Sometimes, bad people create great things. This does not redeem them, but nor does it reduce the quality of their art. Michael Jackson, who died in 2009, has become a huge pop icon with countless references to him made in TV shows, theatre productions and song covers.
His music has influenced current artists and will continue to impact the future generations of music-makers. If we stop listening to his music, we cut out a huge part of our own identity and culture. Imagine a Halloween party without Thriller on the playlist. His music has become ours – especially since his death – and denying ourselves his work is an unnecessary chastity.
I do not condone celebrating him as a person – I’ve never been that much of a fan anyway – and I fully believe the allegations, but it is possible to separate the artist from the art. Because his music is so well-known around the world, it is easy to reclaim it (as song covers do) and dissociate Jackson from the dances and songs we all love.
Learning how to successfully ‘moon walk’ is considered an achievement; it is not a symbol of solidarity with paedophiles or sexual offenders. In making the iconic dance moves and songs our own, we take the power away from Jackson. We should not give in to the horror he has caused by silencing his music; we owe it to the alleged victims to not blanket the truth, and a part of that truth lies in his career as a performer.
It is acceptable to listen to and even enjoy his music while acknowledging that he was an alleged abuser.
On the same note, the millions of dollars he raised and gave to charities (many of them aiding children) should not be considered any less critical to the causes. Rejecting his music now would be like giving back his monetary donations. His music was his gift to us and we need not return it or bury it. It is ours.
I think his death plays a large role in this argument since listening to his music will not give him more money, which in turn would lead to more power and the ability to manipulate potential victims. Were this an argument about Gary Glitter or Rolf Harris, for example, I would take a different stance. However, Michael Jackson is dead and while this cannot undo any wrongs he may have committed, neither will boycotting his music.
Similarly, it is partially because of his fame and success that we can still play his music without celebrating him as a person. His music has taken on a world of its own and does not reflect the abuse.
The music video for Thriller was revolutionary for its time and the album of the same title remains the best-selling album of all time. This cannot be cut from history. It is also important to remember Jackson’s success as a black artist since black representation in the music industry is still a huge issue.
What makes Jackson’s endless accolades even more impressive is that he suffered from mental illnesses. It is extremely rare for an artist to do so well when battling depression, anxiety and addiction. If we associate Michael Jackson the singer with Michael Jackson the abuser, we begin to villainise others with mental health issues and demean their ability to succeed.
Of course, his enormous success means that there will always be die-hard fans who will do all they can to shield Michael Jackson’s name from negativity. Fortunately, the crowdfunded ‘MJ Innocent’ campaign has been removed from London’s buses after complaints that the posters shame victims of sexual abuse and discourage people to come forward.
While I am pleased to see his face removed from public transport, it would be a loss for his music to be muted. I accept that some people will now find his songs uncomfortable and I appreciate that some companies are well within their rights to remove any involvement of him, including an episode of The Simpsons which has since been removed from streaming services and TV channels.
One of the show’s producers has contended that Jackson used the episode as a platform to abuse young boys, highlighting the risk that comes with bestowing accused abusers with more fame. However, in this instance it is acceptable to listen to Michael Jackson’s music because doing so cannot give him more of a platform for abuse.
Erasing his music also runs the risk of belittling the allegations. Isn’t it better to be transparent rather than edit history? The victims have bravely spoken up, I believe their abuse to be real. Michael Jackson’s music is real. Denying that does his alleged victims no favours.
Rebecca Spencer: Comment Editor
I do not believe it is possible to separate the artist from the art in the case of Michael Jackson – the most recognised name the world-over. If ‘Thriller’ plays, what do you think of? Michael Jackson. He was not just a musician. He was a public figure, the biggest celebrity and social influencer in the world. Can we hear Michael Jackson’s songs and not have his name pop into our heads? Unless you’re an absolute hermit, no.
Continuing to play Jackson’s music does not ‘reclaim his music as our own’ and show disgust towards paedophilia. It could be seen to immensely condone it. It sends a message – Michael you (allegedly) molested numerous young boys and blackmailed them into keeping silent, and we are so angry about it that we are going to continue to celebrate your music and create massive revenue in your name. That doesn’t quite make sense to me.
If you had a younger brother, nephew or son who had been sexually abused; how would you feel sat next to someone on the train listening to Jackson? A man who has confounding evidence set against him for claims of child-abuse. A man who paid a settlement of $22 million to 13-year-old Jordan Chandler, who took him to court for sexual-abuse. It’s kind of a stab in the gut, right? That a paedophile can go on being celebrated, regardless of their heinous actions, simply because he was a ‘living legend’, a ‘musical genius’ and above all a ‘super-star’. It is unnacceptable.
The era of celebrities doing whatever they want and getting away with it is over. Sadly, Jackson isn’t alive to receive his punishment. However, the #metoo movement has become the revolutionary symbolic end to ‘untouchable’ celebs, who seem to think they are above the law.
Jackson spread love and peace through his music, subsequently people were so desperate to believe he was the guy that his music and charity donations confessed, that they ignored and criticised the boy that bravely stepped forward to reveal he had been sexually abused.
What do we owe to the victims? To finally acknowledge the truth whole-heartedly. I refuse to accept that we can say; yes it’s awful that he abused kids, but he is still a hero for all the work he did for black rights and kids charities.
We cannot regard him as the beacon of light that we once did. People worship him like a deity, but he was allegedly a paedophile. If Martin Luther King had been a serial rapist, would we hold his legacy in the same esteem?
There’s no way that Jackson’s music could ever be obliterated from the planet, and nor should it be. Indeed it is part of history and it teaches us a lesson: the lesson not to let celebrities get away with murder, or in this case, sexual-abuse. To not allow celebrities to be above the laws that govern the rest of our lives.
I have been raised on Michael Jackson’s music and his talent is undeniable, but we cannot go on allowing the fact he was allegedly a paedophile to be made excusable and outweighed by his other attributes. Nothing outweighs the horror of a 7-year-old being abused.
Jackson should have been condemned while he was alive and made to face the consequences. The least we can do now that he ‘rests in peace’ is to stop celebrating a monster. Boycotting his music will not undo the abuse, but it will show respect to the victims. It will acknowledge his guilt, and it will decrease the profit made in the name of a child-abuser.
Some may argue, that Jackson had a court case and it was settled. He wasn’t judged as guilty and that there was no call for censorship over his music then, so why now? But can we really brush the claims aired in new documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ under the carpet? It’s never too late to expose the truth, even though Michael is dead, some justice should be served.
The victims may have only come to terms with what happened and become brave enough to speak up about it after Michael’s death, but we shouldn’t ignore their claims just because Jackson is dead. It’s like saying that we shouldn’t believe the claims about Jimmy Saville because the victims claims came out after his death… just because one was a creepy-looking old man and the other was a super-star heart-throb.
We should not disassociate Michael Jackson the singer with Michael Jackson the abuser because that would completely perpetuate the ‘untouchable celeb’ ideal. Jackson should be exposed and known as an abuser, and his music can live on in the shadow of the ominous truth… we shouldn’t hide reality, we shouldn’t bubble wrap our musical preferences.
The success of his music gave him a platform to abuse, although this is no longer the case, surely we should respect the victims and send a message to all celebrities that they are not above the law – by ceasing to stream a paedophile’s music.
Image credit: Wikipedia