As I set out to write a commemorative post for Michael’s 10th transition anniversary, the last thing I wanted was to turn this into another post about Leaving Neverland. However, like it or not, those of us in the fandom have had to learn how to circumvent a post-LN world. But lest this starts to sound like another one of those ridiculous lint-picking, navel gazing articles straight out of Washington Post (yes, Mr. Richards, I’m coming for you shortly!) I’m not talking about any sort of “long shadow” cast over his legacy other than the fact that this travesty of a movie was ever made, and the sheer fact that, because of it, we now live in a world where no mention of Michael Jackson’s name can be uttered in the media–positive or otherwise–without having the names of those two dingleberries (who shall purposely remain nameless for the duration of this post) attached to it like…well, like a couple of ripe dingleberries ( I invite you look up the etymology of this word if the analogy is still escaping you).
But if recent media coverage is any indication, it shows that as we approach this 10th anniversary occasion, it has been interesting to witness the shifting sands of this post-LN storm. By the way, “storm” in itself is perhaps an interesting word choice, since a few months ago it certainly felt for most fans like an apocalypse. In a recent interview, John Branca brushed it off as nothing more than a “tropical storm”-definitely an understatement, I would say. No, if we’re going to go with weather analogies, I would liken it more to a particularly intense, Category 3 hurricane. Riding it out was rough, but it seems the eye has passed and we’ve survived, a bit battered but intact.
Or is it simply that our skins have grown an extra layer of thickness these past six months? I know that I’m certainly in a very different head space than I was in January, or even March. Like most of you, I think I spent much of January and February in a state that vacillated between shocked denial and hopeful determination, from “How could this possibly be happening” to the hope that good sense and some shred of ethical decency would prevail. I clung to the faith that this was another injustice to Michael that could somehow be overcome, as past battles had been won. Like so many of you, I felt the growing despair as that faint hope started to diminish, realizing that neither HBO, nor Channel 4 nor Kew Media was going to be persuaded by any sense of moral outrage–no matter how loudly protested. Like so many of you, I put in weeks of near sleepless nights, running myself to exhaustion, pitching and writing articles to anyone who might be willing to listen to the other side, fighting a “blue tick” lynch mob that sometimes seemed hopelessly ablaze in #MeToo hysteria, checking into social media dozens of times a day in the constant hope that something–anything, would crack and prove once and for all to the world just what a hoax these dingleberries had pulled off. Then, finally, the near weariness and utter exasperation. I mean, seriously, if teleporting six years into the future, having sex in non-existent buildings, and somehow managing to magically teleport from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Neverland Valley Ranch wasn’t going to be enough to get a retraction out of Oprah and make all of those vile, nasty blue ticks sorry for the mean things they were saying, what on earth possibly could?
I finally just burned out, as happens to the best of us. From sheer exhaustion. As humans, we’re only hardwired to be able to handle “crisis mode” for so long a time. What happened in the post-LN aftermath is what always happens, inevitably, in the wake of crisis–you can either go down with it, all sails flying, or you absorb it and grow stronger for it. During this time, I found myself reflecting often on the true meaning of The Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannotchange, courage to changethe things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.
And a funny thing happened. Far from being muted, Michael’s music sales actually soared, ONE continues playing to sold-out crowds every night, crowds still gather at his star on Hollywood Boulevard, fans reportedly cheered every sight of his image at the O2 80’s/Quincy Jones thing (whatever it was); kids are still busting out MJ moves on sidewalks all over the world. When a vote came up at Garner Elementary to maintain The Michael Jackson Auditorium, parents voted to keep it. And as of this posting, no less than some 18,000 red and white roses (the red symbolizing “love;” the white “innocent”) will decorate his final resting place at Forest Lawn. In fact, there are even testimonies on social media of new fans who became fans precisely because of Leaving Neverland.
And so, along with the futility of “muting” Michael Jackson (as if that was ever going to be a serious movement, anyway) there has been an interesting, shall we say, paradigm shift as I’m now seeing many of those same journalists come to the same resigned crossroads that I arrived at a few weeks ago, only from the opposite direction. That is to say, many are now being forced-however begrudgingly-to own up to something they know they cannot fight; a force bigger than themselves.
When I felt the weight of pushing back on hate every day, it grew exhausting. But if recent trends are any indication, some have started to learn that pushing back on love is even more exhausting–and far more futile.
It seems almost humorous now to look back on some of those headlines from last March, when cultural naysayers were predicting the imminent “cancellation” of Michael Jackson and rushing with orgasmic frenzy to highlight every instance of “faux outrage.” Chris Richard’s recent Washington Post articleis quite typical of this new, Post post-NL era of semi-defeated rhetoric whereby journalists who now must begrudgingly admit that they got it wrong still must–in order to save face–work to convince us that Jackson’s massive popularity is something that continues to exist in spite of the claims made by those two dingleberries; that if we dare to still listen to Michael Jackson’s music, we do so in spite of our better conscience, and in so doing, deserve to feel guilt or at least a strong chastising about how we ought to be looking at the man or woman in the mirror (these clever pundits can never resist some corny variant on this phrase).
Frankly, I have the same issues with Richard’s article as I’ve had with so many others like it. Richards certainly isn’t any more or less guilty of it than the others; I’m only picking on him because his just happens to be the most recent. I’m sure before the week is out, we will see a whole slew of others, all similar in vein. Like many of his brethren, Richards is a good writer, skilled at turning the memorable phrase. But the problem at the heart of the piece is the very same problem at the heart of so many of these similarly well-intentioned pieces, which is its automatic presumption of a guilt that has never been proven and its all too readiness to give credit to the dingleberries’ testimony just because…well, because pathos sells. Indeed, the entire article is based on a ridiculous premise. So it feels good to “hear” Michael Jackson, but is “painful” to “listen” to him? What the heck does that even mean? As with Margo Jefferson’s recent piece, it is rife with the same undercurrent, that Michael Jackson’s songs are now understood to be full of hidden, sinister messages that we are now “obliged” to “decode.” Apparently, in the wake of discovering that they can’t kill Jackson’s legacy, this will be the new cottage industry of choice. “Yes, we will still listen, but in so doing, we must somehow assuage our collective guilt.” We’ve already had writers attempting to convince us that both “Man in the Mirror” and “Human Nature” are as good as outright confessions–oh, but wait a minute, I guess the fact that Michael composed neither has to be considered. This was as funny as that critic who, as soon as he heard the lyrics to “This Is It,” lambasted the line “I’m the light of the world” as another example of Jackson’s egomania (oops, guess that was Paul Anka’s egomania!).
Parts of Richard’s article are indeed as painful as he professes listening to Jackson’s music to be. Consider this passage:
“Now, when you listen to a Michael Jackson song, you’re measuring that greatness against everything you know. You probably know more than you wish you did. You don’t want to listen, you just want to hear — in which case, hearing becomes an act of intentional ignorance, a half-conscious refusal that allows you to protect your pleasure from oblivion. That way, you can keep dancing to “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” at the wedding reception. You can keep eating your lunch as “Rock With You” permeates the restaurant. Hearing it isn’t hurting anyone.”
I think there is a much bigger piece of this puzzle which Richards simple doesn’t get. It’s not that all those people in the restaurant hearing “Rock With You” are choosing willfully to be oblivious to the dingleberries’ bad acting. Rather, it’s because roughly half of them don’t even know, and the other half have chosen not to obsess over what a couple of bad actors have had to say about a dead man. For most, the whole sordid affair has had the impact of a nasty but distant tabloid article–the kind you skim in the grocery store line and forget by the time you’ve gotten home with the groceries. It’s not really rocket science, after all.
These latest articles really do constitute nothing more than “push back”-that is, push back against a cause they already must know they have lost. Many of them rooted gleefully for the demise of Michael Jackson, and for Leaving Neverland to be the definitive nail in the coffin of his legacy. They bet on the wrong horse, and one can sense the bitter taste of that pill being swallowed. It has become increasingly clear that the forces behind LN never anticipated the pushback they would receive, let alone that we would still have a chorus raised as one to sing “Heal The World” this June 25th, 2019.
The mantra that “Michael Jackson’s legacy will prevail” has proven true, and doesn’t appear in any imminent danger. For sure, that fact alone is bound to cause the fermenting of some peculiarly sour grapes this week. I, for one, am going to let it roll. All we’re seeing is the evidence of an implacable power, one they thought they could kill.
But pushing back on love takes a helluva lot of muscle power.
I apologize that my promised follow-up post has been so long coming, but I wanted to let you all know the reasons for this. I have actually been working very diligently and quietly (and sometimes not so quietly!) behind the scenes to get the truth about Leaving Neverland out to a bigger platform. I spent several weeks on a piece that was eventually published on Medium.com. Here is a small excerpt:
The current hype that has been built around Leaving Neverland, a film directed by Dan Reed and funded and distributed by HBO in the U.S. and Channel 4 in the U.K., may appear deceptively at first as an important film for the #MeToo era, highlighting the alleged sexual abuse that Michael Jackson inflicted on two young boys who idolized him and fell-by grand and parental design-into his circle. At least, that is according to the hype that has been drummed up around it. But a closer look reveals many disturbing reasons to argue that this agenda-driven film has little to do with either journalistic integrity or concern for sexual abuse victims. Instead, there are many justifiable reasons to argue why this film is simply a new twist on the age-old concept of lynching a black man based on white lies. The fact that it is a black man who also just happened to be one of the most beloved and powerful figures in entertainment is, of course, the very matter at the heart of the film’s controversy, along with the fact that we are into the tenth anniversary of his passing. At a time when Michael Jackson’s life should be the subject of fond remembrances and reflections on his artistic legacy, we instead get this, the equivalent of a posthumous, 21st century lynching based on nothing but the uncorroborated testimonies of two men whose civil case against his estate has already been dismissed, not once but twice.
Why is the “woke” crowd so determinedly asleep at the wheel on this? And an even more troubling question: Why are so many of the most influential journalists in the U.S. and U.K. enabling it? Dan Reed’s controversial film has indeed accomplished one positive goal even before its scheduled broadcast, although it may not be the goal he intended.
For sure, the film has helped shed much needed light on the underbelly of #MeToo, revealing some startlingly dark truths about who the movement is designed to protect-and who it is willing to sacrifice.
But first, let’s back up and look at the key players in this drama. We have Michael Jackson, whose story has already passed into the realm of an American mythical figure, a poor black kid who worked his way up from nothing to become one of the most legendary musical figures of all time. This was a man who worked non-stop from the age of five to build his legacy. In the 45 years of his life that he gave to the public, he managed to break records, to achieve what few black artists before him had done (including owning, at one time, half the Sony-ATV catalogue), and to build a legacy that is intricately woven into the fabric of U.S. pop culture. But beyond that, he became a world icon in a way that only a very few American artists have achieved.
This is all a long way of saying Michael Jackson worked hard — damn hard — — to build what he achieved. And before we start trying to dismantle that legacy based on nothing but the words of two white men who joined his long list of hangers-on, we’d better be looking long and hard at the facts. That is, if we want to be able to live with ourselves in the aftermath.
Ratings in the UK and Australia did not fare much better. On March 05 and 06 the ratings for Channel 4’s broadcast amounted to 2.1 million, and that is being generous with both nights combined. (In spite of this dismal performance, both the U.S. and U.K. media have been working hard to desperately spin these numbers as a success, which is patently laughable).
Leaving Neverland did not fare any better in Australia, where it finished second to last in the ratings (just slightly ahead of a gardening show) nor in the Netherlands, where it ranked a mere #16 with just 609,000 viewers.
Additionally, Oprah’s much hyped “After Neverland” follow-up came in with a soft pillow landing of just over 900,000, not even cracking 1 million.
And although the film did trend-briefly (in the USA only for the first night of airing)-the feedback on social media was more scalding than a cup of British tea, with many questioning the credibility of the two accusers and their mothers (James Safechuck’s mom was especially criticized for a scene where she laughed while recalling her own son’s alleged abuse).
It would seem, then, that the public has spoken loud and clear and the verdict of Leaving Neverland has certainly not been the slam dunk that Dan Reed, HBO and Channel 4 were anticipating. Yet, as we enter into the fallout stage, there seems an apparent disconnect between the public’s view of this film, on the one hand, and the “Cancel MJ” brigade on the other that is being led largely by certain celebrities, journalists, #MeToo leaders and a media drunk with the smell of blood. This is obviously where the real damage of this “mockumentary” is being instigated, and again it is begging the same question that I raised as the central thesis of “The New Lynching of Michael Jackson,” which is the utter absurdity of a man’s legacy being torn down based on nothing but the uncorroborated testimony of two men in a one-sided documentary film.
My next two posts will be a more in-depth analysis of that disconnect. I will also be following up with a complete review of Leaving Neverland, as I will be viewing it this week. I doubt my fundamental opinions will change (and it certainly won’t change what I already know are the many inconsistent issues with Wade’s and James’s stories) but at least it will put an end to hearing, “You should watch the film before you judge.” More updates to come next week.
Over a year ago, I had started a post on Michael Jackson and the #MeToo movement. At the time, Corey Feldman’s campaign to raise awareness of pedophilia in Hollywood was receiving a lot of press (most of it negative, sadly), as well as the recently surfaced tape where he could be heard clearly stating to Santa Barbara County investigator Deborah Linden in 1993 that Michael Jackson was not “that guy” and named his actual abuser, actor Jon Grissom. This was also about the same time that the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted and an explosive New York Times article revealed that Weinstein had been guilty of planting negative stories about Michael Jackson in the press (as well as other celebrities) to cover his own crimes. And best of all, it was around this time that Wade Robson’s and Jimmy Safechuck’s civil case against Michael Jackson’s companies was finally dismissed in court for once and for all. At the time, many fans had been elated with this apparent turning tide, thinking surely now the media would catch on to how Jackson had been set up through the years. Indeed, my initial angle of the post had been as a kind of “karma catches up to all” piece. It seemed that while #MeToo was resulting in the downfall of many of the rich, famous and powerful-and exposing some of the tactics of its dirtiest in the business- it just might prove to be Michael Jackson’s saving grace. Finally, it seemed, many of the dirty players who had set him up and had contributed to the lynch mob that pursued him so relentlessly were finally being exposed. I am so very glad now that I put the piece on the backburner, so as to allow time for more perspective to be gained. As it turned out, the worst was far from over; in fact, they were just warming up! As it turned out, their dirtiest tactics yet were still up their sleeve.
This Isn’t About Wade…It’s About The Victim’s Right To Be Heard!
The rumblings started last year when journalist Louis Theroux made a sarcastic tweet in response to the Michael Jackson art exhibition Off The Wall in London, questioning (and I am paraphrasing here) why Michael Jackson was not receiving closer scrutiny in the #MeToo era (as if Michael Jackson had not already been under the glare of this kind of scrutiny for over two decades!). Then, for some inexplicable reason that still defies logic or understanding, Richard Marx (he of the famous mullet back in the 80’s and some hit songs that have been mostly forgotten now) went on an anti-Jackson Twitter rant on the occasion of Jackson’s Diamond Birthday celebration. These issues, while annoying enough, could be handled. If there is anything Jackson fans have learned, it’s that there are always going to be opinionated jerks who know nothing about the Michael Jackson allegations or his 2005 trial who will nevertheless be willing to spout their ignorance. This is nothing new.
But when the documentary Surviving R. Kelly aired and dream hampton made the inexplicable decision to somehow lump Michael Jackson into the fray just because he happened to have recorded a song R. Kelly wrote (or maybe not, if the plagiarism stories are to be believed), that faint rumble grew into an outright explosion. Nevertheless, it was an explosion that seemed peculiarly questionable. After all, many artists have collaborated with R. Kelly through the years and have recorded his songs. And, frankly, why wouldn’t other musicians want to work with him? R. Kelly’s genius as a songwriter and musician has never been in question. The artists who have worked with him is a long list that includes, among many others, Chance the Rapper, Lady Gaga and Celine Dion, but out of all of them, it was only Michael Jackson that BlackLivesMatter co-founder Patrisse Cullors chose to emphasize in a tweet that was as bizarre as it was hypocritical:
Two pedophiles Michael Jackson and @rkelly collaborating – the type of rape and abuse inside of Hollywood is astonishing #SurvivingRKelly
One has to ask: Why was Michael Jackson being villified for simply recording what he thought was a beautiful love ballad (which it is) and why was nothing said about Kelly’s other collaborators? For that matter, I want to go deeper with this. While it’s good that this kind of sexual predatory behavior is being held accountable, are we not creating a very slippery slope if we’re going to start trying to make an example of every artist, actor, etc who just happened to work with or had any business dealings with an accused celebrity? Is this now guilt by mere association? And how fair is it to expect that just because one celebrity works with another on a song that they somehow are privy to that person’s private doings?
After the airing of the doc, Lady Gaga (quite hypocritically, I really would like to add) immediately distanced herself from the whole affair by publicly renouncing her duet with R. Kelly, “Do What U Want” and removing it from public streaming. Don’t get me wrong; I like Lady Gaga. But I do question the suspicious timing of this sudden “awakening” that she had done wrong in simply recording a duet with a controversial performer.
But therein lies the difference. Performers like Lady Gaga, who are still alive, have the choice and the option to speak out about such matters; to defend themselves or to take action if necessary. Michael Jackson has no such recourse.
How do we really know what he would feel-today-about having recorded “You Are Not Alone?” Would he also renounce that choice, in hindsight, if he could? in all honesty, we simply don’t know. The bottom line is that he simply doesn’t have that choice. He can’t defend his actions or past choices from twenty years ago as with these other celebrities, and it was highly irresponsible for this production to make a blatant issue of a track that Michael simply, and quite innocently, recorded because he liked the song.
But, as it turned out, the stir created by Surviving R. Kelley was just the hint of much worse to come.
On January 9, the news of a four-hour hit piece, Leaving Neverland, rocked the fandom. It came as no surprise that this was Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck at work again. But the more disheartening news was that this one-sided mockumentary was going to get the star treatment via a coveted spot at the Sundance Film Festival and a premiere on both HBO and UK Channel 4 (HBO, as it turned out, was a major sponsor).
The documentary has since had its premiere, and under the auspices of what appears to be some rather shady circumstances, all of which I will touch on shortly. But before I get too deep into that muck, let me back up and talk a bit about Corey Feldman and last year’s events (all of this is more connected than what may seem apparent at first).
Corey Feldman, who was also one of the child stars in the 80’s that Michael Jackson befriended, has been working hard with little success to obtain funding for a major motion picture he has wanted to make exposing Hollywood’s pedophile ring and revealing what he says is the truth about what happened to him and his friend Corey Haim (in the day, they were a pair known affectionately as “The Two Coreys”).
But the biggest problem with Corey Feldman’s story is that no one, it seems, really wants to hear him, let alone to take his accusations seriously. In this era of the #MeToo hashtag where even the hint of an allegation has been enough to destroy the careers of many powerful men (the New York Times alone listed 51 as of November 2017), it would seem that Corey Feldman’s revelation of names would be a media bombshell. The fact that Santa Barbara officials simply sat on this evidence for nearly twenty-five years without doing anything (all simply because Tom Sneddon and Deborah Linden were too preoccupied on their witch hunt for Jackson) would appear, logically, to be yet another of the kind of bombshell stories that the media loves. But again, other than Dr. Oz and a few low key publications-the silence has been deafening. And the same players who worked so vociferously through the years to silence/ignore Feldman’s accusations (instead preferring to shift the spotlight onto Jackson as a red herring) are still apparently hard at work to make sure that Feldman’s campaign-as well as what it could potentially reveal about Jackson’s innocence and their guilt-remains silenced. Or at the very least, as low key as possible. To put it another way, the hypocrisy continues, as rampant as ever.
Corey Feldman’s interviews, which not only exonerates Jackson fully but even indicated that the accusations against Jackson may well have been initiated by actor Jon Grissom in an attempt to cover up his own abuse of Corey Feldman as a child!
Granted, that is not nor has ever been the sole purpose of Feldman’s campaign, which is about justice for himself, for his friend Corey Haim, and all other victims of Hollywood pedophilia. But by the same token, Feldman has made no secret of the fact that at least part of his modus operandi is also to clear his friend Michael Jackson’s name, for once and for all.
Vindication will come when my best friend’s perpetrators are behind bars, when the people that molested me are behind bars and when my good friend Michael Jackson is fully exonerated in the public opinion because he was never a predator-Corey Feldman
In searching through all of the various interviews with Feldman on Youtube , I found this one published by Studio 10 that I think is one of the best at most concisely summarizing and encapsulating this issue.
One thing Feldman states here that I found especially compelling is the fact that child stars are subjected to at least two very serious forms of physical and psychological abuse. One, of course, is the simple fact of being robbed of childhood by being forced to work at a capacity that even many adults would not be able to handle, all while giving up most of their earnings to their parents. The result? If the parents are unscrupulous, the child actor may well reach eighteen to find that they have nothing to show for all those years of hard labor but empty pockets (Feldman claims here that only about $40,000 was left of the millions he earned as a child star). Then, as if those issues were not enough, they are often compounded by sexual abuse. In the above interview, Feldman says he had tried to commit suicide as a child twice, and this was before any sexual abuse had even occurred! “This was before I was molested; that was my psyche going into the molestations!” he states.
The video then segues into a segment regarding the importance of Michael Jackson’s friendship, which as Feldman has stated on numerous occasions, was actually an oasis away from his abusive situations. This isn’t surprising. Throughout his adult life, Jackson reached out to both former and current child stars. The experience of shared childhood stardom was the basis of his close friendship with Elizabeth Taylor. He also reached out to many former child stars, from Shirley Temple to Mickey Rooney and many others. He also formed a close bond with Liza Minnelli, whose mother Judy Garland was a child star (Garland herself had passed away while Michael was still a small child, but I believe he was able to feel an extension to her through alliance with her daughter). With these adults, Michael was able to form a bond, and that bond was the shared pain, suffering, and unique experiences that could only come from being a child star. In the same spirit, he often reached out to those he knew were currently part of that same grist mill. This included then current child stars like Feldman, Corey Haim, Macaulay Culkin and others. The reasons really don’t seem that far fetched to comprehend. With the adults, Michael was able to commiserate about what it had all meant. With the children, there was still a chance–that is, a chance that at least one adult in their lives could provide them a sense of normalcy.
This leads to a very disturbing possible conclusion. If the bond between Jackson and Feldman was as close as he claims-and if he really was treating Michael as his confidante and the only adult in show business he could really trust-is it possible that Michael Jackson may have come to know too much? (I don’t want to claim credit for this idea; my fellow MJ advocate Helena espoused this same theory in a very interesting blog post from 2017).
But if this is true, was someone (or many someones) trying to shut him down? As has already been speculated, it seems very odd that actor Jon Grissom-who Corey Feldman has repeatedly named as one of his actual abusers-was the one who initially tipped off Santa Barbara officials that Feldman was spending “too much time with Michael Jackson.” Yet this is what actually appears when one looks up Grissom’s biography on IMDB:
Jon Grissom has a criminal record that includes a 2001 arrest for child molestation charges. He was found guilty of the crime in 2003 and served time. He is also in violation of “Megan’s Law,” which requires sex offenders to register with the state.
The truth is that, back in 1993, Santa Barbara officials (more specifically, Tom Sneddon and Deborah Linden) were far more concerned with spinning this friendship with Michael Jackson into something sinister than hearing the truth about who Feldman’s abusers actually were. This is a claim that Feldman has made for years, but the Santa Barbara sheriff’s office denied that Feldman had ever actually named names-that is, until the actual tape of that 1993 interrogation surfaced!
Here is a transcript from Feldman’s 2017 interview on The Today Show:
I sat there and I gave them the names; they’re on record. They have all of this information, but they were scanning Michael Jackson. All they cared about was trying to find something on Michael Jackson-”
“Who you said by the way did not abuse you-” (Matt Lauer)
Michael was innocent, and that was what the interview was about in 1993. I told them he is not that guy, and they said ‘well maybe you just don’t understand your friend’ and I said ‘no, I know the difference between pedophiles and somebody who’s not a pedophile because I’ve been molested. Here’s the names, go and investigate…’-Corey Feldman, Matt Lauer interview
This is the same interview, by the way, in which Feldman later noted the aggressive manner in which Lauer tried to shame him for refusing to name names. Matt Lauer, it should be noted, was the same interviewer who was first willing to give Wade Robson a platform back in 2014, and at the time of this interview with Feldman was only a few weeks away from becoming himself yet another casualty of #MeToo.
But this wasn’t the first time Corey Feldman had faced public ridicule and shaming for trying to out Hollywood’s pedophile ring. Years ago, on an episode of The View, Feldman was raked over the coals by Barbara Walters who disdainfully told him, “You’re damaging an entire industry!”
Isn’t it interesting, however, that these were some of the same people who were so quick to pounce on, believe, and even perpetuate the allegations against Michael Jackson? Isn’t it interesting that they never held his accusers to the same level of accountability? What gets me most in re-watching this clip is how Walters doesn’t even seem genuinely surprised or shocked by the allegations (her lame “And they’re still working in this business” notwithstanding) but, rather, disgust at the messenger. The reasons, of course, why Walters and others (for she is by no means the only one!) continue to defend and hold the silence is because they themselves are dependent upon “the industry” for a living. If the industry is destroyed, they go down with it.
Michael Jackson, for all his fame and record sales, was never a Hollywood “insider.” The fact that perhaps he wanted to be (for this did seem to be one of his most persistent ambitions; his last uncharted frontier, so to speak) is beside the point. In fact, this ambition may well have been part of his undoing. He was never going to be guaranteed that level of protection and loyalty because he wasn’t a “member of the club.” He was a musician; an oddball; an outsider knocking for admittance. Although #MeToo has definitely changed the playing field somewhat, it still remains true that when a musician is accused of a crime (particularly a Black musician) he or she is far more likely to be swept under the bus. Next up on the hierarchy: Black actors, then White musicians, and finally White actors. But once you get into the realm of White powerful Hollywood execs, then you are treading into very dangerous waters indeed! However, at the time the 1993 accusations serviced, Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly “just” another African-American musician and entertainer. He was already owner of the ATV catalog and had just signed what was, at the time, the most lucrative recording contract in history, one that was guaranteed (at least according to the terms of the contract) to give him a stake in the film industry. There was a time when Jackson was clearly being courted by the likes of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and some of Hollywood’s most powerful elite. So what went wrong?
The truth-and this is coming from someone who has spent her entire life as a movie geek who loves Hollywood-is that Hollywood is a notoriously hypocritical place, but then this could also be said for much of journalism and the media as well. When an accusation is made, the first impulse of all those not immediately affected is to instantly distance themselves publicly from the pariah as much as possible, lest their own reputation be tainted by the association. Granted, this is not always of the celebrity’s own volition. They are often acting on the advice of their own PR firms in order to protect their own brand. However, it has also been proven that this can take the form of deflecting (i.e, finding a scapegoat who can take the focus off of themselves) and the notorious Harvey Weinstein was apparently a master at it.
This brings me back to the original question raised. If, in the early 90’s, child stars like Corey Feldman did not yet have the maturity or emotional capacity to stand up to their abusers or to blow the whistle, did some feel threatened enough by Jackson’s close friendships with Feldman and other child stars to want him permanently removed from any position of power or authority he might have had in that kind of situation? By turning him into the object of suspect, perhaps? I realize this is a tough question to raise; even harder, of course, to prove. But it is certainly not a theory without some merit.
The proverbial “proof in the pudding” actually came with an explosive December 2017 New York Times article I mentioned previously, “Weinstein’s Complicity Machine.” I have quoted here the relevant (for our purposes) passage:
Over dinner in West Hollywood in late 2003 or early the next year, the men had discussed a plan to help Mr. Weinstein avoid embarrassment. While married to his first wife, he had become involved with someone else, Mr. Benza discovered. A clerk at a Los Angeles art studio where he commissioned a gift for Mr. Weinstein — a painting of a reimagined “Hollywood” sign reading “Harveywood” — volunteered to Mr. Benza that a friend, Georgina Chapman, was seeing the producer. Mr. Weinstein, who would later marry Ms. Chapman, was separated and wanted to keep the relationship confidential until he was divorced, according to his spokeswoman, Sallie Hofmeister.
Mr. Benza, then between jobs, had a suggestion. “I could supply your P.R. girls with a lot of gossip — a lot of stories — and if people come at them with the ‘Harvey’s having an affair story,’ they can barter,” Mr. Benza recalled telling Mr. Weinstein. “He said, ‘A. J., it’s got to be good stories,’ and I said, ‘Don’t you worry about it.’”
Collecting a monthly retainer, Mr. Benza said, he reported items on Roger Clemens, Michael Jackson and others and sent them to Mr. Weinstein’s communications team, though he didn’t know whether they were used to trade away stories about the producer. Mr. Weinstein’s spokeswoman said the payments to Mr. Benza were for public relations work during Miramax’s dispute with Disney.
After 10 months, Mr. Weinstein said, “I think the coast is clear; I think we beat this thing,” according to Mr. Benza, who recently had a brief stint as a writer for American Media and also runs his own gossip podcast, “Fame Is a Bitch.”
The “Mr. Benza” of the article was none other than gossip columnist A.J. Benza, famed for his sordid stories about the rich and famous, and particularly nasty stories about Michael Jackson. It was revealed that Weinstein had also worked closely with Dylan Howard, editor of Radar Online and National Enquirer, to create “smoke and mirrors” stories about other celebrities including (most notoriously) Michael Jackson. This gets doubly interesting when it is recalled that it was Dylan Howard who became the foremost “go to” person in the media for Wade Robson’s attorneys, especially the stunt they pulled in 2016 with fabricating a “fake news” story of child porn that was never found at Neverland.
With all of these forces at work, is it any surprise to learn that the new documentary Untouchable-exposing Harvey Weinstein’s crimes-was premiering at Sundance Film Festival on the exact same day as Leaving Neverland? Dear readers, do you recall seeing anything in the press this weekend about Untouchable? Neither do I. Oh yes, there were a few mentions on some very low profile outlets, but other than that, not a peep. Compare that to the media frenzy that surrounded Leaving Neverland and you get the idea. Something feels very rotten in the state of Utah right about now. Leaving Neverland was a very, very late, last minute addition to the lineup, barely making it under the wire of the deadline, and it seems there was quite a tremendous pull to get it on the bill.
Preliminary reviews have started to come in, and in the next part of this post, I will share some very critical thoughts on this film and the reactions it has garnered. Also, now that we’re getting a better idea of what is actually in the movie-and maybe more interestingly, what is not-I will be in a much better position to start critiquing it. Stay tuned. Part 2 is coming…
Dan Reed, Wade Robson and James Safechuck at the Q&A. Full dissection coming…this is gonna get brutal!