What are we to do about Michael Jackson?
The music star who once took the world by storm. The effervescent entertainer, intent on pleasing audiences with his dance moves and iconic moonwalk. The thirteen Grammy award winner who churned out memorable songs such as “Thriller,” “Beat It,” and “Billie Jean,” propelling him to achieve an unthinkable level of popularity and appeal.
Despite this startling record of success, we knew something was off. His interview with Martin Bashir in the documentary Living With Michael Jackson back in the early 2000’s revealed enough for us to know that something nefarious was going on at “Neverland,” Jackson’s famed estate. “Why can’t you share your bed? That’s the most loving thing to do, to share your bed with someone,” Jackson tells Bashir at one point. Prompting an important question. When did it become socially acceptable in American culture to share your bed with a child that is not your own?
Despite such alarming statements, Jackson was exonerated by the courts. Enduring a very public trial in 2005, he was found not guilty on all charges. Jackson walked free. This led his friend, famous actress Elizabeth Taylor, to declare, “Thank God Michael is vindicated for all time. Now maybe people will leave him alone.”
Until now. A new documentary on HBO, Leaving Neverland, is bringing allegations of child sexual abuse against Michael Jackson to the forefront of the national consciousness once more. The documentary focuses on Wade Robson and James Safechuck’s accounts of childhood sexual abuse carried out by Jackson. Apparently, the evidence is quite compelling, so much so that even Oprah Winfrey decided to interview the men, arguing that “this moment transcends Michael Jackson.”
And it does. Child sexual abuse is quite prevalent, even in our present day. According to statistics posted on the National Center for Victims of Crimewebsite, “1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.” A startling number, considering the fact that so often, the public appears hesitant to readily embrace stories of abuse when survivors come forward.
With this story now front and center, the documentary has generated much attention and controversy, inciting the Jackson family to once again vigorously defend one of their own. They are not the only ones – others have taken to social media, strenuously arguing the iconic star’s innocence. Jackson, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 50, is no longer here to defend himself. Yet he provided plenty of protestations of innocence in the past. It is hardly conjecture to assume what he would say if he was with us now.
While one can easily get bogged down by the particulars of the allegations, one thing is painfully clear. For far too long, Michael Jackson was given a free pass by much of the American public, because we chose to believe that his celebrity and importance to our culture somehow precluded him from carrying out the acts described by those who have come forward in the past. Michael was a god-like figure to some, an iconic one to many. We loved the way he made us feel, listening to his catchy lyrics and watching him as he burst into dance on stage. How could a man who entertained millions be involved in heinous acts of child abuse?
Yet we have learned in the last few years that fame does little to tame inner demons. In fact, it may serve to embolden them. After Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and now Michael Jackson (among countless others), isn’t it past time to start taking allegations of abuse more seriously?
In the wake of these graphic revelations, some have offered a defense of Jackson, centering around his abusive childhood. His father, Joe, notoriously beat his children, as many of the Jackson progeny have gone on to detail in various accounts. These horrid tales of abuse notwithstanding, they cannot serve as a sufficient excuse for Jackson’s behavior. How many among us have endured abusive childhoods, without growing into adulthood and sexually abusing children?
Despite Jackson’s passing, the indelible mark he left on American culture is undeniable. His presence remains, as his songs can be heard at bars, public events, even grocery stores across the country. Perhaps now, instead of replaying his hits and venerating the memory of a deeply troubled man, we can come to grips with the allegations against him, and choose to listen to those left in his ruinous wake.
“I always get what I want,” Michael Jackson reportedly told Wade Robson’s mother, Joy, decades ago.
After more than 25 years of allegations, the question remains. Will we continue to let him get what he wants?