R Kelly in 2006 in concert in Atlantic City, New Jersey/ Nicholas Ballasy/ Wikimedia Commons
Unless you have been living under a pop culture rock (which, to be honest, at this time would be quite a nice holiday), you would’ve heard about the allegations against musician R Kelly including domestic and sexual abuse of women and minors since his rise to fame in the early 1990s. Kelly has continually denied all allegations.
An online petition has been gathering over 4500 signatures to ban Kelly from coming to New Zealand on his next tour. Though his Twitter account tweeted about the concert in Auckland, it has since been deleted. This follows other cancelled concerts and the movement #MuteRKelly which was instrumental in helping ban his music from streaming services such as Pandora, Apple and partly, Spotify.
The most explosive claims against Kelly are made in the new documentary Surviving R Kelly (on TVNZ on Demand) which focuses on the many, many girls and women who Kelly allegedly abused over 18 years. To say this makes for hard viewing is a bloody understatement. The accusations against Kelly are numerous – from an infamous sex tape to having sex with girls as young as 14 to allegedly grooming them in a ‘cult like prison’.
Yet some interviewees in the film continually acknowledge Kelly’s talents on an almost mythological level. He is a ‘musical genius’, a ‘creative genius’, and an ‘incredible talent’. Notice how we barely ever label women with this same accolade? Kelly, like other accused famous men in the entertainment industry, is indicative of the reluctance many of us feel in believing that our heroes can also be villains. We’ve seen this countless times, from the allegations against Roman Polanski and Bryan Singer to Louis CK, Harvey Weinstein and Michael Jackson.
These men’s talent and creativity are often used as reasons to excuse them of any supposed wrongdoing. There are ongoing debates on whether or not we should separate the art from the artist and for me, this is a difficult area. Weinstein produced an incredible amount of work (from Pulp Fiction to The King’s Speech) and many other talents helped create them, so should we never watch these films again? As this article notes, yes, because the work may have been used as a pretext to lure the alleged victims in - thus the work could be tainted. For me, this means rethinking my lifelong love of Michael Jackson. The late singer’s ongoing accusations of abusing young boys is the focus of an upcoming four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland, which to paraphrase the Guardian, from two minutes in changes Jackson’s legacy forever. I don’t want to watch this, but I and other lifelong fans are the ones who should. We need to break down the myth of the creative genius if we are ever to see justice for victims.
One of the most disturbing parts of the Surviving R Kelly is the way many people – including many women – supported and even vocally advocated for Kelly during his first trial. Kelly was acquitted but the accusations and allegations continued for years. Yes, much of this is ‘misogynoir’ and had the victims been white, perhaps they would been listened to earlier. But part of it is due to Kelly’s popularity, not just to his fans but also his record companies and media outlets who make incredible amounts money as a result of his success.
So how do we respond? We break down those who are profiting and stop that cash cow. Sign the petition; boycott their products; and listen to those who say they are victims. Let’s get rid of this terrible ‘creative genius’ excuse.Support Villainesse