How is R. Kelly Just Like Lance Stephenson?
Over the past two podcasts, Steve and I have tackled--with varying degrees of success--a difficult question: what moral obligation does a fan have to parse their enjoyment of an artist or athlete's abilities through the prism of the terrible things that person may or may not have done? (Or something like that).
Similar ground was covered in David Marchese's compelling piece in New York magazine last week. Though the form is different--music, rather than basketball--the fundamental question is the same. Kelly, like Kobe Bryant or Lance Stephenson or Metta World Peace or Jarred Sullinger, has been accused of abhorrent acts, but never convicted of them. How then does a fan, knowing this and morally weighted by this knowledge, negotiate their enjoyment of that artist's art?
The calculus for Kelly might be different in two key ways a) his art--much of which centres around sexual acts--is closely tied to his alleged acts b) the weight of evidence against Kelly is so great that the balance of probability scales might just tip over.
(These spilled-over scales, of course, are easily forgotten when you're ten drinks down an Ignition (Remix) comes over the speakers).
On a), I wonder whether the acts of sexual or physical violence which Bryant, Stephenson, World Peace, Sullinger, et al. are alleged to have committed are actually tied to their art form, albeit more obliquely. Basketball, like most sports, is a medium which centres, at least in part, around the exercising of one's physical agency over someone else's.
It's worth reading all of Marchese's Kelly profile, but this paragraph really stood out to me (the bolding is my own):
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at once. That, for example, a horrible person might make a wonderful song. That John Lennon, who expressed regret for being “a hitter” in his early relationships, can also be responsible for a song as beautiful as “If I Fell,” or that whatever Michael Jackson did or did not do with underage boys doesn’t turn “Human Nature” into a lie. Songs are better than people. And R. Kelly, in a weird way, through his sex obsession, makes that truth most obvious. The fact that his career hasn’t cratered, despite all the damning allegations, makes it clear that when people are listening to music, they’re not thinking about how powerful men often take terrible advantage of less powerful women. Or about how those men are surrounded by enablers for as long as they remain bankable. Or how the media is not responsive enough when troubling things happen to young black women. Or how legal settlements and NDAs are effective tools for suppressing damaging information. Or that part of the fun for some listeners is in how far a singer might be willing to go, lawyers and good taste be damned. Or how looking for rectitude from coddled celebrities is like looking for rainbows under rocks. Or how at the other end of our quotidian consumer pleasures is often another human being’s pain. So the answer to the question “How do you listen to songs by a singer who may be a bad person?” is devastatingly simple and sad. You just do.