It’s Not So Black Or White: Should We Cancel Michael Jackson’s Music?

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Being a fan of Michael Jackson’s music in 2019 puts listeners in a precarious position.

In case you’ve been living under a very large rock, accusations against Michael Jackson alleging he sexually abused young boys have resurfaced after HBO aired a chilling documentary detailing the experiences from two men, Wade Robson and former child star James Safechuck. They claim Jackson sexually molested them when they were children.

Backlash from the film, Leaving Neverland, has inspired radio stations and other major organizations to ban Jackson’s music from playing. The Simpsons pulled their MJ episode. Drake removed his MJ duet, “Don’t Matter to Me,” from his tour. Media is forced to draw a line in the sand, and as a result… so are you and I. What should we do?

The digital age has spawned cancel culture. It’s a protest that gains momentum through the Internet against an offender. People like director Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly spent years influencing culture, when suddenly harrowing allegations against them come to light and the peoples’ response is to blacklist them. Why? Because, as Amanda Marcotte from Salon.com points out, “people turn to [cancel culture] because real justice is elusive. Unable to punish the men who actually commit and perpetrate sexual assault, fans instead punish themselves.” It’s relatively easy to avoid a Woody Allen flick, or keep R. Kelly on mute, but Jackson was different.

It appears you, me, the people are so distrusting of the legal system that should bring justice to those who were tragically affected, that instead we take justice into our own hands by shunning all aspects of a person we deem a monster. It’s almost worse than any prison sentence because their legacy is tarnished, and in the distant future that’s all someone has.

Perhaps stars like Jackson truly are terrorizing sexual abusers, but *what if* they’re not? That internal conflict forces us to choose. If we continue to play Jackson’s iconic catalogue, are we enabling figures who allegedly abuse fame and fortune to fulfill their twisted fantasies that put others in harm’s way? Can I feel ok moonwalking in the kitchen to “Billie Jean” or throwing my arms in the air to “Thriller” knowing the artist who created these timeless tunes allegedly preyed upon little kids?

The Jackson estate and the singer’s devout fans are adamant he never committed these unimaginable crimes. In 2004/2005, Jackson was indicted for four counts of molesting a minor, four counts of intoxicating a minor to molest him, one count of attempted child molestation, one count of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive, and conspiring to commit extortion and child abduction. The jury found Jackson not guilty on all charges. That casts a shadow of doubt over Robson and Safechuck’s admissions, so to be sure we have a clear conscience on the matter, we’ve decided better safe than sorry! And it continues the implosion of a figure who influenced an entire generation.

Marcotte makes another interesting point in her discussion about cancel culture. “If there were real consequences for those who commit sexual abuse — then cancel culture wouldn’t feel necessary, and likely wouldn’t exist.” Taking sides is a lose/lose situation because ultimately we’re attempting to control an outcome we personally feel is just. Cancel culture attempts to dilute any influence that stars like Jackson has, even if they’ve been dead for 10 years.

Jackson’s level of superstardom reached stratospheric heights unlike anyone before or after him. His ability to connect people from different countries, cultures, religions is unparalleled, so he became a staple in popular culture. That ripple effect is omnipresent, and I’m not convinced I can put his music in a vault and pretend like it didn’t profoundly influence my taste in pop. But obviously I also don’t condone sexually abusing children (or anyone). I’m someone who can separate the artist from their personal lives, but should I? And how will people perceive me for admitting that? Avoiding feeling judged might be worth never hearing “Smooth Criminal” again.

We’re pressured to take a side. Either blacklist Michael Jackson’s music as symbol of protest, or turn a blind-eye and keep bopping to “Bad.” However, I’d like to suggest it’s not so black or white… so to speak. I find myself in a gray area where I can’t fathom giving up Jackson’s music, but I’m deeply disturbed by what’s he allegedly done. Is it irresponsible to continue enjoying the bops knowing he’s shattered the lives of innocent kids, now men, and their families? Can Jackson’s version of #MeToo survive the world’s attempt at justice?

Ultimately, you decide where to draw the line. Jackson’s demons flourished in the singer’s adult life, a symptom from growing up without any real childhood, but along the way he made music that changed the world. From where I stand, listening to Jackson doesn’t mean your head is in the sand, nor are you an accomplice to the terrible, awful things Jackson might have done. It means Jackson impacted your life through his ingenious talents, and that’s not something worth cancelling.

The choice is yours:

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