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 cannot change, courage to change the 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 article is 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.