Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

Critical Witness

To begin, a link. Hope it's permanent, because what I have to say afterward may be hard to understand without reference to Chicago Sun-Times reporter Kim Janssen's text. The subject is a judge's ruling requiring longtime Sun-Times rock critic Jim DeRogatis to testify in what Janssen calls "R. Kelly's child porn trial." Here's the link:

I don't fully understand the legalities involved, although it would seem to me that there would be dangers to source anonymity in any testimony regarding the circumstances of DeRogatis's receipt of the videotape purporting to show Kelly having sex with a 15-year-old--which means among other things urinating on her, or so it is reported and so it looked to me when I searched up the images online while researching this Voice piece in 2004. (A little surprised that the case only came to trial four years later? Then you've never given thought one, or anyway thought two, to this horrible saga.) But for my critical purposes, some of the language in this report struck me as even more troublesome.

For instance, I wish Janssen had made clear exactly what Kelly's attorney means by DeRogatis's "extreme prejudice"? Does that mean he'd said negative things about Kelly's art? Perhaps even the sexual content of Kelly's art, which definitely left itself open to moral dissent? The question being why DeRogatis's aesthetic judgment should come into play when he's trying to estimate the legal or moral culpability of Kelly's behavior. I'm not being disengenuous. Obviously we believe on the artistic evidence that the Marquis de Sade or even Mick Jagger is more likely to engage in certain kinds of lascivious behavior than, oh--hmm, it's kind of hard to think of a name. Nathaniel Hawthorne? Barry Manilow? I wouldn't put money on it. But you know what I mean. Nevertheless, you'd have to be a much bigger fool than DeRogatis (who's had his moments) to make the leap from art to behavior. And it's behavior that's at issue here.

Clouding the issue further, however, is the quote from DeRogatis's attorney: "whether or not Mr. DeRogatis harbors bias against pedophiles is neither here nor there." What is that supposed to mean? That the DeRogatis judgments in question weren't musical? That his piece on the videotape expressed moral outrage at its content? Neither here nor there indeed. Is Kelly's attorney really suggesting that there's something inherently unfair-minded about harboring bias against pedophiles? I'd really like to know, and hope someone clears it up.

Admittedly, as anyone who's ever looked into fair use doctrine knows, the legal world frequently gets flummoxed when aesthetic distinctions are adduced. In the hip-hop world, meanwhile, the primary meaning of the word "critic" is "someone who doesn't like anything about me and says so." R&B star Kelly isn't a full-fledged hip-hopper, but I would bet he'd go along with that. To my knowledge, however, he's never taken the next step--which a few hip-hoppers have--of threatening bodily harm to his critics in song. And if he had, it wouldn't prove or even indicate that R. Kelly the individual meant it.

1 Comment

By Joe Levy on June 2, 2008 9:56 AM

I don't remember R. Kelly ever threatening harm to his critics in song, but I wonder if you saw this clip, which adds the detail that shortly after he broke the story of the videotape, someone put a bullet in DeRogatis' door?

http://www.thedailyswarm.com/swarm/r-kelly-trial-who-put-bullet-through-jim-derogatis-front-door/

Articles, May 31, 2008

Postscript Notes:

Also see the following post: Critical Witness Update.


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