I did the ol’ shuffle thing on iTunes today and a song I haven’t listened to in a long, long time came up: Straight No Chaser’s cover of that R. Kelly song “I Believe I Can Fly.” It reminded me of the semi-infamous second debate in my public speaking class last semester, after the extremely infamous first debate got so out of hand that it was canceled and we started from scratch with a completely new topic.
The new topic: Should radio stations stop playing R. Kelly’s music in light of allegations of many, many, many counts of statutory rape, including one videotaped and several verified accounts from purported “victims?” (I don’t really believe any of these girls were guilty of statutory rape; they knew exactly what they were doing. They just wanted to screw a hunka-hunka-celebrity manbeef, and he didn’t have any particular aversion or moral qualms with the idea of screwing underage girls. Hooray—everyone’s wrong!) It was a good topic, I thought, as it had been in the news for several days and Kelly is a local celebrity. Based on the actual question posed for the debate, which concerned radio stations not playing his music because of allegations, I decided to join the team that was against radio stations doing this.
I don’t like R. Kelly’s music, and he is guilty (of that I am certain), but in theory, we live in a society in which people are innocent until proven guilty. Granted, this theory does not necessarily translate in practice, especially when the accused is a celebrity and the news media has nothing better to do than speculate on his guilt or innocence, and it’s always juicier to focus on the guilt. That’s beside the point, though. The point is that it’s improper for a radio station to quit playing his music simply because he was accused of a crime. If he went to jail, hell yeah, take him off the air. He has no place earning residuals or selling albums from a prison cell. And even if they took him off the air on the grounds of, “Hey, he’s controversial, and we’re losing listeners—that is bad medicine,” but they shouldn’t have done it simply because oh my, he’s all for family values, but here he is supposedly assblasting some 15-year-old “dancer” on video.
So the groups divided and planned debate strategies. Granted, this is Columbia College in Chicago’s beautifully grimy South Loop, so there wasn’t really enough combined brainpower in either group to screw in a light bulb, but we tried anyway. But the problem with both groups’ strategies was that they were woefully offtopic. The people in our group kept insisting that he’s innocent—there’s no way he did it!—with a list of reasons proving said innocence that bordered on farce. As soon as the first shrill girl stood up and said, “I saw that video on the Internet, and there ain’t no way he’s dumb enough to look right at the camera if he’s videotaping it,” I decided to just not speak during the course of the debate.
The opposing viewpoint was no better: mostly, they concentrated on the fact that R. Kelly’s music sucked. “Yeah, he should be taken off the radio,” they said (and here I’m paraphrasing for the sake of coherency), “because his albums suck. He sucks. He is like crap. Ban him because he sucks, not because he rapes little girls.”
Shortly after the first guy stood up and said, flat out, that R. Kelly sucks, the debate broke down. Not that there was ever much structure to begin with, but it went from a semi-formal debate into a scene from Billy Jack: a bunch of incoherent potheads with nonsense arguments trying to shout down a bunch of misinformed fans with a heavy slant toward fictional innocence.
Don, the professor, was baffled. He tried a few times to settle down the riled group, to no avail. I did not take part, and a few others also abstained. We all sort of looked from one person to another for reassurance. I could read in the others’ eyes that they were glad that at least a few semi-sane people were in the class. Finally, I looked over at Don, who looked at me with a longing that I would have assumed was lust if I hadn’t been so sure at the time that he wanted me to just stand up and shut the class the hell up. Don liked me because I was the only person in the class articulate enough to bore the class with the proceedings of the Microsoft antitrust case while somehow entertaining the three smart kids in the class (and Don himself).
And all that with no outline!
So I stood up and started talking. In high school, one of the things I learned was how to be fucking loud. So I was fucking loud, louder than any of the screeching R. Kelly fans or whiny, unbathed emo kids (no offense, Jeff), when I said, “R. Kelly is guilty.”
This was enough to shut everyone up. They all looked at me. The people on my team were dumbfounded—how could I turn on them like this? The people on the other side were equally dumbfounded—why was I so brazenly chastising the man I was supposed to support? One of the smart kids, a granola-eating, hemp-loving (but, for once, not because of the nauseating amount of pot she smokes!) girl named Sarah, smiled. I didn’t like her very much, even though she was smart, but at that second, I contemplated jumping over a row of desks, pinning her to the ground, and making wild, passionate love to her. Something about that smile and those emo glasses and the stylish black hair. Then again, I have similar fantasies about many other women at least 20 times a day, so maybe this instance wasn’t special enough to document…
I continued to speak, and said something like this: “R. Kelly is guilty, of that I am certain. I don’t think he should go to jail or pay a big fine or become a horrible blight on society. I firmly believe that the girls he had sex with were not coerced in any way—in fact, I believe they coerced him, not the other way around. But that is beside the point.
“Also, I hate R. Kelly’s music. I can’t stand any it. If I hear one of his songs on the radio, I change the station. The sound of his voice makes me want to plow into oncoming traffic, and I think it should be avoided at all costs. But that, too, is beside the point.
“The reason for this debate was to discuss whether or not radio stations should stop playing his music solely because of these allegations. They shouldn’t. It is unfair to him, his record label, and the American public, in the off-chance that he is somehow found not guilty and can put this whole thing behind him. But this debate is not about his merits as a quote-unquote ‘musician’ or whether or not these videos were doctored like the Zapruder film or faked like the moon landing. So if you guys can’t stick to the topic and have a civilized debate, why are we even taking this class? Other than to fulfill the requirement?”
Of course, I’m nowhere near this articulate, so just imagine the above with many more pauses and “ums” and stammers as I attempt to scan my brain and find the words I’m looking for.
But that thing about the Zapruder film or the faked moon landing—that was the money shot. I had the whole thing planned around that as I sat and listened to them all bitch. That was probably the only part that I didn’t stammer on.
Nobody applauded or anything. I just sat back down, and everybody was silenced. I wasn’t grandstanding or anything. Really, the only thing I wanted was for them to shut the fuck up. And to tell my conspiracy theory joke, which only Don and Sarah and Mike got.
In retrospect, this story isn’t nearly as entertaining as I thought it’d be. But it sure as hell is long, so I’m gonna post it anyway.