It's been a few months since HBO's Michael Jackson documentary "Leaving Neverland" premiered on the network and since then, there's been ample discussion and debate over the validity of the claims made in the film ... and let's not forget the social media bashing of those supporting the alleged victims of child abuse conducted by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. While the movie's subject matter revolves around the larger-than-life celebrity lifestyle that Jackson lived, the main focal point of Dan Reed's movie are the recollections of two former friends of the singer's: James Safechuck and Wade Robson. Both men, who are now in their 30s, recount similar tales of their long-running relationships with Michael Jackson -- including some graphically disturbing goings-on that happened behind closed doors away from their parents when they were young boys.
Needless to say, the detractors of the movie were already petitioning HBO and launching a passionate pro-Michael Jackson campaign on Twitter. From blasting the network for picking up the documentary in the first place to labeling Safechuck and Robson as frauds, "Leaving Neverland" re-ignited a debate that has been going on for decades: Was Michael Jackson a pedophile? It's a difficult question to answer. During his life, there were many lawsuits filed against the singer claiming child abuse from various young boys he befriended. But while the behavior of an adult man having sleepovers with boys definitely raised, and continues to raise, red flags, time and again the singer escaped any sort of imprisonment as no solid evidence was found linking him to these alleged crimes.
Michael Jackson passed nearly 10 years ago, and any claims of child abuse from this point on may be looked at as hearsay. But while we may never know for sure if Jackson was indeed guilty of committing these crimes -- Safechuck and Robson both present very strong, very emotional cases in the documentary -- it's worth wondering if it's still okay to be a fan of Michael Jackson's music. In a recent episode of Showtime's late-night talk show, "Desus & Mero," the Bodega Boys were asked if Michael Jackson should be canceled which prompted them to point out that the singer is dead so ... hasn't he already been canceled?
It's a worthy, albeit simplistic, point. What harm does it actually do to Jackson or his estate if people stop listening to his music?
Spin Magazine reported on March 24 that the King of Pop's legacy will remain intact at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (here's the link to that story: https://www.spin.com/2019/03/michael-jackson-rock-roll-and-hall-of-fame-leaving-neverland-allegations/). And I'm pretty sure the die-hard MJ fans are not at all phased by the HBO doc, which they consider to be just another character attack against the music icon. But it's also 2019, and we're living in a time where more and more people are coming forward to share the abuse they've suffered in their lives. It's taken just 20 years for the public opinion of Lorena Bobbitt, for example, to shift from perceiving her as the villain to recognizing her own victimhood in the abusive relationship she shared with former husband John Wayne Bobbitt. And like the HBO documentary that has many Michael Jackson fans up in arms, Amazon's docu-series "Lorena" shines a light on the culture of willful ignorance we lived in just two decades ago.
We'll probably never see a celebrity with as much power as Michael Jackson had. He was loved globally, befriended royalty, and involved himself in many humanitarian efforts to make the world a better place. His focus was on helping children, which makes these horrifying allegations of child abuse that much harder to stomach. I was a member of the Michael Jackson fan club when I was a boy. I emulated his dance moves, watched the Thriller music video and behind-the-scenes featurette more times than I could count, owned a red zipper jacket and glitter glove and pretty much coveted everything MJ-related. And much like many of Jackson's die-hard fans -- who have proceeded to attack Oprah Winfrey's character after she voiced her support of Safechuck and Robson in her "Leaving Neverland" special (Check out The Hollywood Reporter link to this story: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/oprah-winfrey-talks-backlash-she-received-leaving-neverland-special-1201112) -- I was always quick to defend Jackson each-and-every time a new claim came forward against the man.
Not only does time heal all wounds -- it helps lend some much-needed clarity to things. Just the other day, walking through Ikea, "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough," the hit track off of Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall," album came on the store's stereo system and I had to pause. The jury may still be out on Michael Jackson's perceived innocence or guilt in this matter. But, what about the court of public opinion? Is it still okay to listen to Michael Jackson? Honestly, I'm not so sure.