Meanwhile on the white internet, similar things have been happening since Woody Allen got a special Golden Globe Award. The Farrows and their supporters have yet again taken Allen’s latest honor as an opportunity to remind folks that they really like the movies of a person who allegedly molested Dylan Farrow. And, since white people expect the justice system to always work in their favor (I mean, what else is it there for?), Dylan’s mother, Mia, and brother, Ronan, lead a Twitter brigade that aims to ensure that at the end of the day, Allen is declared guilty in the court of public opinion. And, once again, the argument on their side seems, if you like Woody Allen movies, you are complicit in his alleged molestation of a child(ren).
Now, I’ve seen, like, two Woody Allen movies. But I know–and, frankly, appreciate–more of R. Kelly. That said I have, to some extent, been paying careful attention to the response to both of these cases until, well, it just got to be too much. A few tweets notwithstanding, I’ve been mum on the subject, because I think things are way too complicated for 140 or fewer characters or a blog, even. I also think this: It’s really easy, narcissistic, and an incredibly self-gratifying task to publicly talk shit about R. Kelly every time he’s on television. I also think doing so requires a stance that is a bit ridiculous and convenient. And I think this because, full disclosure, I used to take a similar position.
Hating R. Kelly’s music because of what he allegedly did, while not casting similar aspersions towards James Brown, Bobby Womack, Bill Withers, and so many other singers with (rumored) violent pasts with women reveals that a rather random and sad line has been drawn. Talking about how one can never listen to “I Believe I can Fly” without thinking about those young girls, while the opening notes of “Let’s Stay Together” conjure Soul Train lines and two-steps, but never images of grits and suicide, is essentially arguing that alleged domestic violence is cool, but that the line must be drawn at alleged sexual molestation. If the rationale demands that R. Kelly be rendered the personification of evil for marrying Aaliyah, then I suppose Muhammad Ali ain’t The Greatest, since he started dating Belinda Boyd when she was 14 and married her when she was 17. But again, the demonization of R. Kelly is a convenient exercise. And I know this because if folks were all that invested in shaming and calling out folks who abuse (young) women, then #askbillcosby would be on some Twitter realness right now.
In the midst of the Woody Allen debate, Gawker published an article about Bill Cosby’s alleged sexual assaults of 13 women. That’s right. Dr. William H. Cosby, Jr. Comedian, philanthropist, pudding pop pusher, chastiser of Negroes, America’s favorite dad. Allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting 13 women. As of this writing, #askbillcosby only exists as one tweet from three years ago. Why? Because folks are inconsistent and refuse to apply the same logic when the person in question is comparatively more likeable, if not straight-up beloved.
In his unflinching recitation about covering the R. Kelly trial, Jim DeRogatis explains that the difference between enjoying an artist like the aforementioned James Brown and liking a dude like R. Kelly is that there are no “pro-domestic violence” James Brown songs. In other words, if the issue isn’t evident in the art, then you’re good. I reject that argument. I think it’s an excuse that enables folks to justify random and inconsistent judgement. Not being able to detect deplorable behavior in art should not be the thing that gives the art lover a pass, if we are arguing that liking someone’s art means you support their behavior. Moreover, I would suggest that “hiding” deplorable acts, not sort of grappling with them artistically may, in some ways be worse than articulating the struggle. If the sexuality in R. Kelly’s music serves as a kind of reminder of what he’s done, then what do we make of a comedian whose entire oeuvre would, according to this logic, render his victims entirely invisible?
Although it may appear as such, this is not a defense of R. Kelly or Woody Allen or my own public justification for thinking R. Kelly is a musical genius. What I want to do is reiterate that yes, horrible people make some really beautiful art. And enjoying that art, finding value in that art does not mean that one supports horrible behavior. And if we are going to say that it does, then there should have been an unequivocal public shaming of a whole bunch of folks. If liking R. Kelly means you support the molestation of teenage girls, then every Cosby joke you laughed at, every episode about the comings and goings of the Huxtables you watched bought an mg of Rohypnol for the dude you wanted to be your dad to use on unsuspecting women. And if you were on Twitter talking about how much you hate Kells, but you’re not working on a thought-piece or are not on Twitter right now talking about how much you hate The Cos and Fat Albert, then your feminism and activism is on some straight-up studio gangster levels. You’re violating your own rules.
At the very least, folks should be consistent with their righteous indignation. But, as the silence around Cosby proves, folks just behave this way when it’s easy or convenient. No one wants to have to retract the rather absurd argument that one can appreciate the art and not the artist. No one wants to confront the fact that Cosby’s alleged sexual assaults are part of a really big iceberg that includes shards of shaming black people, and that he gets away with this because he is an incredibly powerful man who has strummed the emotional strings of the American people. The thing is, though, that shaming Cosby, just like in the #askrkelly case, would do nothing but serve those who show their activism in such ways. It would be as powerful as my saltiness upon learning that the Mortimer Ichabod Marker I got in the mail didn’t make noise as I drew. Power is a remarkable thing. It makes public shaming a really piss-poor way of trying to make folks accountable. But public shaming isn’t about accountability. It’s about making the shamers appear to have some sort of moral rectitude; it allows them to display their cleverness and intelligence. But those kinds of things can only happen when hitting the target means we wouldn’t have to look at ourselves. So instead we wait for an easier mark to help us prove that we are on the right side of things.
I don’t know what accountability looks like for Kelly, Allen, or Cosby. But I do know that it’s not some blatantly hypocritical designation of some artists’ horrific behavior as acceptable, while others continue to receive our blind eyes and praises. At the end of the day, I think we are all pretty clear that nothing of severe consequence will happen to these men. After all, we live in a country that is never accountable for its own actions. (As the saying goes, like country, like the men who live in it.) None of this is surprising. Just like the social media silence around Cosby is unsurprising–and telling.
But I have faith in y’all. I won’t hold my breath, but I’ll wait for y’all to start casting stones at The Cos. Starting now.
In the meantime, I suppose I should play some hold music until those tweets and thought-pieces about Cosby start popping up on my timeline. They’re coming, right? I think some jams from TP2.com might best fill the silence. Or maybe I should play all the different versions of The Cosby Show theme song while y’all get it together. Same difference, right?