This is not about R. Kelly

But let’s talk about R. Kelly for a minute.

Columbus is hosting a ‘thing’ called the Fashion Meets Music Festival (FMMF). The headliner for this event was meant to be R. Kelly. This did not sit well with several people in Columbus, so they became very . . . present in the lives of the people organizing, sponsoring, attending or otherwise involved with the event.

Bret Adams (who handled the booking) said there was no issue with R. Kelly as the headliner. Why? Not because he was acquitted – that was not the crux of Adams’ argument. Not because he believes in R. Kelly’s innocence. He saw no issue because it presented a good opportunity. Because, fame. Because, money.

Look at the things he says – the things he emphasizes. He is telling you exactly what he thinks is important.

Adams, a Columbus lawyer and sports/entertainment agent, didn’t see a problem in the booking of Kelly, acquitted in 2008 for child-pornography charges — and who last week made headlines for an unreleased music video with Lady Gaga whose racy storyline appeared to condone rape.

“This is one of the biggest R&B guys in the country,” Adams said. “The guy headlined Bonnaroo.” 1

“I don’t even think [Kelly’s inclusion] was a debate. We don’t have a national R&B act, and we wanted to fill that void, and he’s one of the best-selling artists of all time. Why wouldn’t we?” said FMMF cofounder Bret Adams. “He’s good national press for us and Columbus. He’s a nationally known name. He was not convicted of anything. He was acquitted. If we wanted to limit our artists to people who never had brushes with the law or were not good people, then you can eliminate quite a few across the board. We’re running a festival to help brand the city of Columbus. We’re not the morality police.”2

And then he starts telling you who he thinks is important.

“[If] somebody from O.A.R. or Michelle Williams — who just retweeted all our stuff — or any of our headliners had an issue with it, then I may take a look at it,” Adams said. “Every artist is entitled to their opinion about performers [on the bill]. We feel differently about it. He was a great catch for a first year festival that had no track record, and we’re going to put him in Nationwide Arena.”2

So what he is saying is essentially that the guy is too famous to pass up. The fact that he fucks young girls and pisses on them for sexual gratification is irrelevant. But just in case the details of his past are bothersome to you, remember that he was acquitted (despite the giant pile of evidence), so technically, it’s ok.

He attempts to validate his reprehensible opinion with the fact that some celebrities retweet information about the festival, and he’s not changing his mind until someone that matters (hint: not you) takes issue.

This guy represents way too much of humanity.

As a society, we let the rich and famous slide. People who are well known and have a lot of money do not go to jail – they pay fines and settlements. Why?

Well, in the case of entertainers, imprisonment means someone is losing money – record labels, publishers and studios are motivated to keep their meal tickets out of trouble. Maybe we do that too. It could be that we are considering them not in terms of a person with accountability, but rather in terms of their value to us. If a celebrity goes to jail, they are not amusing me, and I might miss that.

But I think a part of it is that there is some understanding – we all want something that is inappropriate to want. Unfulfilled desire is the nourishment of fantasy. And though we might not act on those desires, most people don’t really ever let them go, either. Nor admit to them. Instead, we quietly imagine scenarios in which we get everything just as we wish. We fantasize about what it would be like to exist with no rules.

I think we like believing that there is some situation that lets us us have that. Some measure of accomplishment or power or status that exempts us from the rules, that lays out all the world before us like a buffet and says Here, enjoy without restriction. It’s what you worked for, and you have arrived. You have earned this. The average person typically feels exceptional anyway.

Rejecting transgressors, telling them that they are bad and wrong, and that there are limits to what wealth can get you out of is also telling ourselves that there are limits. We don’t want hard limits. Even if we rationally know we’ll never have that kind of wealth, it may simply be too painful to openly admit that some things shouldn’t be reduced to a monetary value.

To exist with other people, you must always consider the rights of other people. End of story. You will literally never have a break from it. This fact frustrates your id to no end, and it desperately searches for loopholes and exceptions. It hates being told no. However, the more advanced parts of the brain (aka super-ego) are usually able to convince it that compromise is the way to go – so long as everything is fair. It is easier to quiet your urges when you look around and see equality. When you have a comfortable life coupled with a solid understanding that those comforts are provided by mutual compromise, things can be stable. Any discrepancy, however, demands an explanation. Once the id has been told that there is a path that sets it free, it is done with compromise. It applies all the pressure it can muster to bring the whole mind into its service.

And that is what wealth does. It promises a place above everyone else. It says “You could have a little more, if only you were a little better.”

There are a couple of issues with this. The first is that it leads to thinking “Since I have more, I must be better. However I came by this wealth, it must mean that I am better.” Not lucky. Not selfish. Better.

Wealth is alienating because it sets you above everyone else. Looking around and finding no other like yourself, it seems unreasonable that their rules should also apply to you. That would imply that they are the same as you, which is clearly not possible. If they were your equals, they would have found a way to become wealthy too. You can’t really be blamed for taking more if you yourself are . . . more.

The second is that, given a limited pool of resources, one person having a little more usually means someone else must have a little less. No matter how well the entire group does, demanding a larger piece for me also demands a smaller one for everyone else. If the wealth of a few people grows unchecked, eventually, they don’t leave enough for everyone to survive. So now everyone else is scrambling to make ends meet. And some will. But because there isn’t really enough to go around now, some people are impoverished.

Poverty puts people in survival mode. It makes us desperate. To those who are making ends meet, desperation is unsettling. Desperation makes pride a luxury. It makes people discard politeness and actually ask – or even beg – for help. But the class of not quite poor, but not quite rich folks – let’s call them the middle class – are comparing themselves to the rich, so they feel poor too. Everyone is now clinging a little more tightly to what they have.

Poverty, like wealth, is alienating. Looking around, you find so many with advantages (not being poor) that you lack. You don’t really see a way out of your situation or how you got into it, but you know everyone thinks you are poor because you are lazy drug addict or a welfare queen. Wealthy and middle class alike see you as a little bit less – perhaps you begin to internalize this and see yourself that way too.

People who have great need and a lowered opinion of themselves become a little more pliable than a person who lives in comfort and has a higher sense of self worth. A middle class person with comfort and a fear of losing it is a little more pliable than a comfortable person with no fear.

Here we see what wealth is. It is not just having plenty. It is having control. The point of wealth is to remove the word ‘no’ from the vocabulary of others. To bring other human beings into your service. To make their effort and sacrifice count more toward your indulgence than toward their survival.

So we say it is ok to let a celebrity rape and then offer a settlement rather than be made to face the same penalty a poor person would. And when we do that, we confirm that they are better than us. They must be, if even those beneath them will acknowledge that it is so. As far as he is concerned, he faced no penalty. Paying a million dollars for fucking a thirteen year old girl is not a penalty to him. It is a transaction.

These are the people we celebrate in America, while raging at the poor for feeling so entitled.


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