R. Kelly, Pariah In Concert

Kenyette Barnes and I were talking across my dinner table about the enduring, evolving icky horror of R. Kelly a couple of weeks ago, as her young son wrestled with a video game in the next room. She was wondering if she could raise the necessary bail money to stage a barn-burning protest of his upcoming show in Atlanta.

Robert Sylvester Kelly’s most recently alleged revulsion involves allegations first raised by Buzzfeed last month. Jim Derogatis interviewed Kelly confidantes and reviewed legal documents, reporting that six women live in Kelly’s rented properties — including one in Duluth — where Kelly controls “what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records.” Some of the women refuted the claims made in the story, while their parents are describing them as “brainwashed” and the arrangement as a “cult.” The report preceded cancellations on Kelly’s latest tour and created a rift with his agent.

But not the Atlanta concert. At least, not yet.

Barnes took to the Fulton County Commission yesterday to ask the commission to halt the show at Wolf Creek Amphitheater and yank the Live Nation contract. The commission agreed to request that Live Nation cancel the show, but the concert promoter said it still plans to hold the concert on Aug. 25. The show appears to have plenty of seats left, but still.

Barnes has been asking radio stations to stop playing R. Kelly in advance of the show, and is considering a protest at the event.

“It’s clear that Kelly’s egregious behavior and the anticipated public backlash wasn’t considered when this contract was extended,” Barnes said. “As such, #MuteRKelly is committed to work with the Fulton County legislature and Live Nation to amicably cancel the concert. If, however, our needs are not met, we are prepared to exercise our First Amendment Right and protest the concert, at the Wolf Amphitheater on August 25th.”

Barnes, a progressive activist and lobbyist, plans to propose legislation to include “morality clauses” in all state government contracts. That will be an interesting conversation, given our malleable definitions of morality these days. Kelly has been Teflon in part because he’s never actually been convicted on a serious charge.

But let us not forget R. Kelly’s earlier … acts … involving children, for context. Kelly married the singer Aaliyah in 1994, when she was just 15 years old and he was in his 30’s. The marriage was illegal, and was subsequently annulled. Kelly claimed that the marriage never happened, which doesn’t explain why Aaliyah subsequently sued to have the marriage record expunged in Cook County. Kelly faced 13 charges of child pornography in 2004 after a tape of … well, someone who looks a hell of a lot like him … in a place that looks a hell of a lot like his place … took a whizz on a 14-year-old girl that looked a hell of a lot like his goddaughter. Kelly said it wasn’t him. His goddaughter said it wasn’t her. And a Chicago jury bought it. If the jury had known about the four settlements Kelly had previously paid to underage girls who accused him of sexual misconduct, perhaps we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks cartoon skewered Kelly — and the moral backflips of the public’s willingness to excuse celebrity misconduct — in its second episode. To think that episode aired 11 years ago and we’re still talking about him today says too much about our collective amnesia in the face of celebrity. But we still pay attention to Woody Allen, and Roman Polanski, and Charlie Sheen, and Terry Richardson, and Bill Cosby, and Chris Brown, and many others. R. Kelly isn’t unique.

Neither is the idea that it comes down to acts of political protest to remind us where our moral core should be.

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