Jessica Hopper at The Village Voice had an extensive talk with Jim DeRogatis, a former music critic at the Chicago Sun Times and the man who first broke the story on R. Kelly’s sexual assault/rape allegations nearly fifteen years ago. The talk, which can read in a condensed form here, will leave a bad taste in your mouth as both look back at the story that is connected DeRogatis for life and is finding fresh legs in light of Kelly’s recent resurgence.
The one young woman, who had been 14 or 15 when R. Kelly began a relationship with her, detailed in great length, in her affidavits, a sexual relationship that began at Kenwood Academy… He would go to her sophomore class and hook up with girls afterward and have sex with them. Sometimes buy them a pair of sneakers. Sometimes just letting them hang out in his presence in the recording studio. She detailed the sexual relationship that she was scarred by. It lasted about one and a half to two years, and then he dumped her and she slit her wrists, tried to kill herself. Other girls were involved. She recruited other girls. He picked up other girls and made them all have sex together. A level of specificity that was pretty disgusting.
Her lawsuit was hundreds of pages long, and Kelly countersued. The countersuit was, like, 10 pages long: “None of this is true!” We began our reporting. We knocked on a lot of doors. The lawsuits, the two that we had found initially, had been settled. Kelly had paid the women and their families money and the settlements were sealed by the court. But of course, the initial lawsuits remain part of the public record.
And that’s merely the beginning of the allegations. From there it is like a silly straw descending into a barrel of poison darkness:
And there was a young woman who was pressured into an abortion?
That he paid for. There was a young woman that he picked up on the evening of her prom. The relationship lasted a year and a half or two years. Impregnated her, paid for her abortion, had his goons drive her. None of which she wanted. She sued him. (via)
There’s plenty more about the the allegations, but the most damning stuff is aimed at the current media landscape that is heaping praise on Kelly for his new work:
Some of our young critical peers, they’re 24 and all they know of Kelly’s past is some vague sense of scandal, because they were introduced to him as kids via Space Jam. A lot of your reporting on this is not online, it is not Google-able. Collective memory is that he “just” peed in a girl’s mouth.
To be fair, I teach 20-year-olds at Columbia. Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. Nobody knows everything. A lot of art, great art, is made by despicable people. James Brown beat his wife. People are always, “Why aren’t you upset about Led Zeppelin?” I got the Bonham three rings [tattooed] on my foot. Led Zeppelin did disgusting things. I read Hammer of the Gods, I’m disgusted by the group sex with the shark. [Note: it was actually a red snapper! Still gross.] I have a couple of responses to that: I didn’t cover Led Zeppelin. If I was on the plane, like Cameron Crowe was, I would have written about those things if I saw them.
The art very rarely talks about these things. There are not pro-rape Led Zeppelin songs. There are not pro-wife-beating James Brown songs. I think in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, rock music, or pop culture people misbehaving and behaving badly sexually with young women, rare is the amount of evidence compiled against anyone apart from R. Kelly. Dozens of girls — not one, not two, dozens — with harrowing lawsuits. The videotapes — and not just one videotape, numerous videotapes. And not Tommy Lee/Pam Anderson, Kardashian fun video. 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. So we’re not talking about rock-star misbehavior, which men or women can do. We’re talking about predatory behavior. Their lives were ruined. Read the lawsuits! (via)
I will be the first to tell you that I know very little about R. Kelly and his career. He’s always been the guy with the extravagant videos on MTV, the song in Space Jam and the one who Dave Chappelle made fun of on his show at the height of the sexual allegations. And of course there is Trapped In The Closet, the opus of absurdity that is still spawning new chapters to air on IFC.
But I didn’t forget about his legal troubles. And it shocked me when he reappeared recently, most notably on SNL alongside Lady Gaga, because I thought his career had been tanked by his alleged sexual deviance. Simply refer to me as the f*cking fool on the hill at this point because I was wrong.
R. Kelly was asked to respond to the piece when he stopped by Atlanta’s V-103 and provided the following, from Radio.com:
When asked about the story, Kelly chose to brush it off. “Well I feel like I got the football man, I’m running towards the touchdown and stopping and looking back, mess around, I’ll get tackled,” he explained.
Kelly said he appreciates all of his fans who have been supporting him since the beginning of his career, but knows it’s on him to stay strong when stories like this come out. “When you get on top of anything, it’s very windy,” he said. “It’s about holding your balance once you get up there…You have to spiritually be a climber.”
And there are numerous defenders out there, like even Hopper admits to being at one point when DeRogatis dug up the past and threw it at Pitchfork. To those, the following tells a lot:
There is a disregard for your ongoing concern about this. “Let this go, Jim. Get over it, Jim. He was acquitted.” You have never dropped this, and your peers are pissed because it puts the rest of us over a barrel. I can speak to this, too. It’s often uncool to be the person who gives a shit.
“You’re jealous of R. Kelly, you’re trying to make your name off his career.”
Because you would love nothing more than to have to report and carry these stories of rape.
Rapes, plural. It is on record. Rapes in the dozen. So stop hedging your words and when you tell me what a brilliant ode to pussy Black Panties is, then realize that the next sentence should say: “This, from a man who has committed numerous rapes.” The guy was a monster! Just say it! We do have a justice system and he was acquitted. OK, fine. And these other women took the civil-lawsuit route. He was tried on very narrow grounds. He was tried on a 29-minute, 36-second videotape. He was tried on trading child pornography. He was not tried for rape. He was acquitted of making child pornography. He’s never been tried in court for rape, but look at the statistics. The numbers of rapes that happened, the numbers of rapes that were reported, the numbers of rapes that make it to court and then the conviction rate. I mean, it comes down to something minuscule. He’s never had his day in court as a rapist. It’s 15 years in the past now, but this record exists. You have to make a choice, as a listener, if music matters to you as more than mere entertainment. And you and I have spent our entire lives with that conviction. This is not just entertainment, this is our lifeblood. This matters. (via)
It would seem that many of us in the general media universe have to make the decision on the moral and ethical ramifications on what we report and how we report it. Past the proper journalistic skills we require, we have to realize that what we report could be misconstrued as support for a celebrity’s past poor behavior. Kelly is singled out here, but there are plenty of others.
Ted Nugent and Steven Tyler both had underage girls legally put under their guardianship to carry on relationships with and are looked at as moral crusaders, in Nugent’s case, or rock gods. Or take Sean Penn as a good example, currently considered a respected actor with a generous streak a mile long. But few remember his violent temper and that he probably beat up Madonna. And don’t forget that people still f*cking defend Chris Brown, including Rihanna!
Things are easily swept under the rug over time because we forget, we find other things to be shocked or we put buzz above the moral implications of a story. That’s why it generates so much interest when Lindsay Lohan is near death or Amanda Bynes loses her damn mind. It sells or, in the case of fans, we choose to ignore it because we like the creative pursuits that much.
And even though there is some hefty criticism thrown at bloggers in this piece, I kinda feel like it should be seen as a moment to build improvements instead of write off the entire industry. You don’t have to go to school to enter this profession, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck. If the older generation wants to improve what they see online, they should communicate towards that end.
That said, I hope we can all agree that what R. Kelly was accused of doing is disgusting.
(Lead image via gettyimages)