The recent reincarnation of Robert Kelly should remind us of the dangers of waste: wasted time; wasted money; wasted potential. Defenders of R. Kelly are legion. The sophisticated R&B connoisseur points out the brilliance of his arrangements; the strength of the vocals; the audacity of the lyrics. The indifferent consumer reminds us that there are bigger concerns in the world and every purchase involves a deal with a devil of one kind or another. And the generous of heart remind of us the old adage ‘do not judge, lest ye be judged’. These and many others are rational defenses of buying and supporting R.Kelly, but do not address the moral dimensions of the question. What does it mean to support a man who has sex with and urinates on children?
That R.Kelly is brilliant in his way is not beside the point at all. It is the point. If his music was garbage he would be another sartorially challenged, 40 something year old cruising the neighborhood for young girls. More than likely he would have been arrested and found himself on a sex-offender registry by now. His talent and wealth make his crimes oddly less visible and so the critic must justify his or her hostility – not to the act – but to the man. Your motives are questioned. You’re reminded of 12 play or some album. History and even mythology reminds us time and again of the dangers of charismatic evil. Perhaps Kelly himself was hinting at this when he began calling himself the Pied Piper of R&B.
I’ll agree with the indifferent consumer that buying Robert’s music is not going to cure cancer, save the koalas or end global hunger. That an act is not particularly meaningful does not mean that it is meaningless. The statistics on child abuse – particularly – of young women in our communities are bad enough that a little thing like not endorsing the work of a child predator is a positive thing. You can’t be everywhere at all times, but you should do good where you can.
I’m not making assumptions about Robert’s potential as a human being, so I’m not exactly judging, but I am using judgement which is essential in my view. For example, at some point tens of thousands of years ago some guy – probably a strutting, alpha male type – approached a lion, tried to pet it and got his arm ripped off. To say that the dude in question is going to ‘hell’, would be ‘judging’. To observe that his action was stupid and should not be duplicated is using ‘judgement’. You don’t have to perfect to point out a bad idea or a wrong action. You just have to be willing, like Orwell, to ‘state the obvious’.
Occasionally, when in a rush to be open-minded or tolerant, we constrain not the person, but their potential. If Robert had been held accountable by the courts or fans he might have had to do the kind of soul-searching that yields mature – not just adult – music. Who knows maybe underneath his recent dry-humping sessions with Lady Gaga and his latest female as music instrument album cover, there lurks maturation. Perhaps. But I’m not going to waste my time or money finding out. Neither should you.