THE last two weeks have been heavy. Planes falling out of the sky because their pilots tried to manually fly them while a computer programme took control. White supremacists (why are they not called racists by the way?) killing and maiming people in a place of worship. North Korea suggesting it will resume nuclear testing. Resurgence of Ebola on the African continent.
I write about a different kind of tragedy. I have loved Michael Jackson’s music since I was a child. I remained a huge fan through his changes of skin colour, bone structure and hair. I felt sorry for him. Whatever childhood he was made to sacrifice was never going to be recovered and he did not seem to realise that.
Nothing in the recent hyped-up Leaving Neverland documentary is going to make me change my appreciation of his music, his art form and his contribution to world culture. It is shocking to me that some media houses have called for radio stations to stop playing his music, for TV stations and cable networks to stop showing his music videos. There is actually a term for this called “cancelling art”, as if art once created can be “disappeared”.
My first thought was that had he been a white musician the call would not have come so quickly, if at all. Look at the history of music and film and see how many calls have been made for white men or women who have been accused of sexual abuse and have attracted a similar response. Any?
Let us not forget that these men had sworn on oath, after they were adults, that the allegations made against Jackson were false. Their account in this new documentary is not on oath and their explanations for having apparently perjured themselves, seem non-specific. If I had to choose between evidence on oath which stood the test of cross-examination, and allegations made after the party concerned is dead and cannot defend himself, then I choose the former.
The men suggest that there was no financial incentive for appearing in this documentary but they are being disingenuous. One of the young men, who was a dance teacher to the stars, was faced with a career in decline. I suppose this documentary will have his agent’s phone ringing again. Of course, let us not forget appearance fees for interviews and presumably book deals now to be awarded and so on.
I am sorry, I look for the evidence. That Michael Jackson was weird is not evidence that he was a paedophilic predator. That he changed his handsome brown face to one that looked like that of an old doll with a chipped nose and stringy hair does not make him a predator.
That he courted the press and did and said strange things to attract attention to himself was something he admitted.
He understood that the stranger and more freakish he seemed, the more media attention he would attract. It is desperately sad that he had not clued in that his music and art would have attracted such attention anyway.
Jackson faced the American justice system, and after a full trial was acquitted. I looked at the documentary of his last rehearsal after he died and saw an aging star, seeking perfection in his art, leaving the stage with tired, heavy legs.
Those who call for culture cancellation forget that his work included input from hundreds of people. Dancers, technicians, musicians, singers, set creators, videographers, film makers, actors and actresses, sports stars, his sister Janet, Paul Mc Cartney and Quincy Jones, just to name a few.
This was a man with a moral conscience. Together with Quincy Jones he wrote and produced the lyrics and music for “We Are the World”, the single which raised many millions of dollars for famine- struck Ethiopia. This is apart from his generous charitable contributions in America.
Cancelling Jackson’s musical contribution is not going to affect him. He is dead. It will affect his estate’s earnings and the livelihood of the children he left behind. Why must they pay a penalty? No accusations have been made about them? What about the other artistes who contributed to his work? No accusations have been made about them. Why should they suffer?
This is just hypocrisy plain and simple. And probably racism under the guise of political correctness. Over my years as a legal practitioner, I have occasionally dealt with sexual offences cases, both as a prosecutor, sometimes as defence counsel. I have done matrimonial matters which include such allegations and during my short stint as a judge many moons ago, presided over some of these matters.
My experiences have made me realise that many people who come forward to report these terrible offences are extremely courageous. They do so despite the deep trauma which they have suffered. But the fact is, not all of the allegations reported are true. Indeed, not all of the reports are from victims of a sexual offence or indeed any offence. There are multiple motivations for false accusations against people as is the case for other offences.
So Michael, rest in peace. Let the music play.
Sophia K Chote SC is an Independent Senator