It’s not okay to see the Michael Jackson musical in London, it’s disgusting

(Publicity photo)

I still love Philip Larkin, have no problem with David Bowie and enjoy Kanye West’s music. I don’t like cancel culture and understand the need to separate the art from the artist. So why do I feel so uneasy at the thought of the West End’s biggest opening this year?

Tomorrow MJ walks into The Musical Soho. Created by two-time Pulitzer-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and directed by acclaimed Royal Ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, this Michael Jackson musical is a huge hit in the US, grossing £137 million at the box office with 1,204,693 rapturous fans.

Conveniently set in 1992, the year before the King of Pop was first publicly accused of abuse, the show focuses on Jackson as he prepares for his Dangerous world tour. Despite its success, the show’s failure to mention any of the allegations against him understandably made American critics uneasy. “No one looks at the man in the mirror,” said the New York Times. “Very smooth, somewhat criminal,” said the New York Stage Review.

Jackson’s achievements are unparalleled. He is one of the most important figures of the 20th century, the black Sinatra, Elvis and Madonna in one. His achievements include 15 Grammys, six Brits, a Golden Globe and 39 Guinness World Records, including “most successful entertainer of all time”. Iconic hits such as Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It and Bad made him a musical genius and a truly innovative artist.

Robson claims he was only seven when he was raped by Jackson, Safechuck says the abuse started when he was ten

He is of great historical importance to Black Americans and is credited with breaking numerous racial barriers, including being the first Black artist to have a regular video on MTV and setting and breaking sales records throughout his career, to not to mention his considerable philanthropic efforts. His legacy is important.

But to say Jackson is problematic would be an understatement.

In 1993, Jackson was accused of abusing 13-year-old Jordan Chandler in a case that was settled out of court for $23 million. Criminal charges were later filed after 12-year-old former cancer patient Gavin Arviso also told police he had been abused.

Dan Reed’s gripping 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland showed Wade Robson and James Safechuck describing in graphic detail how they were abused as young children (Robson claims he was only seven when he was raped by Jackson, Safechuck says the abuse occurred at 10- age started). Their testimony – which has been categorically denied by Jackson’s estate – is overwhelmingly convincing.

Their reports serve as a master class on the grooming process and psychology of the predator. Safechuck’s mother says that as time went on, her room became further and further away from the room her son and Jackson shared. Safechuck liked jewelry, and Jackson allegedly made him perform sex acts to earn it. Both say they were warned that if they ever told anyone what was really going on, they would go to prison for the rest of their lives

As with the participants in the documentary Surviving R Kelly, diehard fans claim they are lying in pursuit of compensation payments, complicated by the fact that both testified on Jackson’s behalf in 2005 when the star was tried for child sex abuse. They claim that it was many years before we could speak about what happened; one of the key insights of Leaving Neverland, Surviving R. Kelly, and other similar works is dismantling assumptions about the “perfect victim.”

But even in the mainstream, it seems Jackson is too big to cancel. Next year, Michael, a biopic made by Oscar-winning producer Graham King, will be released alongside the co-executor of Jackson’s estate. Isn’t it extraordinary that in a world where Roald Dahl needs a trigger warning, audiences are licking films that glorify a man who allegedly raped very young children?

It is a sad fact that criminal charges have historically been handled very differently when the suspect is a very famous and well-liked man. Miles Davis is said to have assaulted his wives, the late rapper XXXTentacion is said to have assaulted his ex-girlfriend while he was pregnant… When you listen to someone’s music you don’t subscribe to their morals, but in our new, friendlier, more active society, there would be red should be lines?

Of course, Jackson was also a victim. It’s not hard to figure out the psychological hinterland that inspired Neverland. He was brutally abused by his father, who bullied all his children terribly, but reserved a particularly cruel psychological warfare for his youngest son, Michael. Of course, a gentle interpretation of the sinister Neverland is that Jackson was simply trying to retrieve a lost youth that was stolen from him.

Criminal charges have historically been treated very differently when the suspect is a very famous and well-liked man

Another argument could be that as a society we are slaves to a sick celebrity culture where we make the victors sick. Take a look at the highly anticipated biopic of Amy Winehouse, which gives us another chance to explore the skeleton of yet another damaged individual. There’s no disputing that celebrities themselves are toxic to the wearer, and equally toxic to everyone around them.

Jackson “truthers” have a faith-based relationship with his legacy. Of course it is much more fun to live in a world where he was the genius, the pioneer, the philanthropist and to enjoy his music without a care in the world.

But even if you don’t believe Jackson’s accusers, and aren’t concerned about the police investigations and the eye-watering payouts to shut down legal proceedings, and have no problem with Jackson openly admitting to sleeping in the same room as young boys, is the message that you What we want to say is that if a pedophile is rich and powerful enough, society will still support him. Are you comfortable with that?

Anna van Praagh is chief content officer of the Evening Standard

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