R. Kelly conviction highlights problematic media

Can you ethically consume media made by sexual predators?

Miami Police Department | Wikimedia Commons | Photo Courtesy | R. Kelly was recently convicted and could face a sentence of life in prison.

It seems as though the list of musicians and celebrities accused and convicted of sexual assault and harassment grows longer day by day; ranging from Harvey Weinstein to James Franco.

Over the past few weeks, I have heard countless conversations and discussions specifically about how we all need to stop listening to R. Kelly in the midst of being found guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking. Now, this isn’t a new conversation. Most of these thoughts started popping up as far back as the allegations against Woody Allen and then were really brought forward with the emergence of the #MeToo movement.

Up until about two or three years ago, I believed it was necessary to separate the art from the artist; which, in most cases, I still think is okay to do. However, I ended up meeting people who have been victims of sexual assault themselves and doing so changed my mind.

Separating art from artist is problematic for multiple reasons. Positions like these blur reality and give further power and recognition to individuals who have potentially harmed others. 

More than this, most people know someone who has been a victim of sexual violence, and, most people also know someone who is a perpetrator of violence. By separating art from artist, you send the message to victims that their stories aren’t that moving to you, and you tell perpetrators that their behavior is acceptable to a certain extent.

We are now arriving at a point in history where perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment are being treated in a way that they truly deserve, and victims are being heard at a seemingly higher rate. 

This is more so true for predators who are famous and well known than the people who you might unknowingly interact with everyday. The point being that if convictions of sexual predators like R. Kelly — that are broadcast at the highest and most public level — aren’t enough to make you think about whether or not you should be listening to “Ignition,” then you’re telling that guy who raped an unconscious freshman that was too hopeless to report that you’re not a danger to them. Personally, I want to do all I can to let rapists know they’re not welcome near me.

While it might seem like a stretch to connect listening to a song or watching a movie that has contributions from sexual criminals to the terrible crimes that happen daily and at a much less public level, I think the content we decide to consume speaks volumes as to who we are and what we stand for.

A blanket boycott of every musician and artist who has ever been accused and charged with some kind of sex crime would be amazing — to never have to give those predators another penny is a dream. However, this is not at all realistic or helpful to anyone, even the victims of those specific artists. After all, they are still famous and most likely will not just fall off the face of the Earth.

Pete Davidson recently got attention for proposing a solution to these moral dilemmas of what we can and can’t watch, listen to or enjoy. He suggested that if there is no way you can get around listening to a song by an artist from the list of abusers, you should simply donate a dollar to a charity that helps individuals who suffer from abuse. 

While this method might seem outlandish at first, especially coming from a comedian, Davidson is asking us to reflect on what we consume and why we consume it. More than this, it’s a lot more beneficial to donate a dollar to charity than it is to outright boycott an artist — if it were possible for everyone, we should do both.

One thing that is also important to discuss with this topic are the individuals that we choose to use as examples. I recently had it pointed out that when people are starting conversations surrounding sexual predators, it is often those that are also part of the BIPOC community that get exemplified.

I cannot even count the number of times throughout my life that I have heard R. Kelly or Bill Cosby used as the butt of a joke having to do with rape or sexual assaul; however, I could not say the same about Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen or Roman Polanski. I’m not trying to say that their race is the only reason these individuals get exemplified; however, I do feel like a lot of the attitude toward specific celebrities does in fact have to do with their race, as well as the race of their victims.

Take R. Kelly, for example. In the early 2000s a sex tape of him with an underage girl engaging in explicit activities surfaced. It gathered a huge amount of attention, yet, to my knowledge there were never any real charges brought against him. He actually continued to release hugely popular music for decades after. The girl assaulted in the video was a person of color and I think it is important to sit and think about the impact this had on the outcome of his career.

We live in a world where it seems we can’t go back and consume media from anything circa 2010 or before without running into sexual predators who were involved, transphobia, homophobia, sexism or whatever else was a poor excuse for a joke at the time. 

It’s not realistic that we’ll be able to vet every piece of media to make sure it isn’t offensive. It’s also not realistic that we’ll be able to give up watching and listening to the things we love that are now problematic.

Politically correct culture shows progress and it’s a great thing. However, we have to find a meeting ground between what we think is ideal and what’s possible. As a rule, if you can avoid listening to R. Kelly’s songs or watching movies with pedophilic directors, you should do so. However, if you absolutely can’t help yourself, at least donate your time or money to organizations that will help victims of abuse and violence.

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