Wednesday, 19 January, 2022
HomeTalk PointShould we stop listening to Michael Jackson after HBO’s ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary?

Should we stop listening to Michael Jackson after HBO’s ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary?

HBO's documentary Leaving Neverland has reopened the debate on ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of children.

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HBO’s documentary Leaving Neverland has reopened the debate on ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of children, with two men detailing their memories of being sexually and emotionally manipulated as under-teens. The Jackson estate has filed a $100-million lawsuit against HBO. 

ThePrint asks: Should we stop listening to Michael Jackson after HBO’s ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary?

Isolating one art would demand scrutiny of every art influenced by it, which isn’t possible

Nandita Singh
Journalist, ThePrint

I don’t think it’s a question of collective action. While a significant rubric to judge the effectiveness of social activism, and change brought through it, is to see how many people it was able to impact, in some cases it just doesn’t work. Calls for boycotting or ‘cancelling’ take place in a para-legal setup that tries to compensate for deficiencies in mainstream justice.

Whether or not you want to listen to Michael Jackson after hearing the testimonies of boys he sexually abused, is up to your personal politics.

The truth is that no one really has an answer to whether it is right, or even possible, to separate the artist from their art. Cultural evolution, be it music, film, literature, theory, dance etc, takes place in a continuum of conversation – ideas lead to other ideas. To isolate one and say, ‘hey this is cancelled,’ would mean that every subsequent thing inspired by it would also need to be scrutinised – which is impossible to do.

The rule isn’t uniform though – Kevin Spacey was fired after all, but perhaps we were able to cancel him because he wasn’t the king of pop.

It’s really up to you, and unfortunately or not, we tend to make exceptions for our favourites.

Michael Jackson doesn’t fit anywhere other than alongside Bill Cosbys and Kevin Spaceys of the world

Ekta Handa
Web editor, ThePrint

Leaving Neverland, the documentary by Dan Reed, has once again brought out accounts of sexual abuse against ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson, as well as that question that has been asked most in recent times with the rise of the #MeToo movement – should we separate the art from the artist?

If we believe the accusations, what do we do with the art? While it will be difficult to stop listening to songs written and performed by Jackson, or for that matter consume any art by an artist accused of being a sexual molester, it doesn’t change the fact that the person still did something horrible to other human beings.

The brilliance of Michael Jackson’s music won’t change the fact that he was a molester, and that he molested young boys by taking them into confidence. Those boys were in awe of him, adored him and looked up to him.

Michael Jackson should be treated similarly as the other ‘stalwarts’ named in the #MeToo. Boycotting Jackson’s music will send out the message of zero tolerance towards sexual harassment and therefore he should be put alongside the Harvey Weinsteins and the Bill Cosbys and the Kevin Spaceys of the world.

It doesn’t matter to King of Pop whether you listen to his music or not

Manasa Mohan
Senior assistant editor, ThePrint

The King of Pop is dead. The King of Pop lives on. It doesn’t make a difference to the King of Pop whether you listen to his music anymore.

One can argue that Kevin Spacey’s career is over despite a body of critically acclaimed works. The difference is, Spacey is alive, and the ostracisation will have some impact. Effective or not is altogether another matter.

But what difference will it make to MJ, buried six feet under, if his music is taken off the shelves, banned from streaming services, and even loses its cult status?

When there was a chance to, say, right the wrongs of an alleged child molester (he was acquitted by a US court in 2005), it didn’t happen.

A Washington Post article makes a strong case for HBO’s ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary, saying it clears up without a doubt that MJ is guilty. If that does change the minds of those not sure of what to believe, it’s a win for the alleged victims. But a compensatory one.

Michael Jackson lived a truly king-sized life, and as a society, we let him. True, it was also fuelled by good branding, but when the rumours, and later allegations, arose, we didn’t stop listening to him. He said he didn’t do it; some believed him, but I suspect, most didn’t care.

What we should do is acknowledge what such stardom and loss of a childhood can turn a person into. We should not create these pedestals for celebrities that give them the power to take away other people’s rights. And we should definitely stop feeding their stardom before it doesn’t matter anymore.

In the time of #MeToo, people at crossroads of banishing talent or enjoying them secretly

Sharanya Munsi
Web editor, ThePrint

Michael Jackson is a musical legend whose contributions cannot be undermined by his personal darkness. As someone who enjoyed listening to his music, I believe the allegations of sexual assault against him should not sideline his talent. What he did is condemnable to say the least but I will still shake a leg when Billie Jean comes on.

Since the allegations, first in 1993 and now in the documentary that releases today, there may have been some fans turning away from his work, but I believe listening to him has become a personal choice. I may not broadcast my love for his music but that won’t necessarily stop me from listening to them when I am alone.

There will be a certain societal judgement that will get passed on for whoever openly admits to loving him as a musician but that is not going to stop the record and merchandise sale.

Jackson cast a spell on us as a musician and was placed on a high pedestal for it. Leaving Neverlandbreaks that spell but this does not mean some of us still won’t choose to believe in his magic. In the age of #MeToo, this puts us in crossroads of banishing talent or enjoying them in secrecy.

Giving up Michael Jackson’s music is like ceding a key part of your formative years

Rama Lakshmi
Editor, Opinions, ThePrint

My teen years were inextricably linked to the act of blaring Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ and ‘Bad’ in full volume in defiance of parental rules. He represented everything that ‘good, Carnatic music-learning South Indian daughters’ had to be kept away from. His music held out freedom.

How does one reconcile that with the image of a pedophile? Giving up his music would amount to ceding a key part of my formative years.

Over three decades later, an explosive new documentary about his alleged sexual abuse of young children called ‘Leaving Neverland’ is set to release on HBO today. Two of the children who have now grown up and become parents themselves have spoken about the sexual abuse they experienced during sleepovers at Michael Jackson’s ranch called Neverland.

Cognitively, I know I should not dissociate his work from his crime. But when his music plays in some places, it evokes a very complicated mix of memory, morality and sensory manipulation. It is only after enjoying it for a few minutes, that I tell myself to switch it off or stop dancing to it or stop singing along. Even after knowing all that I know now about his ways, it is still a conscious, deliberate act to move away from his music. Not a natural one.


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  1. Allegations are not proof miladies. As Indians, you should guard yourselves from being brain(white)washed by the English and American media.
    The man was acquitted in 20015 on 14 counts. Ever researched why?

  2. Ekta Handa , you dont know anything about michael jackon trial. if you don’t like him then don’t listen to him. you look like rich jerk. The man worked his ass off to build legacy. you are nothing means nothing. you should resign immediately. Give opportunity to other hardworking person.

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