Leaving Neverland & Taking The Parenting Moral High Ground

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I’ll admit I’ve yet to watch the second part of Leaving Neverland, the controversial documentary focusing on two men who claim that Michael Jackson abused them as children.

I don’t know how I made it through the first half, quite honestly.

To say that the documentary makes for uncomfortable viewing is a horrible understatement. The abuse that the men describe in graphic detail is unbelievably awful; the fact that, when they were age 7 and age 10, their parents let them share a bed with a man they’d just met – pop superstar or not – is simply unbelievable.

Or is it? The documentary hasn’t been out of the headlines since it aired, generating countless questions: those that focus on Jackson’s alleged guilt/innocence but also those that pick apart the actions of the boys’ parents.

After watching the first half of the film and reading subsequent news reports, I believe the men. Jackson is the fallen idol, the monster who is to blame, yet I think it’s easy as a viewer to take the moral high ground and argue that the parents were at fault too. “What normal parent would do that?” “Never in a million years would I…. “ etc.

And isn’t it easy to be an armchair critic and make those assumptions when we’re not in that situation ourselves?

Experts in the psychology of child abuse have stated that the behaviour of Jackson’s alleged victims – and their parents – was typical of the abuse they suffered. They were all under Jackson’s spell. And while elements of the parents’ behaviour might seem ludicrous to an outsider looking in, similar occurrences have happened since and will continue to happen.

Unless we’ve been there, I think it’s best to withhold judgement and to hope that we never find ourselves in a situation that would put our shaky position on that high ground to the test.

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Next to issues of grooming and sexual abuse, questioning the subject of Jackson’s artistic legacy seems frivolous, but it’s still a key part of the debate raised by the documentary.   

I’ve never been a Jackson superfan, but I’ve loved many his songs for as long as I can remember. I don’t think you can argue over the quality of (some of) his work.

I’d feel uncomfortable now if my son listened to his music. I wouldn’t want him questioning why an all-but-proven abuser can still be feted as a ‘king’.

In theory then, I am in favour of boycotting Jackson’s work, but doing so throws up further questions about how artists’ behaviours and their private lives are separated from their art. Do we boycott the work of every artist who has ever been accused of abuse? Why is Johnny Depp still working if that’s the case?

Do we go back and search the archives to uncover artists whose behaviour was ever brought into question? How ‘guilty’ do artists need to be before their work is removed from the history books? Where are the lines drawn?

There are no easy answers, but we must keep asking the questions regardless.

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About Laura O'Donnell

Laura is mum to Ted and partner of Graham Norton (yes really, and no, not that one). Laura left a glamorous life working in PR – first in London, then Sydney, Australia – to return to her less glamorous hometown of Hull, Yorkshire. She set up a PR consultancy and writes a column in Hull Daily Mail, which used to be about culture and going out; it’s now about culture and attempting a social life with a sleep-averse one-year old. Laura blogs at Only Teethin’, loves good guitar pop music and can be bought with donuts. Find her on Instagram @TheLauraOD.

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