R&B singer R. Kelly was found guilty in a New York City courtroom last week.(SOUNDBITE FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #1: After decades of suspicion and allegations, a jury found the singer guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking.CORNISH: And many of the victims at the time of the crimes were teenage girls.(SOUNDBITE FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #2: Dozens of witnesses have come forward with heinous allegations of abuse – physical, emotional, and sexual.CORNISH: R. Kelly now faces a prison sentence ranging from 10 years to life.(SOUNDBITE FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #2: This was something that had been in the works for decades,CORNISH: A judge suspended Jamie Spears as conservator of his daughter Britney Spears’ estate a few days later in a Los Angeles courtroom.(SOUNDBITE FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #3: A judge made the decision just moments ago, ending the 13-year arrangement that the pop star called abusive.CORNISH: Britney Spears had been living under conservatorship since 2008, which meant her father had almost complete control over her personal life and finances.
These two cases are completely unrelated, but they share one crucial feature: a large online following.(SOUNDBITE FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #4: A long-awaited victory for the #FreeBritney movement.CORNISH: And an entire ecosystem of think pieces and documentaries that feed that online conversation.(SOUNDBITE FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #5: This comes on the heels of an explosive New York Times documentary detailing allegations that Jamie…UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #6: The “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries really just exposed a lot of what Black women organisers…ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: A documentary, special report, or investigation can remind people of what happened and say, “Hey, you know, maybe we should reconsider this, and maybe there should be consequences.”Eric Deggans, NPR’s TV critic.
DEGGANS: So it’s the idea that whatever kind of erasure or punitive action or criticism occurs, it’s a consequence, not an unfair cancellation.CORNISH: THINK ABOUT THIS: In the age of true crime shows and binge-worthy television, what we watch on screen may have a real impact in a courtroom. Coming up, NPR’s Eric Deggans deconstructs the rise of consequence culture. I’m Audie Cornish from NPR. It’s Friday, October 8th.(SOUNDBITE)CORNISH: It’s CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. And, as a final note, there will be some descriptions of sexual abuse in this report. When the R. Kelly federal trial was just getting started in August, I spoke with Dream Hampton, one of the producers of the 2019 lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.”DREAM HAMPTON: I believe that after he was acquitted in 2008, his behaviour deteriorated.CORNISH: R. Kelly was in court at the time for child pornography charges. And, according to Hampton, things got worse before they got better.HAMPTON: He was really beyond the pale by the time we did “Surviving R. Kelly” and these women were brave enough to sit in front of our cameras.
CORNISH: The Hampton documentary featured victim after victim sharing their stories.(SOUNDBITE FROM THE DOCUMENTARY “SURVIVING R. KELLY”)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I was 17 when he was physically abusive for the first time. And I said hello to someone I shouldn’t have while staring at someone I shouldn’t have been staring at.HAMPTON: I don’t think we’d be where we are if they hadn’t done that, if they hadn’t seen the pain. I didn’t expect “Surviving R. Kelly” to be such a cultural event for Black people.(SOUNDBITE FROM THE DOCUMENTARY “SURVIVING R. KELLY”)UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: He took me outside, smacked me, and said, like, you’re only supposed to look at me.
And I don’t get it. I just cried and said, OK.DEGGANS: It took all of their stories and combined them into one narrative.CORNISH: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans is back.DEGGANS: You had the women, women who said they were victims of him, face the camera and tell their own stories.(SOUNDBITE FROM THE DOCUMENTARY “SURVIVING R. KELLY”)LISA VAN ALLEN: My name is Lisa Van Allen.
I met Rob when I was 17 years old.DEGGANS: There is a power in them speaking directly to the camera and saying, “This is what happened to me,” that transcends a newspaper article or a magazine article, or even a reporter translating that.(SOUNDBITE FROM THE DOCUMENTARY “SURVIVING R. KELLY”)VAN ALLEN: You know, I was surprised when I ended up meeting him because I assumed I’d be the last person he’d try to talk to because I was probably the youngest person there.DEGGANS: These stories broke at a time when we were already thinking about #MeToo and rethinking what assault, harassment, and listening to women meant.
(SOUNDBITE FROM THE DOCUMENTARY “SURVIVING R. KELLY”)VAN ALLEN: He wanted me to take off the little dressy clothes I was wearing. It resulted in him suggesting sexual acts such as oral and sex.DEGGANS: Everyone’s ears were in a different place. They could hear what these women were saying in a way that they couldn’t before.(SOUNDBITE FROM THE DOCUMENTARY “SURVIVING R. KELLY”)VAN ALLEN: I didn’t want to tell him, no, I guess because I was…CORNISH: Now, I spoke with Eric about how this documentary and others have resulted in significant shifts in public perception and actual change, and how that differs from simply creating more true crime clickbait.DEGGANS: I mean, there’s going to be a true crime element to it because, particularly in “Surviving R. Kelly” and “Framing Britney Spears” and some of the Britney Spears docs, you’re returning to something that is a legal issue. “Surviving R. Kelly,” I believe, was the public impetus that resulted in his prosecution.
And “Framing Britney Spears” drew the world’s attention to this conservatorship in a way that I believe most people were unaware of.And I believe that when people heard how Britney Spears fans were protesting the conservatorship, they were tempted to dismiss it, saying, well, this was just the reaction of very intense fans who love this woman and are being unreasonable. But when The New York Times steps in and says, “Hey, there might be something to this,” it adds some credibility. And we saw a lot of movement on that case after the first documentary, “Framing Britney Spears,” was released.Just because a celebrity is at the centre of a storey, or because it’s a storey that has been exploited by the media in the past, doesn’t mean that these modern stories are doing the same.
If there is a value to what they are doing, if they are unearthing new information and getting people to look at it in a different way and making the case that, as a society, we should think differently about this stuff, then I think that justifies the look and allows them to say that this is not just a true crime or an exploitative situation, a Netflix show, an HBO documentary, or a podcast.CORNISH: However, none of this is the same as due process. I mean, is this the only way to get justice for some people? What are we looking at here?DEGGANS: There is a long tradition in journalism of investigative projects that prompt the larger society to reconsider things that people didn’t know about or didn’t know enough about. On the one hand, it may not feel fair to someone who is being examined or who is on the receiving end of these documentaries.
But, you know, when you’re talking about someone like R. Kelly, who for decades used his wealth and power to manage his public image in a way that kept these allegations out of the press as much as he could and is accused of intimidating witnesses and manipulating things to keep the truth from coming to light, you’re talking about a different situation. And I believe what we’ve seen is that these documentaries are released, and then there’s a legal procedure where the bar for proof is raised and they have investigative powers. And if at the end of that process, someone is convicted of something, it gives you the impression that there was something there.
CORNISH: So many of these documentaries appear to reveal the ways in which the media, journalism, and people did not look hard or long enough, especially when a celebrity is involved. Do you think we’re taking anything away from all of these documentaries? Is there enough scrutiny of how the media has treated these people over the last 20, 30 years?DEGGANS: Without a doubt. And, you know, I think that was a major lesson from both the R. Kelly documentary and the Britney Spears documentaries.
You know, “Framing Britney Spears” in particular spent a fair amount of time showing journalists asking really insulting questions of Britney Spears, showing the impact of hordes of paparazzi following her around all the time, showing all of the crazy things that some people would do to get a picture of her or to try and get some – a little whisper of information about her.
R. Kelly | Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @njtimesofficial. To get the latest updates