‘Time to stop listening to Michael Jackson’

King of pop: Michael Jackson launched his solo career in 1971 aged 13.

In a new documentary, two men allege that they were abused as children by Michael Jackson. They are not the first to speak out against the star. Should we stop listening to his music?

Wade Robson was five years old when he met his hero Michael Jackson after winning a dance competition. Two years later, the Robson family visited Neverland, Jackson’s remote ranch and adventure park. According to Robson, this is was the start of years of sexual abuse by the singer.

James Safechuck appeared in a Pepsi advert with Jackson when he was 10 years old. Safechuck says that he was abused by Jackson for the next four years.

Now, both men are speaking out in Leaving Neverland, a documentary from director Dan Reed that will be broadcast on Channel 4 tomorrow.

According to Safechuck’s parents, Jackson used his fame and wealth to gain unsupervised access to young boys.

“He flies you first class, he has a limo waiting at the airport, amazing!” recalls Safechuck’s mother, Stephanie.

“The abuse didn’t feel strange because it was being done by this man that was like a god to me,” says Robson in the film.

Michael Jackson, known as the king of pop, was one of the most successful artists in music history. Thriller is the best selling album of all time. In the US, Jackson had 14 number one singles — more than any other solo artist.

But for years rumours swirled about his strange private life. Jackson admitted to sharing bedrooms with young boys at Neverland but denied abusing them. Jackson’s family continue to insist on his innocence.

In 1993, Evan Chandler accused Jackson of abusing his 13-year-old son. The case settled out of court. Eight years later, Jackson was charged with abusing a teenage cancer survivor. At the trial, Robson — then aged 22 — testified that he had never been abused. Jackson was acquitted.

Robson says that the birth of his son persuaded him to finally speak out.

When Jackson died in 2009, there was a global outpouring of grief. With the release of Leaving Neverland, it is time to reckon with his legacy.

“I don’t care what people do in relation to Michael Jackson and his music,” says Robson. “Michael Jackson was incredibly talented, there’s no questioning that. But just because someone is talented doesn’t mean they’re not a predator.”

Time’s up

Should we stop listening to Michael Jackson’s music? If we disavow Jackson, must we then stop appreciating the work of all the writers, artists and thinkers throughout history who may have been bad people? So much culture would be erased. Can you admire someone as an artist while condemning them as a person?

But what message does listening to his music send? That enjoying some songs is more important than his alleged victims’ trauma and suffering? For music writer Oliver Keens, this is an opportunity to send a message to abusers: if an artist does wrong, “the scene will shun you. Period.”

You Decide

  1. Should we stop listening to Michael Jackson’s music?
  2. Can you separate a person’s life from their art?

Activities

  1. Are documentaries a good way to examine abuse allegations? Discuss this question in groups, then write a paragraph giving your answer.
  2. Time for a class debate. “This house believes Michael Jackson’s music should be banned.” Read the links in Become An Expert to help you.

Some People Say...

“A hero is someone we can admire without apology.”

Kitty Kelley

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The documentary is made by Dan Reed, whose previous films have focused on terrorism. He says that he decided to make the film because “Michael Jackson felt like one of the big unresolved stories out there […] It felt like Jackson, the abuser, was something people knew, but didn’t really know.”
What do we not know?
We cannot say for certain whether the allegations are true. Jackson was never found guilty during his lifetime, as the first case against him settled and he was acquitted in the second. He has now been accused of abuse by five men. Both Safechuck and Robson say they are still dealing with the trauma left by the alleged abuse.

Word Watch

Tomorrow
Leaving Neverland is being broadcast in two parts, tomorrow and on Thursday at 9pm on Channel 4.
King of pop
As a child, Jackson was in the Jackson 5 group with four of his brothers. He had three number ones with the group by the age of 12. Jackson was emotionally and physically abused by his father, Joe Jackson, in his youth.
Innocence
The Jackson Estate sued HBO, the network airing the documentary in the US, for $100 million, claiming that HBO was violating a 1992 non-disparagement agreement from when it aired a Michael Jackson concert.
Out of court
Jackson paid the family $23 million to bring the legal action to a close.
Charged
Jackson faced 10 charges including child molestation and conspiring to commit child abduction.
2009
Jackson died of a heart attack after his doctor Conrad Murray injected him with a number of powerful drugs. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

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