“So, when all the fans and the estate, and all the anger—you guys gonna get it, you know that, right? Y’all gonna get it, I’m gonna get it, we’re all gonna get it,” Oprah Winfrey said near the end of her special After Neverland.¹ Perhaps, I’m gonna get it too. Leaving Neverland aired on HBO this week.
Leaving Neverland in its simplicity was a harrowing journey inside the psyches of two men, before during and after sexual abuse by Michael Jackson. For Oprah, as a survivor of child sexual abuse, the documentary probably had a familiarity to it, a recognition of this is how it happens. Her purpose was not an indictment of Michael Jackson, but to raise awareness of child sexual abuse. Winfrey highlighted, most of the time, it is someone you know. It’s an ongoing theme, child sexual abuse in the catholic church. These cases highlight the ability of fame, power and respect to cause rationalization of events versus recognition of possible criminal behavior.
There is always a rationalization chorus of that’s not the person I know. That is true. Kerri Rawson² knew Dennis Rawson as a loving father, law abiding citizen and president of the church council. She insisted it was a mistake when he was arrested as a serial killer. He could be behind 10 murders, he could not be bind, torture, kill. It’s not him. That was her story until she listened to a 911 call where the killer reported the homicide he had committed. She immediately recognized his voice.Kerri Rawson stated:
I know that he cared for us and loved us. That side of him wasn’t an act. I’m not ever trying to defend anything my father has done, because it’s not defensible. But I think it’s important for people to understand: I did lose my father. I think it’s important, from a criminology aspect, to show that he was a father and a husband and a co-worker.
What does it mean if it’s all a lie? Jackson defenders vehemently deny any wrong doing; that’s not the man they knew. How do defenders grapple with the possibility that this is the unknown of the person they know? Somebody knew something; the enablers, be they willing or unwilling. French Cardinal Barbarin tendered his resignation this week for failure to report child sex abuse. He was not an abuser, but he was an enabler, someone who had the potential to do something. Why didn’t he? Was it fear or misplaced loyalty. For Jackson, was it the presence of power, fame, brilliance, that created a rules need not apply? Was it tactical rationalization? I can move the bishop and the behavior will stop, I don’t want to bring shame on the church. He didn’t have a childhood, he is childlike, he was afraid people would take advantage of him so he trusted children. The truth is, pedophiles do not stop abuse when moved to a new parish; they find new victims. Boys don’t beg their parents to have 10 friends sleep over in the same bed; grown men do not share a bed with a rotating roster of young boys.
The difficulty is, if we acknowledge possible wrong doing, what happens to works of genius? Do we tear down buildings, dissolve institutions or destroy works of art? It’s a balance. CEO’s are tossed out of companies they created for bad behavior, but the companies are not dissolved. Clergy with bad behavior are expelled but the religion and building are not destroyed. Can we discuss happens to the music and film? This is a new conversation, not to be confused with confederate statues erected decades after the civil war of treasonous generals. That would be the equivalent of erecting a bronze depiction of Michael Jackson in bed surrounded by children. It’s not paying homage to criminal acts; but not erasing history.
Defenders state they did not see the abuse; they were not witnesses of wrong doings. In churches, clergy who abuse aren’t doing it in front of the congregation. Cory Feldman defended Michael Jackson for years, yet upon viewing portions of the documentary stated:
“I don’t want to be perceived as I’m here to defend Michael Jackson, because I can no longer do that. I can not in good consciousness defend anyone who’s being accused of such horrendous things,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m also not here to judge him, because again, he did not do those things to me and that was not my experience.“
He said it was important “consider all sides of this, even as uncomfortable as that might be.” No doubt, It’s difficult transition and courageous choice to believe the accusers and reconcile this with the man he knew.
As a society, it’s time to acknowledge this difficult duality. Michael Jackson’s funded the $15 million for his musical video Ghosts, the most expensive ever made. Michael plays two roles in the film, that of the Maestro (where he appears as Michael) and the Mayor. In the video, the Mayor of a town confronts the Maestro for hosting the local children in his home. The Mayor calls him, strange, weird and a freak and asks him to leave. The Maestro insists they have fun, just a few scary tricks. The Maestro and troupe perform song and dance to an audience of boys with their mothers, a few towns people and the Mayor. Near the end, the frightened Mayor plunges out of a window and the Maestro, crumbles to dust. Did the short film Ghosts³ portray inner conflict or was it narcissistic trope, was he crying for help or taunting us? Is it easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled?* To what degree do you separate the art from the person? This week,pause and sit in the discomfort.
*quote often attributed to Mark Twain