Graham: Canceling R. Kelly, but now what?

R. Kelly is the latest celeb to be cast aside by the public. So what happens to him, and others, now?

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
R. Kelly

Bye-bye, R. Kelly. 

Kells, the R&B superstar whose name has long been synonymous with allegations of sexual misconduct, finally met his match this week with the Lifetime series "Surviving R. Kelly." The six-part docuseries, which dove extensively into Kells' troubling sexual past, represented a public tipping point and the "Bump N' Grind" singer has at long last been given a one-way ticket to Cancellation Island, where he joins Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and other entertainers, politicians, newsmen and artists who have been swept up in the #MeToo movement.

Bon voyage, Robert, and don't bother sending a postcard.  

The question is, what do we do with him — and the rest of them — now?

I ask because I don't know the answer. And it doesn't seem like we've yet figured out what we're supposed to do with these people, or how they're expected to carry on going forward.

To be clear: I am not saying they are victims. They made their beds. But now that they've been cast aside, what now, both for us and for them? 

One school of thought is they should be banished forever. They made their money, more money than most of us will ever see, so it's on them to budget wisely and live the rest of their existence in exile, away from the public eye. And let's kill the "Ignition" remix off those party playlists while we're at it.  

Another mindset is we shouldn't be worrying about them at all, we should be paying attention to the victims of these incidents, and creating environments where these incidents no longer occur. That is the type of long-term change we're just beginning to enact, and the effects will be felt for years as we feel out and adapt to this new reality. 

What hasn't been decided is the comeback arc, perhaps because it's too early, or perhaps because we haven't yet seen any good examples from this wave of offenders of how it can be done.

As Louis C.K. has proven, time does not heal all wounds, or at least not enough time has elapsed between his transgressions and his attempt to slowly re-enter the American consciousness. 

As Louis C.K. has also proven, the best way to re-enter the American consciousness is probably not by making fun of the Parkland High School shooting survivors. It's a routine he probably could have dressed up and gotten away with when he was one of comedy's golden boys, but not now. 

So, what now? Should he clean up his act, or is he supposed to go away for good? 

R. Kelly, who has long trafficked in sexually explicit songs (see "Poetic Sex," "Sextime," "Crazy Sex," "Sex Planet," "Good Sex," "Sex Weed," "(Sex) Love is What We Makin'," "The Greatest Sex," "Sex Me (Part I)/ Sex Me (Part II)" and "I Like the Crotch on You," all real song titles), has never toned down, and has remained defiant in the face of mounting public backlash. Now that the backlash is at an all-time high, will he continue to tour, and can he continue to release albums such as 2013's "Black Panties?"

R. Kelly has never apologized for his acts. Others have, with varying degrees of eloquence and effectiveness. Those apologies usually include passages about "working" on oneself to better understand the underlying issues that caused such behavior, or reaching out to communities hurt by the acts and working to repair the wounds. Many ring false. 

We saw a version of that with Kevin Hart and his recent Oscars flub. Hart came under fire after he was announced as host of this year's Academy Awards and questions about homophobic jokes he had made in the past came to light. Hart said he had apologized for those remarks in the past, but those apologies proved difficult to uncover. Hart seemed perturbed by the whole thing and he threw up his hands and took himself out of the running as Oscars host. There was an actual apology issued in there somewhere, but it was lost in the PR car wreck. 

The entire matter was handled very clumsily, and could have gone a different way had Hart made a sincere apology, been more contrite in his comments and offered a bridge to the LGBTQ community. Now the Oscars are set to unfold without a host, which is fitting in a year where the spotlight has grown so bright on performers and the misdeeds in their pasts that everyone is scrambling to avoid the glare.

It's telling that the most heartfelt apology to come from this era was made by a woman, Lady Gaga. In a statement this week, Gaga apologized for her 2013 collaboration with R. Kelly, "Do What U Want," explaining at the time of the recording she hadn't processed her own experiences with sexual assault, which led to her "twisted" thinking and "poor judgment." She acted swiftly, removing the song from streaming services, and she offered her support to Kelly's victims. It was straightforward and honest. And for anyone looking for advice on how to bounce back from a scandal and move forward, it was a shining example of how it can be done the right way. 

So, who's next?