Brow Beat

Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson Compares the Catholic Church to R. Kelly

Pete Davidson sitting at the Weekend Update desk.
If SNL issues an apology over this, it should probably go to Sinead O’Connor.

Pete Davidson stopped by Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update desk this week to talk about the recent wave of celebrities being brought down by allegations of sexual misconduct. Although the comedian recently had to apologize after a different Weekend Update segment in which he made fun of Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s eyepatch, he came in hot once again, asking, “If you support the Catholic Church, isn’t that the same thing as being an R. Kelly fan?” Davidson’s analogy went over like a lead balloon with the studio audience, so we may be in for another apology tour when the show returns on March 30, if not a full-on Joe-Pesci-type situation. In this case, the critics have a point, because his examples really weren’t apples to apples: One used an authoritarian culture of secrecy to enable and conceal reprehensible acts of sexual abuse and pedophilia for years, while the other is a three-time Grammy winning singer and songwriter. Here’s Davidson on his problematic faves:

The segment is very good as comedy, but as advice for ethically consuming art, it’s very good as comedy. Davidson is right that once you cull the monsters, the canon starts looking a little thin—see Slate’s Carl Wilson on grappling with Michael Jackson’s legacy for more on this—but he elides an obvious difference between watching a Charlie Chaplin film and listening to R. Kelly’s music. For one thing, I enjoy Charlie Chaplin movies and never much cared for R. Kelly. But even more importantly, Kelly is still alive, and any money spent on his art right now is money that could wind up funding his legal defense. And Davidson’s idea of buying what are essentially carbon offsets for sex abuse also seems like a non-starter: organizations that fight sexual abuse are not (and should not be) in the business of selling indulgences to people who don’t want to feel guilty about listening to “Ignition (Remix).” Still, this is interesting:

For guys like R. Kelly, the rule should be if you want to listen to their music, you just have to admit that they’re bad people. … Pretending these people never existed is maybe not the solution, you know? The rule should be like, you can appreciate their work, but only if you admit what they did. You can buy a Mustang, but you have to say, “Henry Ford hated the Jews!” as you buckle in, you know? The full sentence should be “Mark Wahlberg beat up an old Asian dude, and I would like one ticket to Daddy’s Home 3, please.” Because if it’s that important to you, at least own it. You know, like, I don’t need to ever see a Kevin Spacey movie again, but if the CEO of Swisher Sweets turns out to be a cannibal, I can’t just change my whole life

That seems like a useful way to think about these kinds of situations: Checking to make sure you’re still willing to separate the art (or the blunt wrap) from the artist after explicitly naming the human suffering you are overlooking or enabling—and, just as importantly, making sure you’re willing to openly defend the trade-off you’ve made—at least ensures you’ve made a conscious choice. If only there were any credible moral authorities left to help make it.