The Sundance Film Festival took place on January 24th, 2019. One of the biggest buzzed films that took place at this event, was the documentary “Leaving Neverland” about Michael Jackson and allegations from two men, that he sexually and mentally abused them when they were children. Last weekend, the first part of the documentary aired, and to say the least, a lot of the allegations were jarring. Unfortunately, the alleged claims of sexual and predatory abuse are nothing new, as he once faced several accusations and a few court cases surrounding similar situations during his career. Some of the details in those cases were troubling.
The typical rebuttals you hear when famous people are alleged to have performed criminal acts were abundant. People immediately attacked the accusers as looking for revenge, money, and or fame. Which I always find to be disturbing because it is an extremely small chance that people would willingly make up such elaborate stories knowing the painful humiliation and accusations of credibility that are guaranteed to come. It’s also totally understandable if people are seeking money behind truthful accusations. Acts of abuse, no matter what kind, can cause serious long term mental health issues. For people to adequately cope and get over such events, lots of therapy is typically required and I don’t see anything wrong with victims seeking compensation from the people responsible for it, if that is what they choose. It also costs money to take someone to court and to pay for legal services.
Another popular rebuttal in such cases, is when law enforcement clears the accused of such wrongdoings, by either not pressing charges or if the person is not found guilty of charges in the court of law. Jackson was never convicted in any of his cases that involved the FBI and local California police departments. I personally believe, no one person or any institution is beyond reproach. Granting any one person or institution automatic deference is extremely dangerous because it creates a fertile environment to abuse such powers. There is no such thing as a perfect human being and we should operate with that basic standard when we judge ourselves, others, celebrities, organizations, institutions, etc. The same way nobody should give Jackson the benefit of the doubt because he was a massively popular celebrity, we should equally apply that logic to the law enforcement agencies and institutions of authority, that despite damning circumstantial evidence, never convicted him in any of his court cases.
As a kid, I remember watching Michael Jackson concerts on TV and being amazed at his talent but also very startled that so many people shared a visceral emotional reaction to his presence. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a new phenomenon of social media. We may never see a celebrity like him again, even with the global connection that social media brings. Celebrity worship is and has always been dangerous. Celebrities are still strangers no matter how much of their professionally crafted persona we are exposed to. In this case, like many others with Cosby, Weinstein, Lauer, etc we get a first hand glimpse at how these people can weaponize this celebrity worship and their professional persona to hurt lots of people and use their status as a shield. We should also be able to recognize, that worship to authority and institutions operates identically. The people in authority and those who make up institutions are strangers too and if we don’t examine them with a very critical eye, they too can use their status for abuse or to shield themselves from critical analysis. Most notably, if law enforcement had better laws in regards to sexual abuse, would this documentary ever have existed in the first place?
Photos: Bad Logo: Pinterest, Sheena Mah-Sheens, Epic/Columbia Records