How does the prevalence of rape myths affect society and our appreciation of art? Why is statutory rape—sex with a partner who is not of the age of consent—viewed differently than other kinds of sexual assault? And what does it say when society champions the work of an artist whose personal deeds most would condemn when confronted with them?
Annmarie van Altena is a sociologist who teaches at Loyola University Chicago and specializes in issues of gender, work, media, consumption, and subcultures. A former riot grrrl, she also volunteers with Rape Victim Advocates.
Here are some of the highlights of van Altena’s interview:
"That he was acquitted we seem to believe means that he was innocent… Only three percent of rapes actually result in a prison sentence."
"It’s a responsibility of us as a society to know the truth, and if people are being victimized, it’s up to us to raise that awareness."
"Music is an extension of a lot of our core beliefs, really, and it reflects our culture and how we think... Music is never just music."
"As far as the artist goes, everybody is human. Everybody has their flaws. But if their flaws include horrible crimes, we have to think about that."
"If you like something, often you don’t want to know bad things about it. You want to overlook the problems—that what you like could be problematic—and you want to not think about it. But if we’re responsible and we want to be a responsible member of society, we need to. If you like the music, you like the music, right? Does that mean that you have to support him? I don’t think so. I think as a responsible person you need to get informed about what’s going on and act according to your own morals and values. And examine how much of the way you’re judging this is about things like accepting things like rape myths. How much do you really know about what’s going on, and how much of the way you’re judging the situation is based on misinformation about what rape is?"
Ahead of R. Kelly headlining Pitchfork Music Festival, WBEZ’s Jim DeRogatis conducts a series of conversations with smart, passionate cultural critics. Videos have been edited for length and clarity.