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Editorial: Separating the Art from the Artist

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Editorial: Separating the Art from the Artist

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Rumors regarding Michael Jackson’s pedophilic relationships with underage boys have been circulating the media for more than a decade. The release of  “Leaving Neverland,” a damning documentary examining Jackson’s alleged pedophilia, has spurred a fresh wave of the classic debate: how does one separate an artist from their art?

The documentary focuses on the narrative of two young boys, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, and their intimate relationships with the pop phenom. Both boys met Jackson through musical events – Robson was a dancer and Safechuck an actor. While the beginning of the boys’ relationship with Jackson comes across as a mentorship, it allegedly escalates into a sexual relationship. Robson states that, at the age of seven, Michael began turning the relationship sexual, starting with masturbation and kissing. Safechuck discusses how Jackson once took him shopping and purchased him a ring, a gold band with a row of diamonds, along with a ring for himself, with the intention of exchanging them along with vows.

For many die-hard fans, this documentary caused their love for the artist to shatter – a love that was unfazed by the 2005 trial in which Jackson was accused and acquitted of four counts of molestation of a minor and one count of intoxication of a minor prior to molestation. Is it possible to separate Michael Jackson, the alleged pedophile, from the Michael Jackson who can seamlessly glide across the stage to a nuance track? And should we? This is the difficulty that many Jackson fans and supporters face in light of the newly released documentary.

It sounds easy enough to simply listen to Jackson’s music and enjoy it while ignoring the demons of his past. However, once you analyze the morality of the situation, complications arise. Every time someone plays one of his songs on Spotify, Apple music or wherever they choose, money is being pooled in Michael Jackson’s estate — money which is then used to pay lawyers to publicly defend Jackson’s memory against the harrowing stories told by those putting forth the claims. Beyond the money aspects then comes the issue of contextualization. The best art is product of hardship and often a reflection of adversity within the artist’s life. But what happens when this adversity is a result of mental illness resulting in criminal behavior? Take Thriller, a song about one’s inner monster, and consider it in the context of the accusations: a man with an inner monster that enjoys the company of young boys. Are we supposed to turn off the radio if one of his songs comes on? Are teachers still able to play his music in their classes? Are we still allowed to memorialize his death for what it was?  Are we still allowed to stream his music?

As a society, we place celebrities and figureheads on a pedestal that creates the illusion that they can do no wrong, that they are perfect and could do no harm. Many people criticized the parents of the young boys for being oblivious to what was happening to their children when left with Jackson. However, when the parents were interviewed they expressed how starstruck by his wealth and generosity they were. They believed that he could never hurt their kids, that he was just generous and wanted to help advance their careers.

We need to view celebrities as the humans that they are, not the idealistic angels we make them out to be. It is a difficult task to separate an artist from his art — and maybe we shouldn’t.

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