The question of what should happen when popular public figures are convincingly accused of private vileness is difficult, and it’s not going away. It’s a question both on an individual level—can I enjoy this person’s music, or movies, or athletic feats, knowing what they might have done?—and a cultural one, about whether to stop rewarding folks who may have gravely hurt others.
Those are both questions of should. But the answer to the question of does—what does happen to these people?—is different. This past year has been full of examples of celebrities’ ugly actions suddenly becoming public—and their careers surviving, except for in the most extreme cases.
On Monday, R. Kelly walked out of an interview with Huffington Post Live after Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani brought up his alleged history of preying on underage girls. Actually, she didn’t quite bring it up: She politely, confidently asked about the fact that sales for his new album The Buffet were lagging, and read tweets from fans who love his music but are creeped out by him personally. He then started to babble, mostly to keep her from asking follow-up questions.
But that filibuster contained an interesting depiction of the dynamics around a figure like Kelly, who’s been making successful R&B for two decades but who’s been repeatedly associated with—though never convicted of—having sex with minors. Kelly’s response, basically, was: I’m still selling out concerts, I still have fans who love me, who are you to tell me that my personal life is interfering with my professional career? “When I step on that stage, which is my office … if I hear what you just said, I will never show up to that venue and any other venue again,” he told Modarressy-Tehrani after she read a skeptical fan tweet to him. “Until then, I’m going to continue to do my R. Kelly.”