Trigger warning: this post contains discussion of sexual assault and abuse.
What's behind the different ways we view celebrities' actions? What makes one person a monster and another a talented person who's done some awful things? This is the central question behind Brooklyn Magazine columnist Kristin Iversen's new piece on R. Kelly, Terry Richardson, and the ultimate impact of some widely-discussed recent information about people in the public eye. Iversen opens with an anecdote about a discussion on Roman Polanski, writer/director/sexual predator, and she uses her and her friends' contradictory emotions on the topic as a jumping-off point for a look at different celebrity scandals and the way we think about them.
The "tangle of thorns" the article's title refers to is a messy web of hypocrisy that Iversen lays out with a relatively level tone: Lena Dunham feels shame about laughing about R. Kelly, but hangs around his fellow predator Terry Richardson. Jim DeRogatis has dedicated his career to exposing Kelly's actions, but he has a tattoo of Led Zeppelin, a band which includes musicians accused of sexual assault. Jezebel calls Kelly's new album "a magnificent ode to pussy," despite the the website's feminist viewpoint. And everyone knows Roman Polanski had sex with a drugged thirteen-year-old, but it doesn't change the way we talk about Chinatown. According to Iversen, the answer lies in our comfortable positions outside these unimaginable events:
Everyone on the outside, looking at what happened, all the powerful people protected by their power, they all think, That couldn’t be me. Beyoncé can shoot a video with Richardson knowing that he’s not going to ask her to touch his penis. An upper-middle-class 25-year-old white guy can listen to Kelly calling himself a “sex genius” and know that Kelly will never hurt him or probably anyone he knows. On a rooftop in Manhattan, a group of educated women with voices can laugh at a Polanski joke because it never would have been us who was hurt. We are all protected by our power; we’re all protected by our good decisions. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine what it would have been like to be a victim.
The article noticeably leaves out a few important issues - it seems to me that it's not a coincidence that there's a difference in the way we look at white predator Richardson vs. black predator Kelly (or, for example, accused domestic abusers Chris Brown vs. Sean Penn) - but ultimately it provides a sobering look at the lengths we as fans can go to in order to excuse the acts of our favorite artists, and how complicit we can be as a result. As Iversen concludes: "Instead of spending our time imagining the lives of people like R. Kelly, and making excuses for them, it’s time to start imagining the lives of the victims. We need to let them exist if we want these kinds of things to stop."
Thanks to Brooklyn Magazine
Image via Freshness Magazine
The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.