Yesterday, R. Kelly was acquitted of charges for child pornography which have been pending for nearly six years now. If I believed he were innocent, I would think it was a real travesty to have such horrible accusations hanging over his head for so long. Now, the extremely witty Josh Levin over at Slate and the highly respected Bill Wyman over at Hitsville have both been covering the R. Kelly trial and associated tribulations with exceptional thoroughness and panache. If you want to know way too much about R&B singer and producer R. Kelly and his penchant for underage girls, I definitely recommend the work of both of these writers. I’m going to try to break it down for y’all here though.
First of all, I think the irony police need to be called. This week Max Hardcore was handed a criminal conviction for making videos of adult women dressed youthfully and engaging in consensual extreme sex acts, most likely including watersports (not the jet-ski kind), videos for which Max Hardcore had full documentation that the women were legally adult and consented to appearing on video and having said video distributed. The same week R. Kelly got excused for making videos of allegedly underage women engaging in arguably consensual extreme acts, definitely including watersports (not the jet-ski kind), videos for which R. Kelly could produce no documentation that the women were not underage or had consented to have their image recorded and shared in this way.
I feel sorry for R. Kelly. I truly do. I suspect he is not competent to handle his own affairs, yet, being rich, he is surrounded by people who apparently regularly take him for as much money as they can carry away. Even the star witness for the prosecution stated that R. Kelly would not continue with making a sex video if she was visibly upset and she admitted to taking advantage of him financially over and over. The testimonies in his recent trial are, in fact, rife with descriptions about how various people in positions of trust did everything from extort payments from him to stealing jewelry and, yes, homemade videos. According to GQ magazine, R. Kelly was sexually abused by an adult male neighbor as a child. Given that R. Kelly’s brother told Vibe that the singer never gave their mother a dime because she refused to divorce his stepfather, I would hazard a guess that the man was probably abused by his stepfather as well. R. Kelly also personally told Vibe that he is functionally illiterate. Members of his entourage further assert that R. Kelly is unable to do basic addition and subtraction. I’m guessing that someone with a bunch of multi-platinum albums could afford a reading and mathematics tutor, so it’s fairly likely that this means R. Kelly is deficient in the brain department. He probably is not mentally on a level above his young sex partners.
This still does not excuse competent adults for leaving their children with a grown man of R. Kelly’s well-documented predilections. He has settled multiple cases with families of allegedly underage girls he allegedly had inappropriate sexual relationships with. He has been caught with videos and pictures of his misdeeds over and over and is apparently not savvy enough to stop creating new evidence against himself. He married his protege Aaliyah when she was fifteen-years-old. This is not someone who is smart enough to cover his tracks. Apparently, her family was sufficiently on-top-of-things to get the marriage annulled and prevent Aaliyah from ever seeing R. Kelly again. Somehow, during the preceding three years it took for R. Kelly to work on Aaliyah’s multiplatinum debut Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, it never occurred to her family that leaving her alone with a guy who likes young girls was not necessarily the best idea. The name of the album didn’t give anybody pause? Given that he actually tried to marry the girl, I’d view him more as retarded than ill-intentioned. I don’t mean retarded in the sense of schoolyard taunts, but, in the literal sense, R. Kelly may be a musical savant, but, he appears to be extremely developmentally delayed and not at all bright. Multiple sources report that the man even has trouble remembering to bathe himself.
I started off laughing out loud at the coverage of the R. Kelly trial. I mean, dude, if you are going to have an inappropriate and totally illegal sexual relationship with a teenage girl, maybe you shouldn’t, ya know, videotape it. Especially, if you’ve been busted out and/or had to make blackmail payments/legal settlements for this sort of thing in the past. And R. Kelly’s defense team’s arguments seemed so ridiculous when they claimed that it wasn’t R. Kelly on the videotape in question and it didn’t even look like him and, if it did look like him, then that was because of special effects, and, if it was not special effects and it was R. Kelly on the tape, then the girl must be eighteen. As R. Kelly hands the girl in the video money on camera at the beginning of the tape, the defense attorneys even argued that it would be mean to find R. Kelly guilty because that would be tantamount to calling the girl in the vid a whore. Funny stuff.
Now, to be totally frank, I don’t really think it is generally appropriate for a forty-year-old to have an ongoing sexual relationship with a teenager of legal age either. There are, of course, exceptions where people with a huge age difference can have a great relationship, but I’d say that, on average, that’s not ideal. I think the older the people involved are, the less an age difference matters. Is a fourteen-year-old mature enough to know she is participating in an extortion plot against her inappropriately aged lover? Probably depends on the fourteen-year-old, but everything about that is certainly illegal in every respect in the State of Illinois.
Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson was R. Kelly’s manager for many years. In point of fact, he remained R. Kelly’s manager for many years after Aaliyah’s recording with R. Kelly, marrying him, and subsequently getting that marriage annulled. When R. Kelly and Barry Hankerson parted ways professionally, Barry Hankerson wrote a letter to the record label saying that he felt R. Kelly needed psychiatric help for his compulsive pursuit of young girls. Well, yeah. The guy is obviously psychologically off. But, what I want to know is, when exactly did his manager figure out that R. Kelly had a problem there? How many settlements with the families of teenage girls did it take? How many incidents did he personally witness working closely with the singer/producer? How many years of thinking about it, after his own fifteen-year-old niece Aaliyah married R. Kelly, did it take for it to occur to him that maybe teenage girls should not be left alone with R. Kelly?
Reading about this case, it appears that, over and over again, people with a professional or otherwise fiscal interest in R. Kelly put junior high school-aged girls in his presence, knowing full well what R. Kelly was like. The more I read, the more it looked like a bunch of criminal opportunists basically taking advantage of the mentally handicapped.
Now one could argue that rock and roll has a long history, stretching from Elvis Presley to Tripp Eisen, of musicians dating young girls. But that is one for the philosophers or at least another article. In the here and now, we have decided, as a society, that it is against the law for grown men to have sexual relationships with fourteen-year-old girls. Whether or not they pee on them. So long as that is the rule, I think we also ought to have a law against profiteering friends and family who put young girls in harm’s way by leaving them alone with men like R. Kelly. Adults are supposed to protect their young, not cash in on their suffering.
On the plus side, I learned a new vocabulary word. According to Slate freelancer David Tuller, ephebophilia is the word for guys who do not like actual children but who have a more R. Kelly post-puberty pre-legality taste. So everyone go forth and try to use your new vocab work ephebophilia in a sentence some time this week.