Sex crime isn’t a punch line
R Kelly rocketed into headlines again this week, unsurprisingly, for running an alleged sex cult. Until now, the singer’s sexual predation has done little to hurt his career. Grethe Kemp outlines how his sex crimes have been turned into jokes by pop cultu
News broke this week that R&B star R Kelly has been involved in yet another sex scandal – this time allegedly running an abusive cult at his various homes, where he brainwashes, coerces and has sex with young women. The details make you want to gag – he allegedly controls when these women eat and use the bathroom, and who they get to contact. He calls them his “babies”, while they are required to call him “daddy”.
But, really, are we shocked? Reports of R Kelly’s sexual misdemeanours with minors have been doing the rounds for decades. I mean, he illegally married singer Aaliyah and made an album with her called Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.
After a tape of him having sex and urinating on a 14-year-old girl emerged in 2002, Kelly was acquitted – dubiously – after the jury couldn’t accurately identify him in the video. Since then, dozens of girls and young women have come forward with their own stories of sexual predation. But the urinating incident was the main thing that stuck in the public’s mind.
Pop culture has helped to reinforce the incident with comedy shows, parody songs and satirical pieces quipping about Kelly’s penchant for golden showers. His sex crime was turned into a punch line.
“Draped in a leopard mink, girls standin’ next to me. Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R Kelly’s sheets – piss,” Macklemore raps in his breakout hit Thrift Shop.
In satirical animation series The Boondocks, in the The Trial of Robert Kelly episode, teenage provocateur Riley Freeman argues: “At what point does personal responsibility become a factor in this equation? I see piss comin’, I run. She saw piss comin’, she stayed. And why should I miss out on the next R Kelly album *just* fo’ that?”
The show uses Riley as a reflection of public sentiment during Kelly’s trial.
Stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle parodies Kelly’s hit song Ignition with his own song called Piss On You. In the comedy series Difficult People, the main character “jokes” in a tweet: “I can’t wait for Blue Ivy [Beyoncé and Jay Z’s daughter] to be old enough so R Kelly can piss on her.”
The narrative around Kelly’s young victim has been a spiteful one thus far: the girl in the video wasn’t a victim, she was a consensual groupie; and if she was promiscuous enough to get herself in that situation, why should Kelly be to blame? But the truth is far more traumatising.
Jim DeRogatis, who broke the sex cult story and outlines how Kelly’s sex crimes got turned into punch lines, has been reporting on the singer for decades.
“You watch the video for which he was indicted and there is the disembodied look of the rape victim. He orders her to call him daddy. He urinates in her mouth and instructs her at great length on how to position herself to receive his ‘gift’. It’s a rape that you’re watching,” he wrote. After his 2007 trial, Kelly continued to have a successful career, collaborating with Justin Bieber, Jennifer Hudson, Kid Ink and Chance the Rapper.
But probably the most damning collaboration was his single called Do What U Want with Lady Gaga, who is an outspoken feminist and rape awareness activist, and has famously spoken about her own rape ordeal.
She’s also recorded a song called Til It Happens To You for campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground. But she had no qualms about recording her racy single with an indicted alleged sex offender, which contains the lyrics: “Do what you want/ don’t stop, let’s party/ Do what you want/ what you want with my body.”
Even more damning is that the video for the song was shot by photographer Terry Richardson, a man who has his own dirty reputation for sexually harassing the models he works with. After a public outcry, the video did not make it on air.
What about us in South Africa? Well, we don’t have a very good track record when it comes to breaking off support for those who hurt women. While we’re quick to throw around #MenAreTrash hangtags on the internet, domestic abuser Chris Brown has not had a problem performing here. In Guyana, South America, Brown was forced to cancel a concert in 2012 after women’s rights groups and other protesters made it clear he would not be welcome. In South Africa, though, we’ve opened our wallets and our arms to him more than once. Our women’s rights groups don’t put out so much as a Tweet when he’s here (I’m looking at you, Sonke Gender Justice and People Opposing Women Abuse). And Kelly? He opened the 2010 World Cup for us, singing the anthem Sign Of A Victory.
So will these latest allegations hurt Kelly’s career or stop his fans from clamouring to his shows if he performs here again? I won’t hold my breath.
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THUG LIFE Singer R Kelly is back in the news for allegedly running an abusive cult