Do not expect justice to ever be meted out on cable television, where spectacle is the poison of choice
|National Post 07 Mar 2019 at 09:13|
In his first interview since being arrested and charged on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse (for which three of the four alleged victims were underage at the time), R. Kelly sat down with CBS’s Gayle King Wednesday morning for a laborious two-hour conversation that put his endless “Trapped in the Closet” hip-hopera to shame.
From beginning to end, the interview was a catastrophe: Kelly accused the world of labelling him “Lucifer” when he is simply “a man…and by no means a monster;” he lapsed into a well-timed cry; he screamed and pointed into the camera so hysterically it verged on comical; he stood and erupted into a full-body tantrum, pacing the room and lording over King who warned, with the tone of a mother attempting to calm her child in a supermarket aisle, “Roberrrrt…”
The interview then took a brief pause to “give Kelly a moment,” as his publicist walked in to “help calm him down.” Just then, his makeup team also arrived to touch him up as he continued to gesticulate and shout directly into the camera.
Despite King’s professional approach, Kelly acted as though it was just him and the cameras. Here are some of his choice lines:
“I have been assassinated, I have been buried alive!”;
“Quit playing! I didn’t do this stuff! This is not me! I’m fighting for my f–king life!”;
“I gave y’all 30 years of my career! And you’re trying to kill me?!”; and
“Y’all just don’t wanna believe the truth!”
He went on to say he’s “tired of the lies” and that it’s he who is the victim, and not the countless women who have come forward to say he abused them or Azriel Clary and Joycelyn Savage (the two women who are currently living with him, but whose parents claim he brainwashed).
The entire thing was an absolute farce, but impossible to look away from. And sadly, that’s kind of the whole point. In the days leading up to the interview, CBS teased viewers with incendiary clips (complete with action movie trailer edits and a dramatic voice-over) and photos, one in particular showing a furious Kelly standing over King, his arm waving (as seen above). It went viral within an hour of being shared. On the day of the interview, the network tweeted out soundbite after soundbite. By late afternoon, Kelly remained the top Google and Twitter trend.
It was all a ratings boon for the network, and cleverly timed; the same audience that would be hungry for a Kelly spectacle had likely caught HBO’s Leaving Neverland on Sunday and Monday, a controversial four-hour documentary spotlighting Michael Jackson’s alleged abuse victims. And just weeks before that, actor Jussie Smollett, who is believed to have faked being the victim of a hate crime, did a similar sit-down interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts. It, too, was teased like a television event on par with a Game of Thrones premiere.
It isn’t revolutionary to suggest that much of celebrity culture is based on a desire to see them fail and then, if they don’t happen to be actual criminals, redeem their way back into our hearts. But the crimes Kelly is accused of are so heinous that the only redemption anyone wants is for his alleged victims. That’s why it should have felt more cathartic to see him answer to someone.
If you happened to spare a quick glance at your Twitter feed on Wednesday, though, it was likely a feast of Kelly hot takes and memes, partially in gleeful victory and partially in seeing the circus finally come to town. What should be a tragedy on every count became a comedy of errors, a well-produced piece of theatre designed for likes and retweets instead of anything approaching justice.
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Whether or not any laws were broken is not the issue. The standard expected of public officials is not that they should merely avoid committing crimes