While watching the 2010 Soul Train Awards, which was simultaneously broadcast on BET and Centric, an offshoot of BET networks, first I wondered, "Why is there still a Soul Train Awards show if Soul Train isn't on the air anymore?" and secondly, "Why is R-uh Kelly not only performing, but opening the show?" When I heard that familiar vocal timbre and identified that it was Kelly's silhouette on the staircase, I didn't automatically think artist, I instantly thought rapist. And I wondered why Centric felt it was okay to feature an artist widely thought of as a pedophile on the show. But then I thought, "If media outlets banned every 'artist' with an immoral history the entertainment industry would collapse." This is not an excuse to invite child molesters, (convicted or not) to the stage, but it does perpetuate the ongoing argument about morality vs. entertainment.
It's really weird how Michael Jackson was repeatedly persecuted for alleged inappropriate conduct with children that could not be confirmed, but Kelly is still embraced by the black community and black media even after video tapes and photographs documenting his sexual encounters with minors were uncovered and exposed. While watching the Soul Train Awards and trying to figure out the decision of the producers to book Kelly for the show, all I could envision was the episode of the Boondocks that mocked the pathological loyalty of some in the black community to a black man just because he was famous, and helped to get a groove on. But Jackson, who even posthumously is way more famous than Kelly, was still vilified not only in court, but in the court of public opinion. I think I can chalk up Kelly's adoration to some kind of "hood" allegiance that stems from his "street cred" that Jackson never acquired (even though he really tried with "Bad"). But what message are these black media outlets who eschew the ramifications of featuring artists with corrupt backgrounds sending?
By some accounts, featuring Kelly on a black network subliminally communicates to young black girls that they don't matter. (And rest assured that if Kelly had "relieved" himself on young white girls, his career would all about "Paper or plastic?") And one could say the same regarding Chris Brown's appearance on the BET Awards earlier this year. But I think the reason why Chris Brown's appearance, though controversial was less disturbing is because he was presented with a different tone, one of acknowledgment. He didn't just come out as a star, but with the acknowledgment that he'd messed up, attempting to use Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" as his redemption song. Whether you fell for the tears or not is one thing, but the context in which Brown was presented to the audience vs. Kelly's appearance on the Soul Train Awards, was in fact different, and frankly smarter. But black media aren't the only ones who blindly support artists with shady pasts. White folks do it too.
Woody Allen continues to be heralded by Hollywood as a brilliant movie maker, who actors still feel so "privileged" to work with, though he married the adopted daughter of his ex-wife, Mia Farrow. Yep, yuck! And don't get me started on Charlie Sheen, who's currently the highest paid actor on television, despite his very public battle with drugs, soliciting prostitutes and common sense. And Hollywood's opinion about Roman Polanski, a famed film director who drugged and raped a 13 year-old girl in the late 70's seems to be somewhat split, with Allen apparently being his most vocal supporter-double yuck! But even with these parallel examples, it seems like the alliance of many in the black community with its shady stars is stronger, substantiated by some kind of mystifying cultural camaraderie; the same kind of thinking that prompted some African Americans to vote for President Obama just because he's black, and not as much as for his campaign platform. And with that kind of reasoning Kelly and other artists who just can't make peace with their inner demons will continue to have an outlet in the black community.
Though I would like to believe the entertainment industry should have some measure of obligation to make decisions that include ethical consideration, it being a business, in most cases money and ratings are the obvious motivators when choosing whether or not to showcase an artist with "moral challenges". So whether or not black media outlets and the entertainment industry at large will more closely consider the personal ethics of an artist when choosing to provide them with exposure, we the audience always have the choice not to patronize these artists and let the media outlets that do know how we feel about it.
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