Yesterday the Village Voice published a lengthy interview with Jim DeRogatis, the former Chicago Sun-Times music critic who was – famously – the first journalist to report on the R. Kelly sexual assault accusations by dozens of underage girls and the chilling predatory routines that Kelly is alleged to have engaged in to secure more teenage victims, as well as implications that Kelly was silencing alleged victim’s families with much needed settlement dollars. The case details that DeRogatis provides are not for the squeamish – all the more reason they should be read.
Much of the interview is dedicated to scrutinising the under-reporting of the lawsuits, which DeRogatis attributes to the fact music journalists and reporters are also, understandably, squeamish about the details of the case.
“I think a lot of people don’t know how to do it, don’t care to do it, and it’s way too much work,” he says. “It’s just kind of disgusting to have to write about this and bum everyone out, when you just want to review a record.”
Those “disgusting” elements of the story include one teenage girl who “recruited” other girls who later slit her wrists, and involving victims’ whole families in settlements. In the interview DeRogatis describes an incident that occurred relating to one of the sex tapes he had received during his investigation: “the girl and mother and father took a six-month vacation to the south of France. We’d been to the house several times. We’d rung the doorbell. This was an aluminum-siding, lower-middle-class house on the South Side, with a station wagon which is 13 years old — you know what I mean? And now they’re in the south of France. And one time the dad got a credit as a bass player on an R. Kelly album. He didn’t play bass.”
DeRogatis also offers his insights into why Kelly’s case stands out as particularly conspicuous amid a lengthy history of music industry scandals, sex tapes and rumours:
“I think in the history of rock & 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!”
After having spent an hour scanning the documents from the case, including DeRogatis’s articles, the official court documents and various police reports, and then referring back to the last 10-15 mentions of R. Kelly on Pedestrian (all of which take a decidedly affectionate or at most jokingly critical tone), it is difficult not to feel a distanced form of complicity in Kelly’s behaviour, simply by continuing to endorse the man’s music, if not the man himself.
Are we – society in general – too quick to forgive celebrities for their misdemeanours simply because they are famous? Why are we so hasty to cite creative talent as a trump card over terrible behaviour – even to the extent that we’re prepared to turn our backs on the evidence? Can we, in good conscience, separate the person from their creative products (e.g. using the defensive line “but it’s about the music”)? We do it all the time.
The interview with Jim DeRogatis and the extensive case documents and video tape evidence surrounding Kelly’s multiple charges, reveal a disturbing portrait of how fame, talent, money and power have enabled and excused predatory behaviour against a specific type of victim: black teenage girls; not Rihanna and not white girls or children of affluent families. These are victims who Kelly and, it seems, the justice system perceived as disposable or lives valued at an affordable settlement price. the “predatory behaviour” that I refer to in very vague terms includes rape.
“Rapes, plural,” DeRogatis says. “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 realise 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. [Kelly] 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.”
This is a portrait of celebrity culture at its most disturbing.
Read Jessica Hopper’s full interview with Jim DeRogatis at the Village Voice.