There’s No Severing Michael Jackson’s Art From His Obsession With Children by Jack Hamilton
It’s in his songs. It’s in his videos. You’ll never hear him the same way again.
February 27, 2019
[The author discusses his memories of listening to Jackson narrate an early 1980s E.T. audio book when he was a kid in the 80s]
….I’ve found myself thinking about all this a lot since I first saw Leaving Neverland. It’s impossible to watch Dan Reed’s film and the testimonies of its protagonists, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, in good faith without concluding that Michael Jackson molested children, and did so repeatedly, methodically, and remarkably flagrantly. It’s this last part—flagrantly—that has most haunted me since watching the film. As Slate’s Sam Adams wrote in his review of the film, Jackson comes off as “a Pied Piper who, it now seems, was masking his abuse by parading it in plain sight.”
One way Jackson did this was by constructing one of the most unusual celebrity personae in history, the King of Pop whose most prized court members were, unfailingly, young children.
Children and childhood loom enormously over the whole of Michael Jackson’s work. No other adult pop star has ever been so blatantly preoccupied with children and childish things—I can’t think of another who’s even in the remote vicinity. Particularly from the mid-1980s onward, children are everywhere in Jackson’s audiovisual oeuvre, deployed incessantly as sidekicks, props, and foils.
[The author then discusses the use of children in many of Michael Jackson’s tours, songs, music videos, and his habit of donating a lot of money to child-based charities]
….In reality, it appears these endeavors created a blurring of Jackson’s charitable work with children and the more sinister sides of his fascination, which undoubtedly worked to his advantage.
….The second, and even more powerful, way of sidestepping the topic was by appealing to Jackson’s own history—and, by extension, ours. Before he was the King of Pop, Michael Jackson was the greatest child star of the post–World War II era. As the lead singer of the Jackson 5, he recorded four No. 1 singles before he turned 12 years old, an astonishing achievement that also feels vaguely amoral.
….Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the biggest proponents of this narrative was Michael Jackson himself. Jackson himself spoke openly and often of not having had a childhood, and framed his interactions with children as a sort of vicarious form of redress.
Explaining Neverland Ranch to CBS’s Ed Bradley in 2003, Jackson remarked, “I wanted to have a place that I could create everything that I never had as a child. So, you see rides. You see animals. There’s a movie theater. I was always on tour, traveling. You know? And—I never got a chance to do those things. … And we have busloads of kids, who don’t get to see those things. They come up sick children, and enjoy it. They enjoy it in a pure, loving, fun way. It’s people with the dirty mind that think like that.”
These types of statements would come up again and again in defenses of Jackson, from himself, from his various advocates, even from this very publication.
Their over simplicity both exploits and assuages that looming sense of collective guilt: They feel true. He gave up his childhood for us. We did this to him. It’s only when you are faced with the reality of the toxic manipulation and control allegedly wielded by Jackson behind closed doors—examples of which Leaving Neverland offers no shortage—that the self-pity starts to curdle into something more monstrous.
Michael Jackson may not have had a childhood, or at least not the one he thought he wanted, but that didn’t give him the right to anyone else’s.
One of the hardest questions in all of this is where to go from here. Jackson’s influence over global popular culture is so massive that to even try to erase him would render the entire enterprise incoherent.
Read the rest of that essay on Slate