What the Accusations Against Michael Jackson and R. Kelly Say About Our Society

It seems every few months another celebrity is accused of sexual assault. It never shocked me when it happened because it’s so often. I mean, our own damn president has a number of accusations. Then one of my favorite artists, Melanie Martinez, had her turn. I followed the the updates obsessively for weeks, then made the decision to unsubscribe and unlike her songs, and donate her merchandise I owned. I learned how much it hurt fans to find out someone they looked up to did something horrible. And having joined the #MeToo movement myself, I’ve always taken any accusation very seriously. Unfortunately, society doesn’t.

Around the same time, America’s music industry has been ruptured by recent findings about the histories of R. Kelly and Michael Jackson. The two documentaries “Leaving Neverland” and “Surviving R. Kelly” have brought these problems into the light. “Leaving Neverland” covers the story of two men who survived sexual abuse as children by America’s King of Pop, Michael Jackson. During his lifetime, Jackson was brought to court for allegations of molesting boys, but was never convicted. He remains one of the most famous and beloved people in America, and the accusations were subsided to jokes over the years, but “Leaving Neverland” has finally opened up people’s eyes. “Surviving R. Kelly” ultimately led to the arrest of artist R. Kelly on 10 accounts of sexual abuse, although accusations have been around for years. R. Kelly’s bail was paid and he was released, but arrested again for not paying child support. In a viral interview with Gayle King, R. Kelly denied the sexual abuse allegations, and investigations are still going on with new found footage and interviews. (Source: NY Times: R. Kelly, Michael Jackson and the Lingering Questions About Child Sex Abuse Cases).

You would hope that the normal reaction society has to a celebrity being accused of such things would be no longer supporting them. Like I said, Trump had allegations before he was elected, so obviously this isn’t true. In the first week of March, Jackson’s sales of albums and song downloads each increased by 1,000 in relation to the previous week. Views on his music videos increased by 1.2 million across the same two weeks. What’s crazy is that there was also an increase in his success when he was tried for molestation in 2005, a much higher increase. Sales of his two most popular albums increased by 142% and 182%. The only blow these allegations have brought to Jackson’s success is on the radio, by 21%, because stations in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have banned his songs, not the US. (Source: USA Today: Michael Jackson sales, R. Kelly airplay both up amid sex abuse controversies).

R. Kelly, on the other had, has not had a decrease in radio coverage, but an increase. In the same week, R. Kelly’s coverage increased by 71%. He got slightly more views on music videos by only 3%, song streams decreased by only 1%, and downloads decreased by 16%. There is barely any difference in his album sales across the two weeks. (Source: USA Today). Knowing these numbers is extremely disappointing that after fans learned the horrible things these men did, they are still supported. According to Maeve McDermott of USA Today, this is due to the fans’ ability to utilize empathy to separate the art from the artist, which isn’t that common, especially when allegations are released so often, all throughout our lifetimes. After reading McDermott’s take on it, I have no doubt in my mind that no matter what Michael Jackson has done, even if he was a murderer equal to Hitler, he would still have millions of fans. (Source: USA Today: The art vs. the artist: Reckoning with my favorite musicians' #MeToo allegations).

I wanted to look further into why society upholds celebrities who have been proven to be abusers, rapists, and pedophiles. Besides not separating the quality of the art from the reputation of the artist, the biggest reason fans stick by abusers is because of how long ago the abuse took place. Even a family member of mine claimed that they didn’t take the accusations against Jackson seriously because it is too late, Jackson is dead, and the abuse took place decades ago. This is one of the most ignorant explanations I have ever heard. Indeed, most victims of abuse (sexual or childhood abuse) take years to tell anyone, whether it’s a best friend, parent, therapist, or the whole world. Studies have proven that abuse can cause effects of trauma, feelings that the victim is to blame, denial in the abuse, and much more. States have a time limit on how long victims have to come forward in order to take legal action, but a German study shows that the average age for victims to come forward is 52. (Source: NY Times).

Now that I’ve identified the two main reasons why fans continue to support Jackson and R. Kelly, I wanted to analyze the effects the resurgence of these allegations have on society. Imran Siddiquee of Buzzfeed compared these two cases and saw a common theme is how the abusers utilized a facade of being a father figure. One of the victims who speaks in “Leaving Neverland” claims Jackson called him “Little One” and “son”, while treating him like a romantic partner; Jackson even “encouraged in him a distrust of women, while simultaneously isolating him from his actual father” (Source: Buzzfeed News: How Traditional Ideas About The Ideal Father Can Mask Abuse). Kitti Jones, who claims she was trapped in R. Kelly’s home away from her family, said her and other girls and women he controlled were “required to call him Daddy”. R. Kelly, in his interview with Gayle King, claimed he wanted to have a healthy relationship with his children, meanwhile he was called a monster by his daughter and was later arrested for not paying child support, showing he was lying in that statement. (Source: Buzzfeed News).

Finding that both Jackson and R. Kelly encouraged this patronly facade is an important detail, and a huge theme in each of the two documentaries. McDermott drew this comparison to Terry Crews, who has had a huge role in the #MeToo movement for speaking out about his own experience being abused as a person of color and a male. Crews explained to the Senate surrounding the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights that sexual violence isn’t about sex, but power. Crews has reflected that he was taught, as well as all men who grew up in America, that having control was associated with being a man (Source: Buzzfeed News).

“Fatherhood is itself often understood as a performance of masculinity: a role traditionally defined by the ability to work and provide, to be ‘a protector and symbol of strength’”.  (Source: Buzzfeed News). Crews spoke out about the form of a modern American family, that the father is the breadwinner and the mother is the caretaker, so in a way being a father is something you do, and being a mother is something you are. This is because of society’s “assumption that a certain set of behaviors ‘makes you a man’”. The attempt to define manhood ultimately leads to having power over others. This is a philosophy “that those socialized to be men, particularly straight men, have access to rarified knowledge, one thing that can make them seem ‘more valuable in this world’ than others”. Crews said in 2014 in an interview on The View that “there are things that you need from your father”, and in a tweet he has since deleted, he claimed that those who grew up with a single mother or two female parents grew up “severely malnourished”. He has since apologized for these statements, but it is a belief millions of boys are raised with, which is that their father has power over them, their siblings, and their mother, and growing up and becoming a father will give them the same power. (Source: Buzzfeed News).

The reason this is so important is summed up in one sentence: “There’s ample evidence that men are awarded any number of privileges when presenting themselves as traditional fathers” (Source: Buzzfeed News). There are given better assumptions and reputations, more respect, and “more lenient standards”. My hope in bringing this up is for society to realize the effects masculinity has. Of course Jackson has millions of fans for his music, but his marriages and children helped create an image of being a father, an image that R. Kelly is still trying to uphold despite proof he’s an awful father. Fatherhood plays a role in many ways in these two cases by encouraging the victims to see their abusers as father figures, showing the public eye that the abusers are decent father figures, and upholding power as men in the name of being fathers (Source: Buzzfeed News).

I hope going forward, R. Kelly is put back in prison with more evidence coming forward in support of his victims’ stories, Jackson’s fans wake the hell up, and society learns that their idols have lied to them. I recommend anyone who wants to learn more about the impacts of child abuse on the child, parents, and law read this article: NY Times: R. Kelly, Michael Jackson and the Lingering Questions About Child Sex Abuse Cases.