Way before #MeToo, #TimesUp and Harvey Weinstein, rape and sexual harassment had long been codified into various Laws as illegal and severely punishable.
The advent of #MeToo and #TimesUp has, however, further decreased the threshold of tolerance against issues of sexual harassment, domestic violence and rape. In the same vein, consent and pedophilia have also become mainstream topics of widespread discussion and we couldn’t be happier.
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The world has harbored potential sex offenders for far too long; families have long protected abusers and rapists with the “we settle it in-house,” and “never air your dirty laundry in public” narratives.
Celebrities — supposed role models — have also escaped severe punishment for wrongs done to people over the selfishness of short-term sexual pleasure.
Previously, cult following and the stan culture swung the pendulum of arguments towards 'favourites' and widely loved celebrities who get accused of grave sex-related offences.
Love, being an emotion and the primary attraction to these celebrities warps senses of judgment as it does in any other case. Emotions are a luxury and tough ask in the face of sound judgment.
Alongside how we’ve normalized and internalized rape in all forms, love is another reason why a lot of celebrities have escaped deserved harsh judgment for the wrongs done and for the dark clouds they cast over their victims.
Even in a case as recent as Cristiano Ronaldo’s alleged rape of the now 34-year-old Kathryn Mayorga in 2009, a handful of football fans found themselves subtly supporting alleged rape while focusing on the issue of ‘non-disclosure money’ of $375,000 paid to Mayorga.
While being a celebrity is sometimes of toxic relation to rape-related issues as it harms brands, and the fear of same makes some celebrities quickly apologize for unclear lines of rape and sexual harassment, a lot of celebrities have escaped rape accusations with their lives intact while their victims wallow in depression and PTSD.
This realization, fostered by #MeToo and #TimesUp has promoted the ‘cancel culture' for celebrities accused of rape, pedophilia or sexual harassment — one of them is fallen R&B icon, R. Kelly.
Kelly is what you can call a vanguard of perpetual sex offence accusation — he is always embroiled in one accusation or the other. Even worse, these sex offence accusation are always mostly pedophilia-related.
Earlier today, Twitter bandied together to use its voice against a terrible wrong - what triggered it was a six-part docu-series titled, “Surviving R. Kelly” about the playboy lifestyle, reported predatory behavior, emotional and physical abuse, and pedophilia perpetrated by the R&B great.
The docuseries, which debuted on Lifetime on January 3, 2019, features numerous testimonies from his supposed victims, dating back to 1970. It also features testimonies from his ex-wife, Andrea Kelly and ex-girlfriend, Kitti Jones. The series was produced by cultural critic and activist, Tamara Simmons.
This comes off the back of the #MuteRKelly movement championed by American-born Nigerian, Oronike Odeleye and her friend, Kenyette Barnes, to stop the promotion of his music, which deflects attention from his history of terrible acts.
Although he has never been convicted, the cumulative accusation and the regularity of his described mode of operation suggests that his case might be more than just a case of a witch-hunt — nobody is that hated.
Amongst some of his worst acts was marrying the late R&B princess, Aaliyah when she was 15 — Kelly was 27. In 2017, he was accused of grooming teenage girls for a ‘sex cult’ where these girls were reportedly subjected to terrible acts and submissive treatment — he was 50. The list goes on.
The discussion that trails men like R. Kelly, Bill Cosby and other people accused of terrible sex offences is whether you can separate the art they created or were a part of creating from the now embattled creators? The answer; It’s not straightforward.
The first question is; how do you deal with an erring fave?
It’s not simple and it’s natural to feel some disgust for such a person; to feel some level of betrayal and disappointment. It’s worse in the case of R. Kelly, a man who preached a lot of love and great, consensual love making through his music.
But one thing we all never realize is; we most likely wouldn’t know or like these artists without the art they created
In essence, I think we mistake love for the art with the artist. Yes, we can be sentimental with art that consistently comes from them by becoming a ‘fan’, but in most cases, the art is why you’re a fan and you kept going back, not entirely the person. The art is a different organism from the artist - another organism.
Thus, it’s never really been about the person, it’s always been about the art they created. While we all want to believe concert adulation and stan culture is about the artist, it’s not entirely true.
Only family members and people who share a close relationship with artists love them unconditionally and for no simple reason. While artists also articulate some parts of their lives to which we relate, it’s usually about our history of listening to and liking their art that makes us relate to that art not entirely about the 'relatable content'.
The reason is simple; other artists create a similar relatable pattern of art that you do not entirely like - anybody can make relatable art. It’s also about how the art is created. Yes, love and attraction are of mythical and unexplainable concepts, but sometimes, we should examine the reason for such love.
In the case of artists and creators, their work is why we love them. It’s also why we have similar feelings for other artists and creators and not just one of those artists. Thus, since the love is from the art before knowing the artist, there is no reason why we cannot separate the art from the artist.
Sometimes even, you like some art without having a clue who the artist is. Yes, the art and the artist might merge, but mostly, they are not the same. The art and the artiste are two different concepts - unless the art itself contains bigotry and other despicable edges, it has not offended, neither has it raped anybody.
If you can go a full life enjoying an artist's art without knowing who they are, the art is different from the artist and they can be separated unless the art reflects what the artist is got indicted for.
Why do people canvass cancelling the artist and their art?
Continued celebration of an artist for their art blurs the sight of judgement in their favour and deflects attention from their terrible wrongs.
Another reason is that victims of sex offences usually deal with mental health issues either actively or passively from the trauma of their treatment at the hand of their abusers. Thus, a lot of them never really recover from the abuse.
On the sentimental side, it’s also a revenge plot of, ‘You should lose what you care about if you robbed someone of their happiness’ and that’s fine too. Even the Law that we rely on and pander to is premised on the ‘revenge’ and the poetic justice model as ‘punishment.’
In truth, however sentimental or cynical you are, you have to see the reasons for these realities and reasons, even though some people who canvass them might not totally understand why they do.
It’s an emotional reaction to an emotional crime that triggers a raft rush of negative emotions and it’s only fair. However, unless a clear linkage can be found between what the artist is accused of and what art they create, we shoudn't force people to cancel the art with the artist - that is virtue signaling and fascist.
There is no one answer, but both sides of the divide - the total cancellers and the partial cancellers - should understand what each other is saying and understand the the side on the other side has a point.
Just as it’s hard to separate the art from the artist, people who canvass ‘cancel’ won’t tell you that it’s hard to merge the artist and the art they once loved in the ‘trash’ can.
How do you hate music you once loved? Remember, music isn’t a person that cheated on you or hurt you. People still harbour some love and goodwill towards people who hurt them — same goes for family members.
Love is an emotion and it has no faucet you can just turn on and off. It is an ingrained part of the human fabric, protected by bias and sentiment. Thus, to cancel anything you once loved and as resonant as art, it requires force.
Most people don’t have that will and they still want to enjoy the art. Does it then mean they were wrong?
Honestly, there’s no straightforward answer. Human beings are not simplistic beings and we are capable of compartmentalizing emotions for needed purposes.
We are built to harbour disgust and love towards several parts of the same thing. You can hate the fact that your wife nags but still love her. In fact, it’s why some couples are swingers who still love each other.
It’s why pornstars can still fall in love despite being exhibitionists who love sex. It’s also why certain couples date other men or women and have threesomes. Thus, isn’t it then possible to hate what a person has done but still love and appreciate their work?
A lot of parents hate the fact that their children committed murder or manslaughter and what made them do it, but they equally still love those children.
It is then might just be possible and human to hate an artist for their rap sheet of sex offences, but still, love and enjoy the art they created. It’s a classic case of the contradictory nature of man. When you consider that the contemporary creative process of art, and how it involves several people, you realize that the art can also be more than just the person.
Yes, you can call the co-creators of such art ‘unfortunate’ for being associated with an abuser, but what if they didn’t know?
We all realize that R. Kelly is a pig who made good music. It should then be enough that nobody supports him, even though they still play his music - It’s only human.
But then, what is the limit an artist should reach before cancelation?
First, it depends on the nature of the offence. If it’s grave, it should be an instant cancelation and if it’s amenable, then we need to give room for growth.
R. Kelly is an example of what you cannot condone. His sex-related acts are simply unfathomable. Some of them, rape and pedophilia are a part of that. Nothing will ever make those right, even if it’s just once.
While no court has ever convicted Kelly, the cumulative nature of the accusations that never seem to go away is sufficient reason to cancel him and his music.
Sometimes though, some of those acts like misogyny and anti-LGBTQ slurs which are a part shift away from internalized norms of toxic masculinity and heterosexuality that the world is used to, then we need to give room for growth, however inexcusable that sounds — it’s the only chance we have.
It’s why Kevin Hart can feel hard done by. Noteworthy is how there has been no clean between enjoying art and helping an accused rapist get of the Law. An artist can be going to hell even while the support is high.
Loving and appreciating art is not the same as supporting an artist. What should matter is how the mainstream rebukes terrible acts and terrible people and terrible music.