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

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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.

TALK

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THUG LIFE Singer R Kelly is back in the news for al­legedly run­ning an abu­sive cult

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