R. Kelly part 2: exploring the aftermath

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After Lifetime’s nearly thorough approach to allegations against singer R. Kelly, some of the facts presented in the docuseries raised questions. Since Kelly has not been jailed for the crimes he has been accused of, some detractors and former fans wonder if anything can be done.

But are movements such as #muterkelly helpful? After early allegations, Kelly brought the world “I Believe I Can Fly,” a song that crossed generational and genre lines to become a national mega hit. The success of his music often helps people to forget. At any rate, what follows are some of the ideas from “Surviving R Kelly” that were left to either be self-explanatory, which they were not, or were simply presented and not dealt with at all. They are not provided here in any order.

1. The juror who “didn’t like” the accusers

No one seemed troubled by an elderly white man declaring that he “didn’t like” the girls who were accusing the singer of sexual misconduct. He didn’t like the way they were dressed, so he didn’t think R. Kelly was guilty.

First, they were children. Second, how could a juror not “like” them? Was it necessary for them to be known personally to each juror? The comments seem inflammatory and unfair. They speak loudly of some people’s inability to ascribe innocence to black children. There are numerous studies that bear this out.

2. Bruce Kelly’s comments from jail

R. Kelly’s older brother made getting interviewed in jail a performative moment. He imitated Michael Jackson and bragged about his brother’s singing ability. Worse, he defended R. Kelly’s taste for teenagers as a preference. “I like older women. He likes younger women. It’s just a preference.”

Except there are laws against acting on certain preferences. Because there was no voiceover narration on the docuseries, off-the-cuff comments were spoken without context, and left to hang in the air and annoy viewers.

3. Efforts to “mute R. Kelly” seem shortsighted

The idea behind the movement is brilliant. However, millions of fans have already bought the music. Still more can purchase and listen to it over streaming services. Spotify was mentioned as one service that was not as thorough at ridding itself of R. Kelly’s songs. According to some participants in “Surviving R Kelly” Spotify agreed not to recommend or curate his songs for subscribers.

But, R. Kelly still has 5.5 million monthly listeners. That does not make it sound as if he has been muted. Likewise, protests to get concerts canceled in the US are limited in their ability to stop R. Kelly. He is scheduled to tour Europe later this year.

4. Other singers have sung about and have had relationships with teenagers

Unless new charges are brought against the singer, all of the efforts to hold him accountable might be for naught. That said, in “Surviving R Kelly” there was a brief segment in which participants discussed other performers’ dalliances with teenagers. One music critic pointed out that such has been going on for “centuries.”

A couple of problems with those comparisons and that assertion. One, Jerry Lee Lewis as an exception, most were either seeking consent or did not know the girl was underaged (Chuck Berry). No one in “Surviving R Kelly” talked about age of consent in different states and decades. And if a person goes back “centuries,” then the American life span was shorter, there was no idea of the “teenager” as modern Americans know it, so the comparison fails. Some states have had an age of consent as young as 7, and just before the turn of the century, (19th to 20th), the age of consent in most states ranged from 10 to 12 years. None of this has anything to do with R. Kelly. When he allegedly had relations with teenagers, the age of consent in most states was 16 to 18 years of age. Throwing other performers into the discussion does a disservice to the teenagers whose innocence has been compromised forever.

As an aside, there seems no one has provoked the outrage that R. Kelly has. His “relationships” are not just accidentally dating someone who is underage. He sought underage girls. But this is isn’t expressed in the series. Just that he wasn’t the only one who has done it. But has any other performer abused on such a wide scale? Yes, one victim is too many, but dozens is pathological. It seems inaccurate to say other performers have done this, because the evidence that anyone reached the level of R. Kelly’s alleged abuses does not seem to be there.

After a great deal of consideration, it seems that only time (and perhaps more videos and birth certificates) will tell if all of the allegations were accurate. For his part, according to TMZ, R. Kelly plans to sue Lifetime for claims made in the docuseries. Other news outlets claim that the singer plans to “expose” the accusers. Interested parties will have to wait and see how everything turns out.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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