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The Fault in Our Sentimental Bullshit

R. Kelly, The Superbowl, and the Outsourcing of Conscience

I haven't blogged in a while--busy with stuff that actually pays the bills. But I've also been trying to pull a bunch of thoughts together that were occasioned by this article about R. Kelly.  It's difficult to read but, I think, important.  (I did not read the legal complaints because there's only so much real-life horror I can stand.) 

I watched and enjoyed Trapped in the Closet despite knowing that R. Kelly had urinated in a 14-year-old girl's mouth on video. I regret to say that I have also seen some of Roman Polanski's post-rape movies despite knowing that he was a fugitive from justice for sexual offenses against a 13-year-old girl. (Though it was only later that I found out the sickening details of Polanski's crime.)

And I certainly wasn't alone in enjoying (well, that may be a little strong when we're talking about latter-day Polanski--I guess Frantic was kind of okay) this art by terrible people.  

And I think it's important here to distinguish enjoying art by assholes like, say, Jack White, from giving financial support to "monsters" like Polanski and Kelly who use that money to prey on young girls and evade justice. 

I realized that one reason I supported both artists was that I had outsourced my conscience. Well, surely, I thought, Polanski must be okay or Johnny Depp and Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver wouldn't make movies with him.  Surely R. Kelly can't be that bad--he's on IFC!

Why the hell was I expecting for-profit corporations or movie stars to be my moral compass?

We all outsource our consciences to one degree or another.  Indeed, there's actually a lot of societal pressure to do so.  In the R. Kelly article, Jim DiRogatis,the reporter who broke the story, talks a little bit about being pretty much the only reporter or music critic who cared about this stuff for years and years, and Jessica Hopper, who conducted the interview, admits to being flippant with him on Twitter when he recently brought this stuff up.

This is, I think, most people's reaction whenever someone asserts their conscience.  God, you're annoying. Why can't you just let it go?

Today on Facebook, a friend of a friend posted this comment: "everyone loves meat. except the vegannoyings."  

Ugh! I know, right?  Why do those assholes remind us that we don't have to support treating animals like objects? Why can't they just go with the flow?

A few months ago, based on stuff I was reading about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy as well as other factors, I broke up with football.  It's pretty clear to me that professional football players are ruining their brains for our entertainment and a few big paydays.  I don't really want to support that.

If you're ignorant about what football does to its players, just google "NFL  CTE" and read for a while.  And see if that affects your enjoyment of a big hit.  It did for me. 

Lest you think I can barely see you from atop my high horse, I will point out that I am not a vegan. This is because I currently lack the personal strength to give up cheese and eggs.  And I know that I am supporting the abuse of dairy cows and egg-laying hens.  I don't know a lot about where my clothes are made, but I'm gonna go ahead and guess they're made in a poor country by exploited workers making pennies a day and probably working in unsafe conditions.  I'm typing this on a computer probably made under similar conditions.

The way we live is pretty deeply screwed up. Which is why I think we react with annoyance to people who assert their individual conscience. Good God, if I have to start making consumer decisions based on my conscience, I'm going to be paralyzed!  Our entire way of life is a house of cards that depends on denial of the uglier aspects!  

Well, maybe. But I don't think so.  I don't think everyone should go vegetarian or vegan or that everyone needs to boycott the same things that I do.  But I do think that everyone needs to find some way to back their consciences with their wallets. 

Because fundamentally this is the most power we have.  Our society worships and runs on money. As long as there's money to be made, someone will step up and make it, even if what they're doing is evil.  We can't wait for laws or regulations to enforce our consciences; we have a responsibility to do it ourselves.  

And it can make a difference.  The divestment movement of the late 80's hit apartheid in the wallet and was one factor in ending that particular evil. Sea World is panicking right now about Blackfish because they're afraid that the truth about how they operate will hurt their bottom line.

But even if your refusal to buy something  doesn't stop the practice you object to, at least it stops you from being complicit in it.  Circuses might continue to abuse elephants, but if you're not in the seats, you're not paying the salary of the guy who hits the elephants with a big hook to get them to do stupid tricks. 

The way we live is so poisonous that it's probably impossible to do everything.  But that doesn't mean you should do nothing. 

Try voting with your wallet on one thing that matters to you and see how it feels.  And maybe take it easy on other people doing the same thing.

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