Opinion

Charles: Let’s stop giving celebrities a pass on criminal behavior

Apparently, when celebrity and stardom walk in the door, boundaries, red flags, screaming alarm bells, and common sense make a beeline for the window.

That’s the only explanation I can come up with in the last few months of watching criminal behavior documented time and again, from people who have much more money and name recognition than you or me.

And I get it, I really do. We see people on television, in the many platforms of media, social or otherwise, and we forget we don’t know them. We don’t know them. But we talk about them, their personal foibles, celebrations, breakups and makeups as if they were cherished companions. We buy their fashions, fix our hair the way they wear theirs, and sometimes, if we run into them in person, revel in that “brush with greatness.”

That’s not even the worst of it. The worst is when we rationalize and go into denial about their criminal behavior, refusing to acknowledge what is spelled out right in front of our eyes. We’re like those parents of ill-mannered children who make excuses when their kids run roughshod through the store, or other people’s houses, destroying everything in their wake. Instead of a reprimand, we tell proprietors and homeowners, “well, you shouldn’t have left your important things out, if you didn’t want them broken.”

We need to be done with criminal behaviors, not just the ones in our communities, but the ones played out across all airwaves.

And I say this as one who has also been in denial. But the tipping point for me came via a tweet from NPR’s Peter Sagal, after the airing of the “Leaving Neverland” documentary. He wrote: “There are people proclaiming Michael Jackson’s innocence out there tonight who don’t understand how Trump’s supporters could stand by him.”

At the time I hadn’t seen the documentary, and as of this writing, I still have only been able to stomach the first half. But it was enough to convince me that — even though many of us had been in denial for decades, even though we found his interview when he talked about sleeping with children creepy — one of my favorite singers was a predator.

Michael Jackson isn’t the only one whose past is coming under scrutiny in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

I did watch the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary in its entirety.

Now, I have to say, I’m not a big R. Kelly fan and his body of work was barely even on the periphery of my radar. His one song, “I believe I can fly” is a favorite, but I couldn’t tell you much of what else he did, because I don’t listen to a ton of R&B.

But R. Kelly was on my radar enough to know about the notorious sex tape with the underage girl and his brief marriage to a teenaged Aaliyah, before her tragic death.

I couldn’t believe the amount of denial from fans, particularly of those so emotionally invested they used intimidation and death threats to try and silence the women who came forward with their stories. Really, how can we care that much for someone we don’t know at all?

Now Michael Jackson was a contemporary. I remember the first song he and his brothers recorded, even before they were signed to Motown. It was called “Big Boy,” on a red-labeled company I don’t remember, but I probably have a copy of that 45 somewhere in my archives of records. The Jackson Five came from the state next door to my native Illinois, they were all around our age and we grew up loving their music, and going to their concerts.

We knew everything that was written about them in fan magazines, we knew the names of the other siblings not in the group, we believed that made up story about Diana Ross discovering them, we picked our favorite ones, and they were woven into the fabric of our youth.

But we did not know them.

Now, as an adult, and as a parent, it’s easy to criticize the families of these men who are now coming forward. But the King of Pop shone brighter than just about any star in the universe, save the sun. So I felt some compassion, even amid the disgust and bewilderment, that these parents allowed their elementary school-aged children to sleep in a bed with a grown man they didn’t know.

Because they didn’t know him.

And we don’t know the stars that shine around us. We just hope to capture some of that lightning in our own bottles.

Parents didn’t know Jerry Sandusky, but he was allowed to molest boys for decades simply because he was an assistant coach of a renowned college football team. People who suspected or knew said nothing, and when Joe Paterno (who it was later discovered did know about Sandusky’s crimes against children, but did nothing) was fired, Penn State students rioted. Think about rioting on behalf of someone who enabled children to be harmed.

Bill Cosby was another person I grew up watching. We saw his television shows, starting with “I Spy,” all the way to when he became “America’s Dad.” And when the stories of him drugging and raping women came out, there were more people in denial.

I remember a particular Oprah show that Cosby was on when they were talking about race. A white woman stood up and confessed her discomfort with black people, although she had no such feelings toward him. His reply was, “Well, that’s because I’m not coming to your house.” Everyone laughed, but I think about that interview now and think, lady, you may have dodged a bullet.

We don’t know these people. But we’re willing to give them a pass or two — for them, we don’t want to “rush to judgment.”

I was so disappointed when I saw people dismissing Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s arrest for solicitation. Hey, people said, he’s a widower, he gives millions to charity, and his team has won six Super Bowls. So what?

Here’s so what. These women were being sex trafficked. The investigation grabbed a few big fish in this net, capturing those who are the reason sex trafficking is a big business. Kraft was charged with a misdemeanor, and likely will get only a tap on the wrist, but people who dismiss this as no big deal are missing the big picture. And the question isn’t “did he know?” but “did he care?” If you give enough money to charity and win a few big games for your fans, do you get a pass on treating women’s bodies as commodities for your pleasure?

Make no mistake. This kind of behavior is on us. Just like when your kids act up it reflects on you and lets them know they have no boundaries, our adoration and rationalization of criminal behavior of the elite celebrity group lets them know they can always get away with it. So let’s just be done with letting them.

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