Once upon a time, at my now very redundant local video shop, there would have been a note on my file: Chloe Bridge, 5 years old – rents Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker every single time.
My introduction to live music was the all-consuming sound reverberating through my seven year old ribcage as the opening bars of ‘Jam’ pounded its base line through Wembley Stadium on the Dangerous tour.
But, above all, the undoubted draw for me when it came to Michael Jackson and his ‘world’, was how big a part children played in his work, from his adverts to his musical films. He had this way of capturing children’s imaginations, he made everything seem so fun, you couldn’t help but want to be his friend.
It turns out that being able to assimilate with the mindset of a child is a pretty successful method if you have peadophillic aspirations.
I don’t want to spend time debating the plausibility of the stories in Leaving Neverland. A court of law has us go by the mantra of innocent until proven guilty. But with victims of sexual abuse. I think it’s important to always assume the other way round. Because the impact of dismissing claims of sexual abuse is far too damaging. What does it say if we take power away in this manner and make it harder for people to come forward?
The backlash that I have seen on social media from Michael Jackson’s defenders is astonishing in it’s magnitude, and deeply saddening. Instead of making attempts to disprove someone’s credibility in ways that are far from evidence-based, we should be listening, and let the appropriate authorities investigate. When you’ve been living an alternate story for most of your life – the truth of that story having so many implications for your entire family – I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must be to finally start talking.
My enjoyment of Michael Jackson’s music continued into adulthood, where it mainly served me well in pub quiz trivia, karaoke duets of I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, and convincing my friends that we needed to host fancy dress parties – “Come as your favourite MJ era”.
At the time of his death, I had tickets to three dates of his upcoming tour, and I remember the barrage of texts I received from friends who’d thought to get in touch with me on the evening the news of his death broke in the UK.
Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with friends who have asked me how I can listen to his music when the stories of his sexual abuse are so undeniable. I have always answered that I have found it surprisingly simple to separate it, because when I listen to his music or watch his live shows, the sheer ferocity of good memories from my childhood leads to a positive connect between his work and my life. It has always been a self-reflective exercise where I don’t really think of Michael Jackson the person, at all.
However, right now, in the wake of Leaving Neverland, it is a difficult time for Michael Jackson fans. Can we, and should we, separate the art from the artist? – That question has perhaps never been so confrontingly present.
Here are some things that I think:
It is a shame that the accused is deceased, and we will likely never know the full story nor have a full investigation.
It is a shame that the accused is deceased, leaving stubborn MJ truthers able to cling onto his legacy and claim any allegations as assumptive and motive-based. Jimmy Saville was a gross, lechy old man – it’s far easier to unquestionably believe posthumous abuse claims concerning him than it is for someone so beloved for his profound impact on the music industry.
It is a shame that the court case in 2005 was so marred with the fucking up of any evidence-based prosecution (I believe that is most definitely the technical, legal term).
And it is an outright injustice that the 1993 case was concluded with a financial settlement – when is it ever acceptable to settle out of court in when it comes to allegations of child abuse? Where is the safeguarding?? Just… no.
Since watching Leaving Neverland, I’ve spent a fair bit of time placing Michael Jackson’s actions into alternate scenarios, in an attempt to better understand something that just seems so incomprehensible: WHERE were the parents and what on earth were they thinking?
Your next door neighbour is a lone man who is weirdly super friendly with your kids – would you be so willing to let them have a sleepover? Absolutely not.
Imagine Michael Jackson’s obsessive interest had been toward pre-pubescent girls instead of boys, would it have seemed so innocent? Absolutely not.
Can we blame the lack of intervention from the parents on the well-trodden perspective of the 80s as a barren desert of uninvolved parenting where we are surprised that any child made it into the 90s unscathed?
Can we blame it on a lack of understanding about paedophillic tendancies towards the same sex ‘back then’?
We can possibly put it down to a mix of all of these things; a horrible time and place learning experience for future generations.
Take the fame and idolisation away and the Michael Jackson scenario always becomes a 100% creepy situation. The alarm bells didn’t ring, because he used his fame and status. Or, the alarm bells did ring, but he held too much power over the parents who were stuck between pulling their children away from a person who they adored, the successful careers that he facilitated, and all the financial gain attached to being Michael Jackson’s pals, VS quashing their doubts about him in case they were unfounded.
Nowadays, I can’t think of any comparative scenario. Sure, we have our quirky and wacky celebrities. But if ANY wacky adult male celebrities used children in their work as frequently and obsessively as Michael Jackson did. You’d be thinking “Hmmmm, that’s a bit off key, isn’t it.” Now imagine that person also hangs out with kids in his personal life and….actually, they are his only friends. *insert quizzical face emoji here*.
Whoever came up with the ‘He’s just like a child because he never had a childhood’ psychology was a bloody genius. Because we all fell for it hook, line and sinker. It is the ultimate excuse. How easy it was to forget the confronting fact that, even if he does desperately want to perceive himself as a child, that childlike mind is trapped in the body of a man, and adult bodies have adult impulses.
Both Safechuck and Robson talk openly about being able to recognise the positives of their respective relationships with Michael Jackson. In an interview on The Today Show in 2013, Wade Robson is asked the question, “When I say the name Michael Jackson, what do you think?”, Robson answers, “Heartbreak, pain, anger, and compassion’. He doesn’t see him as the boogeyman. He recognises the complexities of his life and that he was a ‘troubled man’.
So successful was Jackson’s grooming of these boys, that they still retain elements of love and humanity for their abuser.
To quote further from Wade Robson on The Today show:
“The image that one presents to the world is not the whole explanation of who someone is. Michael Jackson was an incredibly talented artist with an incredible gift. He was many things. And he was also a peadophile, and a child sexual abuser.”
Now, when I listen to Michael Jackson’s music, will I be able to separate the art from the artist? Or will I keep circling back to the idea that perhaps Michael Jackson’s ultimate dupe was that he made us all love him.