Bill Cosby, R. Kelly and Other Titans Too Powerful to Be Brought To Justice Until They Weren't Anymore
In the great reckoning that followed in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s personal and professional downfall it sure felt like some of the outsized villains at the center of the #MeToo and Times Up movement were too big, too powerful and too connected to face career, reputation and life-destroying consequences, legal or otherwise.
Bill Cosby loomed large as one of these ominously outsized figures of sinister power wantonly abused. Dozens of women came forward to expose Cosby as the worst kind of hypocrite, a moralist who lectured young men on how to conduct themselves from a place of unearned moral superiority while drugging and sexually assaulting women who looked up to him as a mentor over a period of decades.
Cosby’s long history of sexual assault allegations was an open secret well before Hannibal Burress explored it in his stand-up. Burress wasn’t breaking new ground; he was merely pointing out the inconvenient fact that a man heralded as an American hero and a role model for everyone was almost assuredly a serial rapist.
Cosby’s career and reputation lay in waste but for a while it seemed like he would avoid legal consequences for his crimes. He was protected by money and power and the best, most ruthless lawyers money can buy but he was also protected by statute of limitations that disproportionately benefit the tremendously rich.
Bill Cosby was too goddamned big and too goddamned powerful for the law to be able to touch him until he wasn’t. To the shock of many, Cosby was not only charged with a sex crime, he was convicted as well.
For decades, Cosby was put on an impossible pedestal. He was supposed to represent the American spirit at its most noble and dignified. He was worshipped as an artist, as a comedian, as a staggeringly successful creator and businessman but he was also revered as a man. Now the criminal status of Cosby’s Wikipedia page reads, “Currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution – Phoenix; classified as sexually violent predator.”
Cosby is in prison for at least one of the many crimes he committed. That is a beautiful thing. He was too big and too rich to face justice until he wasn’t.
The same appears to hold true of R. Kelly. Like Cosby, and Michael Jackson, his art and presence and persona are so deeply intertwined in the fabric of American culture and society that it would be hard to remove them without making a giant mess.
Before Surviving R. Kelly, Kelly was a figure of enormous, sinister power. He didn’t just commit unspeakable crimes against vulnerable young women chasing dreams of stardom; he exhaustively documented his crimes with a video camera that served as his constant companion and partner in crime, in this case manufacturing child pornography.
Jurors looked at footage of Kelly committing crimes and that still somehow was not enough to get him convicted. It barely hurt his career. EVERYONE knew that Kelly was a sexual predator with a thing for underaged girls but his songs and albums made money so seemingly an entire music industry was willing to look the other way.
Before Surviving R. Kelly, the controversial R&B icon and songwriter was a sinister figure of shadowy, furtive power. Post Surviving R. Kelly, he’s still a sinister, abusive, controlling figure but he’s something else as well. He’s an oddly pathetic figure these days, a desperate has been trying and failing to hold onto his empire in the face of culture-wide condemnation.
Kelly became so radioactive following the horrifying revelations of Surviving R. Kelly that there is no more money to be made from working with him, and that it appears, is his Kryptonite. As long as Kelly was able to make money for corporations and other superstar artists and proteges there would be people around to protect him from the consequences of his actions. But once that money and power and connections dried up all that was left was a sad husk of a man, a criminal whose unforgivable crimes are all too public.
Will Kelly go to jail like Cosby? God, I hope so. For that matter, I also hope that Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey both spend time behind bars. I remain perplexed as to why Chris Brown still has a thriving career and major artists lining up to work with him after what he did to Rihanna.
Will justice eventually come for Brown? Maybe, maybe not. Right now he’s riding high but the examples of Cosby and Kelly illustrate that he might not be anywhere near as powerful and protected as he thinks he is.
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