikes me as the latter and i don't feel conflicted at all about calling that out.
posted by nadawi at 6:22 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


oh yeah, i totally caught that, Len. i had actually looked up savile previous to the whole scandal because he came up in a few jokes. sometimes when my husband and i are watching 8 out of 10 cats/qi/would i lie to you/graham norton/sarah millican/etc from oklahoma we just look quizzically at each other, so there's quite a bit of googling punchlines.
posted by nadawi at 6:25 PM on December 16, 2013


apis mellifera: "Like it or not, many of us reach sexual maturity at 13, 14, 15 years old. Someone who desires sex with a 15 year old is not necessarily a pedophile. When I was 14 I looked very much like a grown woman. The men who were attracted to me were not pedophiles. The consensual sex I had with men over the age of 18 when I was under the age of 18 was not rape. Legally it may have been, but no justice would have been done by prosecuting those guys. "

Your points are well taken, but R. Kelly was 32 years old when he appeared on the tape urinating and statutorially raping a 14 year old. I think most of us understand that punishing statutory rape can be problematic when the participants are right around the age of majority, but I think we can all find some agreement that a 32 year old and a 14 year old is not the example you're looking for if you want to make this point.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:26 PM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


You'd have to say "Look this guy makes a point of repeatedly preying on underage young women/girls" to get people to take notice of his truly predatory actions.

Apparently, that's not even enough to command attention, let alone prosecution.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:30 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


nadawi: sometimes when my husband and i are watching 8 out of 10 cats/qi/would i lie to you/graham norton/sarah millican/etc from oklahoma we just look quizzically at each other, so there's quite a bit of googling punchlines.

Gotcha. It's the transatlantic equivalent of Gilligan's Island jokes!
posted by Len at 6:31 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


#FastTailedGirls: Hashtag has a painful history behind it, Goldie Taylor, The Grio, 3 December 3 2013
To be clear, this is not a new phenomenon, nor is this confined to the immediacy of family. There is no more prominent example of this than the case of Robert Kelly. Otherwise known as chart-topping R&B recording artist R. Kelly, when he stood accused of engaging in sex with minors it was his fans—many of them women– (and a jury) that came running to his rescue.

In recent weeks, I was aghast to see that Kelly has been on a bit of a comeback tour and has been featured on at least two national television broadcasts—Saturday Night Live and the American Music Awards—alongside Lady Gaga. Kelly and Gaga simulated sexual acts on stage, during a live rendition of “Do What U Want” on both shows.

However, it was the AMA performance that left me with the most stridently offensive imagery. Moments after “President Kelly” exits the stage, childhood photographs of Gaga playing the piano danced across the video screen behind her.

Enter #FastTailedGirls.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:38 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Village Voice article is fantastic, and I kinda wonder how many people here rewalking the well-trod paths about separating artist from art have read it.

The VV article is a really great look into the history of the whole thing (and is overall just a really great piece of music journalism). However, in my opinion, it doesn't address the (well-trod for a very good reason) philosophical issues about separating art and artists sufficiently in any sense.

His argument basically boils down to what was said above, that songs by Led Zep et al get the pass because they aren't explicitly about rape. I outlined some of my objections to this argument above, namely that it makes a number of dubious assumptions regarding what is meaning in a song and who gets to determine that; to wit, would the author feel much differently if it became known that, along with the fish, Robert Plant forced a woman to squeeze lemon juice all over his legs? The point is the one I tried to make early on - that how we understand a song is a hermeneutic problem, and just as we can understand or enjoy some work of art decoupled from its origins, original meaning (whatever that even means), whatever, so can we enjoy it decoupled from its creator.

Though perhaps the VV did say as much as is possible on the subject: We're all viewing art differently. The joy is in the conversation.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:42 PM on December 16, 2013


Yeah, I didn't expect my thoughts to be well-received. Probably shouldn't have posted, but since I can't take it back...As an active and willing participant in sexual activity with men as much as 11 years my senior when I was a young teenage girl, I tend to bristle at the suggestion that all such relationships are inherently predatory on the part of the older male. Like I said, R. Kelly sounds like a fucking scumbag. I would never dismiss rape of any kind, against anyone of any age as "oh, it's just rape." I've been raped. I was raped by a 28 year old man when I was 14. My encounter with him was of a vastly different nature than my encounters with other older men. it wasn't particularly violent. It just wasn't consensual.

By all accounts, R. Kelly is a bad man. He appears to get off on abusing people--a real sadist. Would it be more or less reprehensible if those women were 30 than 13? My point, I guess, is that rape is rape. In fact, I think the emphasis on the age of his victims may be what leads some of his fans to dismiss the charges against him as a "statutory thing". Such as: "I mean who hasn't had a bone for a teenage hottie at sometime or another, amirite?"
posted by apis mellifera at 7:02 PM on December 16, 2013


i don't think you were ill received - i think myself and others just explained why we think the age is pertinent. you can disagree with that. i've been raped by boys my age and men much older - i agree that it's different than the fooling around i did with men that were older but where i was as consenting as a 15 year old could be. i still think r. kelly is a child rapist and i think that distinction matters specifically in his case.
posted by nadawi at 7:14 PM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Part and parcel with this is the failure to recognize black artists as artists, not as diarists or preachers.

I agree with you in general; check out any Kanye thread or any hip hop thread generally and you'll find people who love Bukowski or Scorcese or whatever but worry deeply about rap misogyny. In this specific case however, R. Kelly is a very special sort of predatory monster whose lyrics are obsessed with sex. What he's done is 100x worse than Chris Brown, and Chris Brown doesn't sing about beating women.

Would it be more or less reprehensible if those women were 30 than 13?

Less, because consent. I don't doubt that teens feel that they're able to give consent, but teens think and feel a lot of things that aren't true. That's part of adolescence. We as a society have decided to protect people under 18 from the power dynamics inherent in sexual relationships between adults and non-adults. That dividing line is surely imperfect and I'm sure some loving relationships have developed between people on opposite sides of it, but generally speaking as we get older we are capable of understanding sexual dynamics much better.
posted by cell divide at 7:27 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think we can have this "age of sexual maturity", "some girls look older", "a 17 year old isn't a child" type conversaion.

Except that the especially egregious thing about R Kelly was that he wasn't having sex with girls who were 17 and a half, he was having sex with girls who were 14. While our physical bodies might be sexually mature at 14 (mine certainly wasn't), in modern day culture we consider 14 year olds children, not adults.
posted by Sara C. at 7:40 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Right--the difference between a 14 year old and a 17 year old (on the average) is much, much bigger than that between a 24 year old and a 27 year old.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:05 AM on December 17, 2013


Saying that an adult male, in their 20s, having sex with a 14 year old, may not be categorically evil and abuse and result in irreparable harm, is to me, kind of like playing a game of russian roulette and not having the gun go off.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:52 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lutoslawsi: “One of the 'analyses' of the situation I found interesting albeit a bit off was Dave Chappelle asking but how old is 15 really?”

fuse theorem: “Okay, you guys are really killing my regard for Chapelle. If Key & Peele ever do an RK sketch (even one which skewers him), I'm done.”

On the contrary, that "how old is 15 really?" bit is fine comedy, I think. Really incisive. And his question is a damned good one. If we show loud concern for white boys and girls who are the victims of pedophiles, but the black girls who were victims of Kelly are dismissed with 'they knew what they were doing' and 'they were just trying to get rich and/or famous' and 'those allegations were never proved,' then it says something really ugly about our priorities as a society. Really, really ugly. Chapelle's piece underlines pretty sharply the salient assertion in the title to the post above.

And frankly his video mockery of R Kelly is, I think, tough but a good statement on the problem. R Kelly's bread and butter is this sexy-sexy video stuff. Everybody swallows it because it's catchy and fun. Juxtaposing it with the reality of how R Kelly seems to want to impose his sexuality on others in private is shocking, but really it's what we should be thinking of every time we hear an R Kelly sex jam. If we did, I have a feeling we wouldn't listen to his music so readily.

Dave Chappelle didn't really let up on R Kelly, either. This sketch was pretty brutal, but its general thrust – that it's utterly inane that a video which jurors openly admit is clearly R Kelly fails to convict him because they're not completely sure who the girl was, so maybe she was just one of those adults who just happens to look 14 – is spot on.

I guess mostly I'm now starting to appreciate that nobody else was talking about this, but Chappelle waded in and said it. And I am glad he did, because at least there was some dim knowledge about it in society at large, even if it wasn't further illuminated (as it should have been) by news reports and media coverage.
posted by koeselitz at 7:02 AM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


But I mean, Penn State has a really good football team...
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:39 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


say, ted nugent adopting his under age girlfriend so he could move her to california.

See also, Steven Tyler.
posted by naoko at 8:57 AM on December 17, 2013


A bike mechanic of mine with an uncle in entertainment law told me that, when he asked his uncle "Why isn't R. Kelly in jail?", his uncle explained it thusly:
R. Kelly is not a only a person. R. Kelly is a corporation with employees, lots of employees, and a massive revenue stream to maintain. And putting him in jail would interrupt that corporate revenue stream, subsequently "fucking with a lotta peoples' money" (to use a technical term).

And there is an army of lawyers whose job is to argue that jailing R. Kelly (the singer) would unjustly interrupt the flow of corporate cash, in violation of R. Kelly (the corporation)'s right (as a person) to do business. Their job is to "keep people (e.g. prosecutors, journalists, victims) from fuckin' with the money".
Michael Vick was jailable because, while valuable, there wasn't a massive cash-flow into the corporate coffers that would have been squeezed off if he was sentenced to time behind bars.

R. Kelly is not in jail because he makes the corporation more profit than it costs in lawyers to keep him out.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:06 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


He made a goddamn album. [about child rape]

That is such an absurd and ridiculous stretch. That wasn't even R. Kelly's album, it was Aaliyah's debut record and she was 15. Obviously the album title is in reference to the fact that she's a 15 year old singer with a debut R&B record.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:58 AM on December 17, 2013


and the fact that he wrote and produced the album and the track, and that they were fucking and got secretly married wasn't related at all? whatever dude. enjoy your bangers.
posted by nadawi at 10:04 AM on December 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


The line in the Voice piece that stuck out at me was "one white girl from Winnetka and the story would be different." I can't help but feel that racist stereotypes about black people's sexuality has a lot to do with how Kelly is getting a pass here - a sort of belief that when it comes to black people and sex there are different rules for what's acceptable. Rap videos have been full of black women twerking for decades now and it's barely worth mentioning, but Miley Cyrus starts doing it and it's a scandal. Roman Polanski had sex with a teenager (with some circumstances that may or may not be mitigating, depending on your point of view) and is a pariah to many forever, but R. Kelly is on video having sex with an underage girl and to huge numbers of fans that doesn't matter.
posted by dnash at 10:05 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


apis mellifera: "Would it be more or less reprehensible if those women were 30 than 13? "

More, because as cell divide said, there is the question of whether a 13 year old is capable of giving consent to an adult who has so much power over her. Both in society and in the relationship. Are they capable of knowing what they want? Are they capable of asking for the things they need? Can they say "no" and be listened to? Power imbalances are inherent to any relationship between someone who has just become a teenager and someone who is more than 30 years old. There is a higher risk of coercion.

The foundation of every kind of abuse is some sort of power imbalance. That doesn't mean that abuse is inevitable in relationships with such imbalances. But being in a relationship where one exists increases the possibility that abuse may take place. When it does happen, as in the rape of those young girls, then we can point directly to the power imbalance in the relationship as a reason those rapes were possible.

Worse, with regard to the rapes committed by Robert Kelly, you're looking at two power imbalances not just one. The first is the rape of a child. The second is the rape of an African American girl. Social inequalities tend to reinforce each other, and those two inequalities mean that those women had distinct disadvantages while in relationship with a powerful adult man.

It's one thing to be a child, and not have control over one's own life. To have to deal with both the experience of being a child, in which you are only first taking steps toward developing into a mature, adult capable of giving informed consent to sexual encounters, but also the imbalance of power in every relationship with an adult, where your freedom, money and life choices are limited to adults who have power over you. But compounded on top of each of Kelly's rape victims' identities is their status as African American girls (not adult women,) who thanks to the color of her skin have most likely had to deal with some racism and discrimination -- that's par for the course -- but also generally having less control over their own lives than their caucasian counterparts.

Again, this matters a great deal. Because the coercion doesn't end when the rape does. It continues, with pressures imposed by the adult to silence and isolate the victims and prevent them from reporting what he has done. An environment is created where victims can be repeatedly raped, and not feel they have the power / ability to stop it from happening.
posted by zarq at 10:07 AM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Roman Polanski had sex with a teenager (with some circumstances that may or may not be mitigating, depending on your point of view) and is a pariah to many forever, but R. Kelly is on video having sex with an underage girl and to huge numbers of fans that doesn't matter.

There are also significant numbers of fans to whom Polanski's issues don't matter, and as seen in this thread, there are significant numbers of fans to whom Kelly's issues do matter. I don't think we can necessarily draw a bright line between "This guy raped a white teenager and the reaction was X; but this guy raped a black teenager and the reaction was Y."
posted by Etrigan at 10:11 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


That is such an absurd and ridiculous stretch. That wasn't even R. Kelly's album, it was Aaliyah's debut record and she was 15. Obviously the album title is in reference to the fact that she's a 15 year old singer with a debut R&B record.

Not really. The title of the album is also the title of a song on the album, and the song (the song R. Kelly wrote, mind you) is pretty clearly about a relationship.
posted by ostro at 10:11 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not really. The title of the album is also the title of a song on the album, and the song (the song R. Kelly wrote, mind you) is pretty clearly about a relationship.

That is all true. He is a really successful song writer, no matter what his awful personal transgressions are. But that still doesn't make it a song about child rape. It's a song about a girl who wants to date a boy who is older than her. That type of song goes back to the 50s. If the song was titled "I Married R. Kelly Because He Gave Me an STI and My Uncle Basically Pimped Me Out Because I Am Young and Impressionable Yet I Know How This Industry Works" then I would agree with you, because that's what happened. I ain't condoning that, for the record, lest you think I'm a psycho for seeming to defend the guy.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:26 AM on December 17, 2013


It's a song about a young girl having a sexual relationship with an older man. It was written by R. Kelly to be performed by R. Kelly (age 27) and Aaliyah (age 15), who were sleeping together at the time.

It might not be autobiographical. But it's not exactly a huge leap of logic to assume that it probably is.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I ain't condoning that, for the record, lest you think I'm a psycho for seeming to defend the guy.

I kind of think you're creepy for defending the guy like you are. If you can't even admit to the totality of the evidence then you have a vested interest that probably goes beyond," I like what I like." If you had the courage of your convictions you would admit that the child rapist writes songs about child rape, including about the child rape of Aaliyah, who he subsequently married, and just say you don't give a shit. Trying to have it both ways seems creepy, frankly.
posted by OmieWise at 10:33 AM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


I feel strongly about the issue of art/artist because I've devoted my life to being a musician and I respect artistic work deeply. I think I've been pretty clear that R. Kelly is despicable personally and, yes, the song walks the line. But, even if it IS about their relationship, it is not explicitly stated in ANY way. That's my point. You are all making a judgment of "If A, then B." and I disagree with that.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:37 AM on December 17, 2013


You are all making a judgment of "If A, then B." and I disagree with that.

My point is that you seem to be wanting to preserve plausible deniability for a child rapist, who happens to be a song writer you like, despite the overwhelming evidence that he does, in fact, write songs about child rape. I'm not actually making an argument about whether you should listen to R. Kelly, but it's creepy to pretend like the content is not there. What is it you are attempting to preserve or gain by denying that the child rapist writes songs about child rape?
posted by OmieWise at 10:46 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


i think my feelings on his songs are best described in this #askrkelly tweet -

#AskRKelly @rkelly when you sing songs referencing the underage girls you prey on, is it just to gloat or further violate your victims also?
posted by nadawi at 10:52 AM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


ReeMonster: "But, even if it IS about their relationship, it is not explicitly stated in ANY way. "

Dude rapes multiple underage women. Dude wrote a song called "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number," which (to repeat what someone said upthread) explicitly refers to the age difference between romantic partners, for himself to perform with the girl whom he would later "marry" at the age of 15.

Who gives a shit if he stated it explicitly? He doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt.
posted by zarq at 10:57 AM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


There are lots of songs about drugs that don't explicitly say they are about drugs, but are widely understood to be about drugs.

There are lots of songs about sex that don't explicitly say they are about sex, but are widely understood to be about sex.

This isn't hard.
posted by ambrosia at 11:02 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


wait - are you meaning to tell me that beyonce hasn't become an enthusiastic surfer who is dedicated to waxing her board after a night spent drinking when she sings "grainin' on that wood"? next you'll tell that she didn't actually sneeze on the beat and give it an infection...
posted by nadawi at 11:05 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


explicitly refers to the age difference between romantic sexual partners

"Age ain't nothing but a number/Throwing down ain't nothing but a thang"
posted by Sys Rq at 11:13 AM on December 17, 2013


You mean "Grindin' on that wood"..? I would venture to say that Beyonce the person does in fact like to grind on wood, but then again, Jay-Z could be her beard and she could actually prefer surfing a different tide. The song is just a song.

Dr. Dre rapped on Chronic 2000:
"I just took some Ecstasy
Ain't no tellin what the side effects could be
All these fine bitches equal sex to me
plus I got this bad bitch layin next to me
No doubt, sit back on the couch
Pants down, rubber on, set to turn that ass out
Laid the bitch out, then I put it in her mouth
Pulled out, nutted on a towel and passed out"

The guy was 34 and married with a bunch of kids when he rapped that. Does that mean he's still into clubbing/fucking around like a teenager? Does that mean he date raped a chick who was passed out on an ecstasy trip?

I'm removing myself from this discussion now because my point doesn't matter in this scheme. You feel R. Kelly walks the line too closely or else he has stepped over the line between truth and song lyrics and that the heinous nature of his personal acts is directly reflected in his songs. That's a perfectly acceptable opinion to have (albeit unfair), yet if Kelly goes to trial and is convicted of rape and sentenced to prison, his damn song lyrics won't have jack to do with it.

The guy above who said this is a very white and privileged discussion was spot on. See ya.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:18 AM on December 17, 2013


Yes, it's "very white and privileged" to show more concern for the young, black, female, and non-wealthy victims of R. Kelly's actions than for the "artistic work" of the older, black, male, and very wealthy musician who serves as a meal ticket for a phalanx of mostly older, mostly white, mostly male, and mostly wealthy music industry insiders.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:24 AM on December 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


she actually says grainin' but exaggerated to make it sound like grinding. hence the word play. also, you know, jokes!

many people sing about many things - no one here is saying they are all entirely literal or autobiographical - but that r. kelly writes about fucking underage girls and actually fucks underage girls. some think it's to potentially gloat and further victimize the girls. that makes it a far sight different the dre. next you'll be arguing that murder was the case by snoop has nothing to do with his trial for murder.
posted by nadawi at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


The guy above who said this is a very white and privileged discussion was spot on. See ya.

You're kidding, right? You have no defense for your absurd position, so you call "white privilege?" You're a piece of work. Are you going to take your ball home with you when you go?
posted by OmieWise at 11:32 AM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


"The guy above who said this is a very white and privileged discussion was spot on. See ya."

You're the guy in contortions usually not seen outside of "But it's not really racist because…"

"next you'll be arguing that murder was the case by snoop has nothing to do with his trial for murder."

Yeah, it's more "Smoke Weed Every Day" than "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," (or Ghostface's Fishscale versus ODB's "When I'm trying to get some food stamps, to buy some champagne"). Hell, it's not even like anyone's claiming that R. Kelly was literally told to clear the lobby after the after party. But public record of child rape+songs lauding having sex with underage girls=Songs about child rape are a fairly accurate representation of R. Kelly's attitudes toward child rape.

I mean, do you think the only difference between Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" and Big Star's "Thirteen" is only racism? Or the Dirtbombs' "Cedar Point '76"?

Further, you keep decrying this on the basis of autobiographical fallacy, but you forget that's not an argument. What do you think is better supported? The Aaliyah track that he wrote and performed on while having sex with her, underage, that is about an underage woman having sex with an older man, is not at all about the actual sex they were having, but is some platonic abstraction? Or that Occam's razor shows that it's probably about the fucking obvious? That there's a tradition of young girl/older guy songs doesn't mean that this song is an example of that tradition, any more than because there's a tradition of hyperbolic boasting doesn't mean that "Hit 'Em Up" wasn't aimed at Biggie Smalls.
posted by klangklangston at 11:58 AM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


ReeMonster: “But that still doesn't make it a song about child rape. It's a song about a girl who wants to date a boy who is older than her. That type of song goes back to the 50s.”

I have some disturbing news for you about that pop-song trope, common since the 50s, about young girls who want to date older men: as far as I know none of those records were produced or even written by the young girls in the equation.
posted by koeselitz at 1:52 PM on December 17, 2013 [18 favorites]


The NSFW picture in Doktor Zed's link way up the top of the page: am I right in assuming that lass he's getting intimate with is of the age of consent?

I'm obviously not familiar with his "work", but everything in this thread suggests that I should potentially go and boil my eyes out.
Although since no one else has questioned it I am assuming it's just not as bad as I fear.

And, in R Kelly's defence, at least he's not Ian Watkins bad, although few people are.
posted by Mezentian at 4:08 PM on December 17, 2013


There are lots of songs about sex that don't explicitly say they are about sex, but are widely understood to be about sex.

Are you trying to say that Robert Johnson didn't just really like lemonade?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:34 AM on December 18, 2013


I found this article discussing dealing with R. Kelly from the perspective of a fan interesting and worth reading.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:05 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Were YOU Wrong About R. Kelly?, Jamilah Lemieux, Ebony, 17 December 2013
Earlier this week, the Village Voice published an interview with writer Jim DeRogatis, whose extensive coverage of the R. Kelly sexual assault scandal for the Chicago Sun-Times (and later, Vibe) was consumed nationwide…yet largely and willfully ignored by many who chose to dismiss the allegations against Kelly as rumors (#hatersalwaystryingtotakeablackmandownwhenhestryingtodosomethingpostivewithhislife) or who felt that the alleged victims should shoulder the onus of the blame (#fasttailedgirls) or who felt that what matters most is the singer’s musical capabilities (#girliwanttotossyoursalad). And those who may fall outside of those more tidy categories, those whose consumerism is not tempered by any need to be informed about the people whom they support; where knowing and not knowing might as well be the same thing. He makes great music, what exactly else are we supposed to be concerned with?



There is no defense for Robert Kelly in 2013. And there is no defense for those who claim that there isn’t sufficient evidence to call this man an abuser of children, if not in his current life, then as recent as the early 2000s.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:35 AM on December 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


#girliwanttotossyoursalad

Wait, when did Ryan Gosling enter this sordid picture?

(Just kidding: call me, Ryan).
posted by Mezentian at 6:52 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every time you buy one of his records, R. Kelly pees on a little piece of your soul.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:54 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


But the fortune teller told me I have an old soul!
posted by cortex at 7:59 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


ZING
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:07 AM on December 18, 2013


ob1quixote: Thanks for that article; it's interesting. One of the astounding things it links to is this 1994 interview with Aaliyah and R Kelly, which makes it clear that they had no confusion over her age (if any confusion existed before) –

male interviewer: Where'd the title of the album come from?

R Kelly: She's runnin' around the studio one day with her friends, talkin' a lotta smack...

[laughter]

... all like 'age ain't nothin' but a number, girl' - and I was like, 'wha- so what you tryin' to say?' - so immediately I heard the song, you know, I called her back fifteen minutes later, told her 'check this out,' so we cut the track right then and there.

female interviewer: And for the record you are how old?

Aaliyah: That's a secret. Shhh....

[laughter]

female interviewer: [riffing] A woman doesn't disclose her age...

male interviewer: [riffing] Keepin' it under wraps!


Ugh. Yeah, I feel gross that we as a society just sort of went along. I can only imagine how those interviewers feel now. And the look of sheer panic in R Kelly's eyes when the interviewer asks the question, and then the way he grins sheepishly and scratches the back of his head when they laugh it off... good lord.
posted by koeselitz at 8:24 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]



Hey don't indict all of Chicago just because of some horrific crimes. The barbarity of the world should frighten you.


I'm sorry but in the other parts of the world I have lived in R. Kelly would have gone to jail for this. Only in Chicago have I seen such open tolerance for crime so long as it stays in certain parts of the city and with certain groups as victims. Hell the police even blame the communities they underprotect for the crimes they don't bother to solve!

I love living here but I don't pretend I am not at least in part culpable for how shitty life in the city is for others less fortunate or pale. My luxury and safety comes partially at their expense.
posted by srboisvert at 10:29 AM on December 18, 2013


Only in Chicago have I seen such open tolerance for crime so long as it stays in certain parts of the city and with certain groups as victims.

You haven't been looking, then. I say that as a resident of the Detroit metropolitan area and a former resident of Los Angeles, slightly upstate New York and many places in the American South. "Those neighborhoods" exist everywhere.
posted by Etrigan at 10:35 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dr. Dre rapped on Chronic 2000:
"I just took some Ecstasy
Ain't no tellin what the side effects could be
All these fine bitches equal sex to me
plus I got this bad bitch layin next to me
No doubt, sit back on the couch
Pants down, rubber on, set to turn that ass out
Laid the bitch out, then I put it in her mouth
Pulled out, nutted on a towel and passed out"

The guy was 34 and married with a bunch of kids when he rapped that. Does that mean he's still into clubbing/fucking around like a teenager? Does that mean he date raped a chick who was passed out on an ecstasy trip?


No, HE took the Ecstasy. He's sitting on the couch tripping while a girl is there with him, who ends up having sex with him before he finishes and then HE passes out. He's not bragging about date rape, he's bragging that ladies all want to have sex with him because he's Dr. Dre, in fact, here's one who wants him right here.

I suppose you could pick apart what consent would be in that situation, given Dre's celebrity and the drugs involved, but straight up rapping about date rape would be out of character for Dre. At the very least, it might cost him an endorsement deal.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:46 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, HE took the Ecstasy.

Yeah, I didn't word that eloquently enough. Should've said "while he was on an ecstasy trip." Which is what I meant, as you described. Not that it matters.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:11 PM on December 18, 2013


ReeMonster: “Yeah, I didn't word that eloquently enough. Should've said 'while he was on an ecstasy trip.' Which is what I meant, as you described. Not that it matters.”

ReeMonster – I've been meaning to respond a little more clearly; up above I made a sort of flippant little comment, and while it was true (I think the sexualization of children in pop music is an old problem, and was not any less seedy in the 1950s than it is today) it doesn't really do justice to what I think your point is.

If you're saying that art becomes its own thing in the world, independent of the artist, then I think that's totally correct. A person is not a terrible person for liking an R Kelly song; we are not colluding with rape by listening to him. I personally will say that I really like "Trapped In The Closet" and "Ignition (Remix)" a lot. Listening to them is fun, and that doesn't mean I'm aiding and abetting a criminal here.

But – this is a little more complicated than that. And I think Jim DeRogatis actually does a pretty good job of dealing with this in a nuanced way. Music isn't just completely separate from the lives we live, and while a song takes on dimensions of its own that have nothing to do with the artist that created it, it's still often tied back to what was going on in that artist's life. DeRogatis compares this to his enjoyment listening to James Brown and Led Zeppelin, and says (correctly, I think) that this really depends on our experience with R Kelly personally and his victims:
We're all viewing art differently. The joy is in the conversation. Pitchfork is the premier critical organ in the United States for smart discussion of music, books, and artists, but it doesn't have this discussion. The site reviews his records but doesn't have the conversation about, "What does it say for us to like his music?"

I think, again, everybody has to individually answer. I can still listen to Led Zeppelin and take joy in Led Zeppelin or James Brown. I condemn the things they did. I'm not reminded constantly in the art, because the art is not about it. But if you're listening to "I want to marry you, pussy," and not realizing that he said that to Aaliyah, who was 14, and making an album he named Age Ain't Nothing but a Number -- I had Aaliyah's mother cry on my shoulder and say her daughter's life was ruined, Aaliyah's life was never the same after that. That's not an experience you've had. I'm not expecting you to feel the same way I do. But you can look at this body of evidence. "You" meaning everybody who cares.
If I'm reading this right – I think he's saying that there's no moral imperative to hear the things he's hearing in R Kelly's music. Maybe when you listen to that new record you're not hearing overtones of several decades of pedophilia. DeRogatis is saying – that's fine, you can listen to it because you don't have that experience.

But condemning the music is really not the point. We can argue all day about whether there are overtones of R Kelly's predilections in his music. Personally I think there are a lot, even though (as I said) there are some songs I really like that don't seem to have that in them. What matters, though, isn't "is this music evil?" It's just music. What matters is what the man has done, and whether he'll be punished for it.

And there's also this dimension of – R Kelly isn't a singer or a songwriter. He's not simply an artist, putting things out there. He's a pop star. He presents himself as the product in a lot of cases. He is the star of his videos. He is character, the persona behind the narrative of his albums (and his albums are generally intelligent to have characterization and narrative). So what Jim DeRogatis is saying, I think, is – it's not that this music should be on some blacklist, it's not that we should refuse to listen to something we dig; it's that, during all this time that we really literally are exalting a pop star and lauding him in print and writing antiseptic pieces of music criticism, we might find a few moments to say, "hey, what this guy did is not right, instead of dismissing the moral issue as though it didn't matter at all.
posted by koeselitz at 2:11 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]




Only in Chicago have I seen such open tolerance for crime so long as it stays in certain parts of the city and with certain groups as victims.

Etrigan : You haven't been looking, then. I say that as a resident of the Detroit metropolitan area and a former resident of Los Angeles, slightly upstate New York and many places in the American South. "Those neighborhoods" exist everywhere.

Such as the entirety of my home town, alas.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:40 PM on December 23, 2013


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