By Jason Menard
Is it still OK to like Michael Jackson? That decision will probably be made once a jury of his peers renders a verdict on allegations of inappropriate activities with children? But the question is should a guilty or innocent decision make a difference?
To a large extent in our society celebrities are given a get out of jail free card, cashing in on the goodwill generated by their various talents. Our admiration for their abilities also seems to foster an exaggerated gift of the benefit of doubt.
We live in a society where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But, let’s face it, if the average guy showed up on TV, proudly boasting that he sleeps with young boys – but there’s nothing untoward about it, chances are we’d be avoiding this guy like the plague. And I know that my son wouldn’t be having any overnighters at the guy’s house.
And that’s the general reaction we’d have for the average Joe. Not the eccentric, changes-his-face-more-often-than-Paul-Martin-changes-his-mind, former child prodigy that is Michael Jackson.
But, behind the trial, behind the eccentricities, behind the media furor lies an artist and his art. And it’s the appreciation of this art that may be irretrievably lost in all of this, if it hasn’t already been damaged beyond repair.
Is it still OK to like Michael Jackson? The difficulty of this question is magnified by the simple fact that there are two ways to read it. Are we discussing Michael Jackson, the man, who is alleged to have personal demons that are reprehensible to society as a whole? Or are we looking at Michael Jackson, the industry, and a body of work and expressed talent that has rarely been seen.
I’ll admit it — I own Thriller. And I know there are at least one or two of you out there that do to, seeing as he’s sold about a kagillion copies of this album. As a child of the 80’s I grew up listening to his music, watching his talent manifest itself in ways that I had never seen. Listening to his work with the Jackson Five introduced me to the wonderful world of Motown. His performance at Motown’s 25 th – where he unveiled the Moonwalk and tossed his hat into the crowd – is an image I’ll never forget. Heck, I even owned a Glitter Glove!
But will that legacy of music, the influence he’s had on a generation of performers who followed, the innovation he displayed in his music videos, be tainted should a guilty verdict be rendered? Do we retroactively diminish superhuman achievement in light of less-than-human behaviour?
A case can be made in the affirmative when we look at O.J. Simpson. Not guilty criminally, but found culpable in a civil court, The Juice is looked upon as a pariah as he continues his search for The Real Killers in the bunkers and on the fairways of North America. And, while it’s easy to dismiss his talents on the Silver Screen, we accomplishments on the gridiron are now in question. Undoubtedly one of the great running backs of his time, it takes a brave sportswriter to acknowledge his talent in a public forum.
However, our celebrity worship also takes us to the other extreme. When rape allegations against Kobe Bryant were first brought to the fore, thousands of ravenous supporters rallied to his side. These people knew nothing more about Kobe than what they saw on the court, or what his public relations consultants and advertising contracts showcased, but they were willing to throw their wholehearted support behind him! I don’t think these people would do the same for the average guy in their community charged with rape – in fact, they’d probably trot out the old “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” adage and presume guilt.
As our society is increasingly exposed to the trials and tribulations of celebrity justice, so too will this issue have to be addressed. If Robert Blake is convicted of murdering his wife, does that change how we view his performance in In Cold Blood? Yet, modern rap artists gain welcome street cred for behaviour that we’d vilify in the general public.
When it comes to art, should it matter whether or not we approve of the artist? Does singing along to Bad mean that I tacitly support alleged pedophilia? Were my childhood attempts at doing the Moonwalk the subconscious modern equivalent of goose-stepping in time with a malevolent leader? Is all the good brought about by We Are the World lost by allegations of reprehensible behaviour?
I’d argue that’s not the case. It is not a case of the ends justifying the means. In fact, one should have nothing to do with the other. If Michael Jackson is convicted, then he should be locked up and left to dance his way around the general population of Cell Block 1. And the only singing we should hear from him is at his parole review. But regardless of the outcome, our appreciation of his past musical achievements shouldn’t be coloured by our opinion of the man. The art should be separate from the artist – but I have a feeling that won’t be the case.
Perhaps the Jackson trial will set the benchmark for how future popular opinion will be defined. And, in the future, we may have to hold off on our appreciation of our favourite artists until enough time has elapsed to ensure that there are no skeletons waiting to fall out of their closet.
2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved