I Don’t See Nothin Wrong … With Chest-kicking R. Kelly Out Of Sparta

Graphic design © Aya de Leon, 2019

I don’t think I’ll be watching Dream Hampton’s six-part series on the teflon pedophile. Not because his career in pedophilia is likely longer and more extensive than his music career. But precisely because of that.

As writer Aya de Leon asks, “Why are we talking about R Kelly in 2019 when there are so many other pressing issues?” More importantly, as Jada Pinkett Smith also wants to know, why are his sales and streams increasing this week?

I hear his body calling for underage girls. And I hear the ghost of Aaliyah’s voice flirting with him, reassuring him, age ain’t nothin but a number …

I don’t mean to be bold, But I gotta let you know, I got a thing for calling pedophiles exactly what the fuck they are. And I can’t let go. The only thing worse than being a pedophile is penning lyrics for a 14-year-old girl to court you with. He needs to believe the lie. But it seems the lovin R. Kelly fans for him, it’ll never change.

Graphic design © Aya de Leon, 2019

Much ado was made about the undue suffering of Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey fans after they publicly molted from respected celebrities to personae non gratae. Like MJ fans before R. Kelly, and Woody Allen and Roman Polanski fans before them, and apparently Caravaggio fans way before them, they’re grousing about feeling unfairly wedged between the moral dilemma of Art versus The Artist. Consumers resent this line in the stand, an impending decision apparently being foisted upon them and inconveniencing their otherwise carefree days. And why should they have to make a Sophie’s choice between art appreciation and socially mandated moral outrage for criminal predation! After all, they didn’t drug and/or rape anyone. They didn’t molest boys in homemade theme parks or pee on underage girls. Because they broke none of man’s laws or God’s laws they feel entitled to listen to the music of child molesters and enjoy the movies made by predators and laugh at the comedy of compulsive maturbators. When they shift the short focus of public attention span to having to choose between art appreciation versus artist condemnation they hijack the conversation about consent. Because again, every blessed last one of these assholes is standing on the stocks, their careers swinging from the gallows, because they did not ask for consent, ignored those who didn’t give consent, drugged others who refused consent or exploited professional power differentials to infer tacit consent from stunned and sometimes terrified silence.

And logical fallacies abound in an era when public servants elected and paid to serve the people can denounce anything they dislike as fake news. And even NYT writers like Clyde Haberman are lamenting a zero-sum equation as though they are being forced to choose between only two options — denounce the artist and stop consuming their art or enjoy your music/movie/art of choice and endure the attendant social baggage that comes along with condoning pedophilia/rape/assault/harassment/crime of choice.

That is simply not true. There are more than two options and no one is making you choose any of them. Humanity has proven throughout history and across cultures that it is capable of tremendous indifference and apathy. We are letting Yemeni children starve to death. We are letting children fleeing war drown in the Mediterranean. We are not doing enough to stop international sex trafficking or even recognize it as the slave trade that it is. So you can rest easy knowing that no one cares if you finally find it in yourself to delete Bump N Grind from one of your playlists.

No one, not even the throbbing ants’ nest that is the internet, is making anyone choose between being deep enough (sarcasm font) to appreciate the “hip hopera” of Trapped In The Closet and being a decent fucking human who swiftly condemns pedophiles without whining about what it does to your cd collection, (sorry, this child of the 90s still has stacks of CDs from the BMG and Columbia House days).

Rather than buying into the current logical fallacy of the zero-sum equation I propose a redirect. A little context first, if I may.

Until statute of limitation laws are reformed, until the pain of pursuing legal action is less painful than reporting crimes, until victims do not fear personal and professional retribution for reporting, and until the judge hired to sentence criminals are not the criminals themselves, I offer an interim solution.

Once caught, perpetrators have been quick to disappear into their cover stories — Harvey Weinstein paying for club med sex addiction treatment, Kevin Spacey’s sleight-of-hand coming out — some posture penitently, ready to “… walk on their knees/for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting … ” They are poetically remorseful. But they won’t admit guilt.

Note that not a single one of the serial predators currently being tarred and feathered came forward on their own volition. One hundred percent of them are responding to allegations made in the public sphere of influence. They are not sorry for what they did. They are sorry they got caught. And they will fight to stay in their positions of power so they can continue to bask in fame and prestige. The ego is a nasty beast but it is also a tremendous motivator.

Nice-guy celebrity Bryan Cranston was asked if there was a way “back in” for the men whose sins have finally caught up with them. As if that’s the most pressing issue needing to be resolved. As if the restoration of truth-tarnished careers is more important than reforming the culture that enabled systemic abuse in the first place is more critical, a more interesting topic to be discussed.

He seemed to reflect deeply and earnestly before answering. Although he thinks it’s a long road back he does think it’s possible. He also thinks that road must be paved with genuine remorse. But for anyone who has been sexually harassed or for anyone who just understands that it’s fundamentally bad to do anything sexually motivated without consent the more critical issues to be tackled while we briefly seem to have the world’s attention are: How do we prevent it from continuing and how do we get justice for what has already happened? Literally any other discussion orbiting this, the main discussion, needs to wait. Our national attention span is simply too short to be pulling another jenga piece out from under the rest. But what about false accusations? But what about Ignition Remix? But what about women who actually do enjoy unsolicited male advances? Now is not the time to discussion the exceptions as much, let alone more than, the rule.

Where processing predators through the proper legal channels is not an option, (expired statute of limitations, insufficient evidence, victims unwilling to press charges), the vigilante justice and mob mentality is now quick to excise celebrities from their celebrated public lives and prominent roles, effectively lowering them into the oubliette of the forgotten. They are publicly regarded as criminals but few have been arrested, only one has been convicted and none have served time. They are effectively being sentenced to live civilian lives outside the spotlight. That is the extent of their punishment.

But what if …

What if rather than tanking entire shows or companies for the fall of man, one man, what if that one man were offered the opportunity to continue writing, acting, producing, recording or directing? Without financial compensation. What if they were given the opportunity to donate their artistic genius and nuanced creativity to the craft they claim to love? The hundreds of people who earn their living creating that show can keep their jobs. Louis C.K. can still be a professionally dumpy redhead with general malaise whose comedic fails include exceptions for white people to use the n-word and making fun of his ex-wife’s nipples. All of the cameramen and set designers and producers and writers who work on his projects can keep their jobs.

The Son of Sam law prohibits criminals from profiting from the publicity of their crimes. So what if offenders were also prohibited from profiting from the industry they used as hunting grounds? Because we cannot impose a criminal sentence on the unconvicted, and because we don’t want to violate any labor laws, why not just offer these creative geniuses the opportunity to publicly repent? They claim to want to make it up to their victims. They say they wish there was a way they could undo their mistakes. Side note — premeditated behaviors repeated and perfected over decades are not mistakes. They’re consciously crafted patterns. Anyway.

What if profits from R. Kelly’s music were directed toward underfunded child abuse prevention programs like the one I used to work for? What if royalties from all things Cosby and Allen and Spacey and Kelly were allocated to NGOs of the victims’ choosing? Hell. Let the IRS take their money like garnished wages if a charity can’t be agreed upon.

Alyssa Rosenberg calls it “moral offsets”. Similar to the more than 80,000 contributions made to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name but this would be like Mike Pence electively donating his salary.

I’m not legally savvy enough to advocate for statutory mandates around garnishing wages and redistributing them to a deserving charity if they’ve only been tried, and not always unanimously convicted, and never beyond a shadow of a doubt, in the court of public opinion. But there is a tangential precedent in civil forfeiture — a legal mechanism that does count among its beneficiaries child abuse prevention programs in the State of Oregon since 2000.

But I am advocating that we give the celebrities who admit it, who claim to want to repent, the opportunity to voluntarily donate the proceeds from their oh-so-sparkling nonpareil talent for making music or movies or political commentary. This, my dear Bryan Cranston, could be a way for them “back in”. This could be their opportunity to prove their supposed dedication to their craft, their love of the art, and their genuine desire to publicly self-flagellate for forgiveness.

Either it works and they agree they no longer deserve to be paid after what they’ve done and innocent people in their orbit get to keep their own jobs or it doesn’t. And we get to call their bluff. If justice can’t be served for their crimes we can settle for satisfying society’s bloodlust for revenge for an internet second and Frank Underwood could’ve stayed in the Oval Office.

But if what troubles you most is your own discomfort and that icky feeling that people might judge you for liking pretentious and pervy Woody Allen movies or whether or not you can roll your windows down when you want to turn up Ignition remix at the first sign of summer — you are still missing the point. I cannot underscore that enough. If you are spending more time thinking, talking or writing about how we can’t be expected to turn our backs on Thriller or ignore the cultural landmark that was Chinatown than you are saying ANYTHING about the trauma suffered by the staggering number of victims coming forward you just might be showing your true colors. You’re more worried about your unfettered consumption of the creativity of others, regardless of what those others have done to innocent people, people who themselves might have had their own creativity stifled, silenced or revenge-blacklisted. You should be worried about the unwritten screenplays and unsung songs and unknown artists whose creativity was silenced by those they trusted.

This problem is bigger than what kind of movies or music you like.