How Much Talent is Enough for Us to Overlook Someone’s Demons?

By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.

Dated: January 7, 2018 

 

surviving-rkelly.jpg

I just finished watching the mini-series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” and the first thought that comes to my mind is:

Woof.

I’m all about the criminal justice system. I’m all about proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and not passing judgment until one is proven guilty.

Hell, I’ve represented a few hundred suspected sex offenders myself, and there were really only one or two who seemed irredeemably evil. For everyone else, while I wasn’t overlooking their wrongdoing (or alleged wrongdoing), I was still able to see and acknowledge their humanity.

Many of my clients were abused when they were young. Several explained to me that their victimization led them to have blurred boundary lines regarding what’s appropriate between an adult and a minor. While it’s not an affirmative defense or excuse, it does help explain why some adult males sexually assault minors.

All of that being said, the allegations made on “Surviving R. Kelly” weren’t just about sexual assault. They also involved allegations of physical and mental abuse, as well as essential kidnapping, brainwashing, and intentional starvation of his alleged victims.

The documentary was excellently done, and from the legal disclaimers made at the beginning and end of each episode, it appears as if the filmmakers attempted to get comments from R. Kelly’s team as to the accusations. So it’s not as if it’s completely lopsided in terms of telling the “full” story.

Each episode was heartbreaking and disturbing. The claims made by multiple women as to the very particular M.O. (modus operandi) Mr. Kelly appears to have had with his alleged victims (including immediately calling him nothing but “Daddy,” (Yuck.), restricting their movements throughout the home, studio, or hotel, cutting off contact with the outside world, starving them or slapping them when they broke one of his “rules,” etc.) are compelling. They sound strikingly similar to claims made by other victims (or alleged victims) of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and/or domestic violence. Indeed, preying on impressionable, sometimes ‘damaged’ children, is a very common tactic among those who commit child molestation.

So, the mini-series got me thinking about something Dax Shepard has said on his podcast, “Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard.” During one of his episodes, Dax questions whether we, as a society, should ignore a person’s wrongdoings if that person contributes significantly to the world.

That question really resonated with me during the mini-series, because you have many journalists and radio personalities on the program pointing out how we, as music consumers, seemed to have completely separated R. Kelly’s personal life from his singing career. For decades!

And it’s so true. Amidst public allegations of child molestation and the production of child pornography, he sang at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics. And who can forget when he secretly married a fifteen-year-old Aaliyah after his team procured fraudulent documents to claim she was eighteen?

Sadly, he’s not the only talented person who’s been able to remain successful amidst disturbing sexual allegations. Think about Michael Jackson. Think about Elvis!

The mini-series did a great job of highlighting our society’s willingness to ignore the bad in order to consume the good.

I can’t deny my love for R. Kelly’s music. “I Believe I Can Fly” was the first song I sang along to that made me cry. “Step in the Name of Love” (I always preferred the remix, myself)? “Happy People”? His collaboration with The Isley Brothers on “What Would You Do?” I mean, come on!

I’m a R&B super fan. How could I not love his music? His voice?

But why? Why, as an independent, educated, strong woman, have I continued to overlook the damage he’s allegedly done to so many women, just because I love his powerful voice??

Why wasn’t I disgusted? Concerned about his female victims? Demanding more from society?

Why did it take me until this mini-series to really consider Dax Shepard’s question in a very real, personal way?

I’m educated on the devastating impact that sexual, physical, and emotional abuse has on a person, and especially on children. Why isn’t that the very first thing I think of when one of his songs comes on?

Obviously, humans have an incredible ability to compartmentalize. We can even compartmentalize trauma in our own lives in order to continue functioning on a day-to-day basis. The need to do that is completely understandable.

But we don’t need R. Kelly. And don’t hate me for saying this, but we didn’t need Michael Jackson. We don’t really need any artist.

Sure, they can make our lives so joyful. They can inspire us, pick us up when we’re down, set the mood. They can be part of the soundtracks to our lives. Music in particular can bring back ridiculously vivid memories of such wonderful events (weddings, family reunions, etc.). And one artist can completely change the course of a certain genre of music. I, as a music lover and student of the art form, can attest to that!

But if their talent is eclipsed by their personal wrongdoings, shouldn’t we do better to make it clear to the artist that those acts make them unemployable as a musician?

I learned that John Legend was the only other musician asked to speak who would agree to appear on the documentary. There were multiple persons who refused, despite their personal connection to R. Kelly.

Doesn’t that say something about the industry? About people being concerned about taking sides or standing out (and potentially upsetting their fans, thereby losing money by doing so)?

Thankfully, there have since been a lot of other musicians and actors who’ve come out publicly to denounce R. Kelly’s alleged behavior. But quite honestly, even with the #MeToo movement, there still hasn’t been enough in terms of famous/rich/influential public figures denouncing their colleagues and supporting the victims.

We owe it to the betterment of our society to do a better job letting musicians and athletes (and even sitting presidents) know that physical, mental, and sexual abuse will not be tolerated or ignored, no matter how talented or influential the wrongdoers are.

I’m really making an effort to look within myself and figure out why I’ve compartmentalized the actions of my idols. Why I’m not holding famous people to the same standard I’d hold any other citizen.

I’d strongly suggest that you all do the same.

While doing so, you can consider looking into the #MuteRKelly movement. We need to consider doing the same for other famous people whose actions aren’t deserving of our financial support.

_____________________________________________

To read more about my thoughts on sexual assault and how we, as a society, can potentially help prevent certain assaults from happening, keep an eye out for my upcoming memoir, From National Champion To Physically Disabled Activist: My Lifelong Struggles With A Diseased Body, And The Lessons It Has Taught Me Along The Way.

If you like what you’ve read, feel free to subscribe to this blog. You can also follow me via FacebookInstagramLinkedInTumblrGoogle+or Twitter.

Spring Cleaning Your Relationships

By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.

Dated: July 22, 2018

Okay, so it’s a little late in the year to be referencing “spring cleaning,” but hear me out.

Ever taken a look at your closet and realized that you’re probably never going to fit into those old jeans from your “skinny”/“skinnier” days? That the shirt that looked amazing on you in the store’s dressing room has never looked quite flattering enough on you when you’ve tried it on at home? How about taking a good look at your favorite jacket and realizing that it’s just too worn out to be worn out in public ever again? 

No?

What about noticing the dust that’s gathered on that fitness equipment in the garage or basement? You know, the one you saw on that really intriguing infomercial, but have never managed to actually use more than once or twice since you’ve had it in your home?

Unless you’ve been featured on an episode of Hoarders, then you’ve most likely had the urge to purge. Who doesn’t feel better once they’ve gotten rid of things from their life that are no longer of any use to them? Even of things that were once a part of their daily lives, but are now sitting on the proverbial or actual shelf, collecting dust?

Personally, I know that I always feel better once I’ve done some spring cleaning in my life. Whenever my personal space starts to feel a bit cluttered, or my closet gets a bit too full to make room for another hanger or two (I know – First World problems, right?!), it always makes me feel a bit claustrophobic. But once I’ve scoured through my belongings and gotten rid of things that I no longer use, wear or enjoy having in my home, it always makes me feel tidier, more relaxed and even excited about welcoming new things into my home in the future.

I’ve recently realized that this spring cleaning/pruning concept can, is, and must also regularly be applied in terms of outdated, transformed and/or unflattering personal relationships in one’s life.

If I’ve learned anything from reflecting upon my life choices, relationship choices and deteriorating health while writing my book, it’s that life’s far too short and too meaningful to waste any precious time or energy on draining, unhealthy or lopsided relationships. You know the ones I’m talking about — the ones in which you spend countless hours listening to their drama, but can never get them on the phone when you need a listening ear; the ones in which it’s all about what you can give to them, knowing that you’ll never be able to expect or hope for the same in return; the ones in which you make all the effort trying to maintain the relationship, invite them to places, see how they’re doing, et cetera, until it starts to feel like you’re a thirsty and desperate unrequited love interest who’s being ghosted.

I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that in my current state of health, I have only a limited amount of energy on any given day to expend on a wide variety of things: doctors’ appointments, physical therapy, editing my book, maintaining my personal relationships, et cetera. On any given day, if I choose to overextend myself, I know that I’ll have to pay for it over the next several days, usually with a helluva lot of pain and a lot of time passed out in bed.

So in terms of what I’m willing to spend this finite amount of time and energy on, unhealthy, outdated and/or unnecessarily dramatic or draining relationships don’t even make the cut anymore. The physical consequences I endure from the emotional toll that these relationships take on me just isn’t worth it anymore; no matter how much of a people-pleaser/pushover I’ve come to realize that I am.

Nope. I have no intention of spending whatever time I have left on this earth involved in toxic or unhealthy relationships, and as hard as it’s been for me, I’ve spent the last five-to-ten years trying to weed out a sadly large number of fake and/or manipulative and/or mean-spirited people from my world, and to cultivate the loving, meaningful, fulfilling relationships I have with my true “family” and friends. I use “family” in quotations because I am of the firm belief that as an adult, you can and should cultivate your own family; not just from those with whom you share blood or genetics or marital connections, but from those who are supportive, loving, and really know you.

In my humble opinion, as soon as we’re emotionally ready, I think we all need to take time (on at least a semi-regular basis) to reflect upon the relationships in our lives. Are they healthy? Are they respectful? Are they loving? Are they meaningful? Or are they one-sided, manipulative, abusive, disrespectful, hurtful or even inconsistent? 

Take some time to think about your personal boundaries. Do you stand up for yourself? For those that you love? 

Are you doing your best to meaningfully contribute to the relationships that you do value and want to keep?

Do you respect and love yourself as much as you respect and love your family and friends? 

We all need to ask ourselves these questions on a semi-regular basis, just as we semi-regularly “spring clean” our belongings. 

If you consider the time that you spend on any given relationship in a given week, month or year, you might realize that a friendship has managed to go dormant. Now, that could be for a number of reasons: it could be that that person has found a new group of friends that they have more in common with; it could be that they no longer value your friendship as highly as they once used to; it could be that you’ve both gotten so busy at work, with your significant others or with family members that it’s just been a while.

Relationships can and will change. People change; their priorities and values change. Those who used to put the time in to contribute to your relationship may no longer do so. 

But there’s no need to vilify someone just because they’re no longer in your life as often as before, or in the same capacity as before. I think we can all agree that one’s priorities can change a lot after marriage, divorce, children and/or burgeoning careers. Some people may need to take some time for themselves, to get themselves together or even focus on the more urgent needs of others in their own lives. Give them the space they need, and you may be able to reestablish your relationship with them later on in life.

The thing is, same as there are different reasons for getting rid of personal items in your home, there are a multitude of reasons for severing ties with people from your life.

And if you end these relationships after meaningful reflection, honest introspection and the best of intentions, then I think that you’ll find that your life is just a little bit tidier; that it’s at least a little less stressful or drama-filled, and that you may even become excited at the prospect of welcoming new relationships into your life in the future.

As long as we approach each relationship with honest intentions, an open heart and a forgiving spirit, it’s probably best to let go of the relationships that fail or fade away or are no longer having a positive impact upon our lives.

Focus on loving, respecting and appreciating the wonderful people in your life. You’ll be too busy maintaining and enjoying these relationships to spend much time worrying about why the others have ended. I can’t promise that it’ll be easy, but I can safely say it’ll be worth it!

Happy spring cleaning, everyone!

_________________________________________________

Here’s a photo depicting one of my most meaningful, loving, supportive relationships; it’s of me and my very best friend in the world, Nikki:

IMG_2553 2.jpg

_________________________________________________

If you have any thoughts or insights on this post, you can let me know by leaving a comment below, or reaching out to me via Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+ or Twitter. Feedback and thoughtful, respectful comments are always encouraged!