Michael Jackson: Get Real

Child abuse allegations have become today's preferred form of celebrity-bashing. That's bad.

Jennie Bristow

Topics Politics

Michael Jackson in child sex abuse scandal! Isn’t it time to change the record? Ten years ago, Jackson was accused of abusing a child; today, he is accused of practically the same thing, with the added dimension that this young fan has suffered from cancer.

The media condemns, Jackson’s lawyers deny, the law enforcement agencies get their cuffs out for the cameras – and Jackson’s latest greatest hits album goes to the top of the UK charts (though not in the USA). As the rumours circulate (again) and the details dressed as background information pour forth (again), one can only wonder what we are learning from all this.

So Michael Jackson is a strange man with an apparent inability to tell the difference between himself and a 12-year-old boy? Well, we never would have thought that before. It’s rather like pointing out that this is not his real nose/face/skin. But paedophile allegations are always guaranteed that extra sick twist, turning cosmetic trivia into something apparently more disturbing and profound. Even if the whole story is really nothing more than cosmetic trivia, and the sickness lies in society’s voyeuristic obsession with child abuse.

If Jacko’s young accuser is suffering from the effects of abuse, this is clearly a terrible thing for which Michael Jackson should be held to account. How this process is helped, however, by the over-the-top, PR-driven reaction by the law enforcement agencies and the trial-by-media speculation that has accompanied the allegation is anybody’s guess. Those who cite concern about child abuse victims as a basis for running salacious accounts of who might have done what to whom, yesterday, in the distant past or potentially some time in the future, are arguably as complicit in child abuse as Neverland’s resident wacko might be.

Nor is any broader awareness-raising cause helped by the gleeful smearing of Jackson and his predilections. So now we know that Jackson might not be the ideal playmate for our 12-year-old child – as if we’d managed to remain unaware of the star’s decade-long reputation.

That has not stopped journalists and campaigners trying to ram home the message, however. ‘Would you let your kid bunk with Jacko?’ demanded Robin Wallace on Fox News on 20 November (1). He conceded pretty quickly that ‘advising parents on how to protect their kids while at Neverland is an absurd question’ – before going on to pose ‘the correct question’: ‘What’s wrong with these parents who let their kids sleep over at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, and what are the authorities going to do about them?’

How quickly the commonsense response, which hints at the need for parents of Jackson’s sleepover chums to take some responsibility for knowing about his strangeness, becomes translated into a po-faced parent-bashing by Journalists Who Know Best. Arguing (with some justification) that Jackson’s music is not generally cool among 12-year-old boys, Wallace extrapolates: ‘It’s the parents who are the fans, the parents who want the access to Jackson, to fame, to his money, to the bragging rights of being able to say they “know” a superstar, and because Jackson is who he is, the kids are the key to the Neverland gates.’ (2) So blame the vile parents, for knowingly exposing their child to untold horrors. Why not? Today’s child abuse hysteria takes but a minute to put the parents in the frame.

Or other people’s parents. Douglas Larsen, a bearded chap who runs a website dedicated to ‘Abuse/Incest Support’, uses the Fox News article as a hook for a multiple bullet-point set of ‘general guidelines to think about before letting your kids go on sleepovers’. The first of these is: ‘The lack of overnight sleepovers will not scar a child for life. When in doubt, keep them at home.’ Michael Jackson is transformed from a mega-popstar who has built his reputation around being an oddball to a prototype for all those normal parents-of-your-friends’-children out there. Why resist the opportunity – however opportunistic – to generalise a panic?

Whatever you think about Jackson (if, indeed, you have any view at all), the circus surrounding this latest abuse allegation is as nasty as it is naff. From Jonathan King to Pete Townshend to Gary Glitter, allegations related to paedophilia and child porn have become the preferred form of celebrity-bashing for today’s society. Most such accusations – for example, those levelled against Matthew Kelly and Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja – have proved groundless. Even when it comes to those that are true, what the shrill condemnation and publicity do to protect the nation’s vulnerable children is anybody’s guess. This frenzy both feeds off, and helps to create, a salacious obsession with child abuse and a suspicion of everybody who gets within two feet of a child – their own or anybody else’s.

You don’t have to be a Jackson fan to see that something about this whole palaver smells bad. We know Jacko’s wacko – but there’s something disturbingly predictable about the speed with which everybody jumps on the child abuse bandwagon.

Read on:

A Thriller documentary?, by Jennie Bristow

(1) Would You Let Your Kid Bunk With Jacko?, Fox News, 20 November 2003

(2) Would You Let Your Kid Bunk With Jacko?, Fox News, 20 November 2003

(3) Abuse/Incest Support,

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Topics Politics


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