American Horror Story: R. Kelly / Hannah Crosbie
Anyone who knows me will know I have a huge problem with Americanised over-production. It’s one of the few ways that I feel proud to be part of a British media culture; most of the time, our breaking stories, controversies and public outrages are reported in an un-biased and impartial way (and I wouldn’t have it any different). We leave the memes, parodies and sensationalism to the Facebook, new outlets like Buzzfeed and Twitter.
With biased media outlets, a larger than necessary emphasis on public opinion, and the growing phenomenon of fake news, however, it is far more complex to cover stories that need to be told in this way over the water.
Enter the many ‘scandals’ of R. Kelly.
As soon as a friend posted on her Instagram story that UK residents who wished to watch the 6 hour documentary could do so on an American TV show app (Cinema Time, for those who are interested), I called off the rest of my Saturday afternoon on 5th January to watch as much as I could of this mammoth docu-series, and what I saw shook me to the core and angered me in equal proportions.
Back to the complex issue of American media.
I almost wanted to write ‘Spoiler Alert’ at the header of this article, but then realised that this was an indication of the exact issue I can gone online to write about. With a lack of reliable outlets to report on a true scale the magnitude and sickening continuation of this person’s crimes; the so-called survivors resorted to a thriller series-esque portrayal of their genuine trauma and experiences of sexual abuse, that reminded me in parts of the purposefully over-produced sixth season of American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare.
I can only speak from my personal experience, and my trauma from sexual and emotional abuse (much of which I saw mirrored in the recounts of the survivors), but I think the last thing I would want to make up the first ‘episode’ of the first time my experience was validated and told on television, is a half hour explaining my attackers ‘talent’ and ‘gift’ to millions of people across the country, as well as an introduction that wouldn’t looks like a budget opening sequence for Empire. This effort to contextualise and give a story behind the actions of Kelly is, for me, inexcusable. Particularly the way the documentary repeatedly cuts to his brother who completely undermines the abuse of underage girls as a ‘preference’ of Kelly’s.
But in a culture of sensationalism, do these women have any choice? One undeniable take away from this harrowing six hours is the lack of attention all of their stories had by the press and the law in equal measure. What these survivors deserved was impartial coverage of all of their stories together and a case that was strong in number, rather than a few easily-dismissed cases scattered throughout Kelly’s career. Where was the outcry over his infatuation with Aaliyah (pictured)? The child pornography case? The infamous sex tape?
The obvious answer to this - and something I was very happy the series touched on - is because the victims were all black girls. This will never be something I will be able to speak from experience about, but I will let Tarana Burke succinctly summarise my exact feelings:“If R. Kelly’s victims were white girls, there would have been a movement against him that would’ve started and ended 10, 15, 20 years ago.”
The reason for the resounding success of this documentary and the sudden international awareness of his crimes is purely the fact that all of these issues have been discussed in one place for the first time. I’m ashamed to admit, as I’m sure many others are, that this was the case for me: I knew of a few cases in his past, and the ‘meme’ of sexual urination surrounding his personal life, without knowing the full picture, while still carelessly dancing to Ignition every other weekend.
As a feminist and someone who claims to be passionate about the protection and support of women in this manner, I’m ashamed to admit this, but I don’t think I’m alone. Maybe my frustration and embarrassment is because it needed something as blatant and sensationalised as ‘American Horror Story: R. Kelly’ to realise the extent of this persons crimes, rather than an educated personal discovery through research and awareness of an impartial, well-prepared case where Kelly was held fully accountable for this actions.
I doubt, sadly, that it would have gotten nearly as much attention from the public and press.