You don't have to have a single opinion about the pop singer Kesha's music/persona/image/career, etc. to feel enraged by a headline like the one above, or to be stopped in your tracks by the photo that accompanied it from the NY Daily News report Friday.
The story of her ongoing attempts to get out from under an exclusive contract with producer "Dr. Luke" (Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald)—whom she has accused of drugging and raping her 10 years ago—for up to six more albums has been a consistent source of discussion on social media since she went public with the story, and a lawsuit against Gottwald, in October of 2014. The ruling today concerned an injunction she filed in September of 2015 requesting that she be allowed to record music with other producers. (A good primer on the story up to now by Gerrick D. Kennedy of the LA Times can be found here.)
The News also reported that Gottwald 1) has not been charged with any crime; 2) has countersued Kesha for breach of contract; 3) has denied any abuse and asserts that her allegations—which include multiple instances of physical, mental, and sexual abuse in addition to the rape—constitute "extortion" designed to get her out of her contract. “Luke hasn’t seen Kesha in years," his lawyer told the paper. "This kind of cynical grandstanding in which false claims of abuse are used as a negotiating tactic insults real victims."
Kesha hasn't released any new music in three years. In the same three years, Dr. Luke has produced/co-written “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, “Roar” by Katy Perry, “We Are One” by Pitbull, “Pills N Potions” by Nicki Minaj, and many other massive hits. Gottwald produced and co-wrote all the music (nine singles, three albums) released under Kesha's name between 2009 and 2013.
All the most familiar tropes of the public rape allegation are present in this story, including the direct accusation by Gottwald's attorney that Kesha is making the whole thing up because she wants to get out of her contract. The implication being: If she was so upset about having been raped and abused, why did she keep working with him for so many years? Why did she go on as his "partner"? Why did she not complain when things were going well?
The corollary implications—that Gottman groomed her to be easily controlled, and that she was young, mollified by early success, and cowed by Gottman's money, power, and access to fame (i.e. all the reasons abusers abuse people), and therefore had legitimate reasons to be too scared to come forward—don't appear to factor into the proceedings. They're only being voiced by commentators, and implicitly by the growing legion of fans chanting "Free Kesha!" in the gallery and on the courthouse.
The most frustrating part about watching all this from afar is the by-no-means-new idea that the entire apparatus of contract and criminal law favors the person being accused—not by some coincidence, but as a foundational principle. This is in addition to the protection that Gottwald enjoys as a result of his stunningly popular and lucrative work as a hitmaking producer/songwriter in a music biz landscape that is desperate to preserve its rapidly declining profit centers. Every element of the current scenario is perfectly aligned to discredit the person making the complaint.
Not to mention that "contract law" in the music business is a joke. That entire apparatus favors the label (or in this case, the producer), unless the artist is spectacularly powerful, unusually tenacious, or sufficiently cavalier about future career prospects to see a years-long litigation through to resolution. (It's worth mentioning that there are innumerable precedents in the music industry for artists being released from contracts of this kind with the wave of a wrist, as well as multiple scenarios in which an artist might be freed from a restrictive contract while still being accountable for past debts.)
The question the judge is asking is: Why should she be allowed to work with anyone else?
The question the situation demands is: Why should Dr. Luke be so adamant that she work with only him? Is there a more telltale indication that an abuser may be in the house?
Despite being at a massive legal disadvantage, and despite it requiring that she confront one of the most commercially successful and therefore powerfully-friended men in her industry, Kesha has gone ahead with the lawsuit.
Legally and logically, the presumption of innocence is also a de jure presumption that the accuser is lying (a uniquely brutal consequence given the nature of rape).
The person with the least power in a rape trial is the accuser. The person with the least power in the music business is the person who represents the smallest earning potential.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Gottman claims to have invested $60 million in creating Kesha's career. (Not for nothing, but a number like that might make you pause to consider into whose pocket that .0000001 of a nickel goes to the next time you crank up one of the aforementioned Dr. Luke smash hits for a stream.)
In that same report, the judge ruling on the injunction says, "You're asking the court to decimate [sic] a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry... My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing."
The commercially reasonable thing, in this case, is to require a woman to honor an agreement she made when she was a teenager to remain under the control of a man she says raped, drugged, battered, manipulated, insulted, and demeaned her repeatedly for several years—or to give up her livelihood. (Actually, in all likelihood, AND give up her livelihood.)
Being a moral person with a measure of sensitivity to the way power works in the world requires a default position of believing a woman when she says she was raped. Being a discerning citizen of media culture requires a default position of using the word "alleged" and stipulating that it's always possible that allegations are either false or unprovable.
Seeing that picture of a woman sobbing in court at the thought of her entire life being welded to the whims of this guy—even if he is technically or actually not guilty—requires a default position of contempt for the inequities and iniquities of the justice system and for the music industry. It requires that one recognize that "rape culture" is not just internet sloganeering, but an active, transitive process. (As journalist Jessica Hopper tweeted, "To be in the courtroom for Kesha hearing today was to see the machinations of rape culture in high gear.")
It requires that you get real about the professional—but more to the point, the human—liberation of Kesha, even if you have never knowingly heard a note of her music or seen one of her videos, and even if you find her whole pop star shtick somewhat distasteful, uninteresting, gauche, whatever. In this case, that stuff could not matter less.
It requires, finally, that you take a side.