Why Do Stars Get Away With Behaving Badly?

Audiences often cast a blind eye when celebrities get involved in scandal.

ByABC News
June 12, 2008, 5:49 PM

June 13, 2008 — -- A jury in Chicago is deciding whether R&B singer R. Kelly is the man in a well-circulated videotape having sex with an underage girl.

But in the court of public opinion, where Kelly's fans have taken two of his albums to the top of the charts since he was first booked on child pornography charges six years ago, he might as well be not guilty.

It seems when it comes to celebrities such as Kelly, directors Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, singers Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse, and actors Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. audiences are willing to cast a blind eye on bad behavior and continue to buy their records and see their movies.

"Not only is there no such thing as bad publicity," said Andrew Wallenstein, a deputy editor at The Hollywood Reporter, "bad publicity is often the very best publicity."

In Kelly's case, his bad behavior may have even helped his record sales, Wallenstein said. Kelly has produced seven albums since June 5, 2002, when a grand jury in Cook County, Ill., indicted him on 21 counts of child pornography for allegedly videotaping himself having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Two of those albums, released in 2005 and 2007, went to No. 1, and in 2007, Kelly scored three Top 10 singles on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

"Is it possible to be disgraced in a culture like this one?" wondered Mark Crispin Miller, who teaches in the Department of Media, Culture and Communications at New York University. "It's extremely hard. It's a culture of shamelessness. People are, therefore, not only absolved of wrongdoing that they've obviously committed but even rewarded for it. It takes a great deal to be regarded as beyond the pale."

Take, for instance, director Woody Allen, whose personal life became embroiled in scandal in 1992 when his longtime partner, actress Mia Farrow, discovered that he had taken pornographic pictures of their adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, and was having an affair with the then-17-year-old. Shortly after Farrow and Allen separated, he openly continued his relationship with Previn, and the pair married in 1997 and adopted two daughters.