‘Leaving Neverland’ and what to do with Michael Jackson’s music

By Janell Ross

In the wake of “Leaving Neverland,” the HBO documentary exploring two men’s detailed claims that Michael Jackson molested them as children, at least one question remains.

What are the obligations of Jackson fans who, unlike Jackson, have lived long enough to absorb at least some of the lessons of the #MeToo era? Jackson, a public figure regarded as both immensely talented and extraordinarily strange before his death in 2009, is also now a man accused multiple times of sexual abuse involving children.

“People are being asked to grapple with trauma, actual harm, inflicted on living human beings by a dead man who is not merely beloved. He was unparalleled,” said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African American studies at Duke University, who saw his first Jackson concert in 1971.

“It is, for many people a heavy, heavy lift to even consider muting Michael Jackson or changing the way we think about him to include predator,” said Neal, who wrote a book entitled “Songs in the Key of Black Life” and teaches a course on Jackson and his art. “Unlike an R. Kelly, Michael was an iconic global figure. There is no one like him.”

One example of the struggle to determine Jackson’s legacy is the conversation on the radio show where, on a typical weekday, nearly 8 million people hear at least a bit of what Tom Joyner has to say. Joyner is the booming middle-aged black male voice at the helm of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, the nation’s leading syndicated “urban” morning radio program. Joyner and his co-hosts and sidekicks often mine comedy gold from the morning’s headlines and then blend it with social commentary someone’s auntie might offer.

Less than 12 hours after the final episode of “Leaving Neverland” aired, Joyner led a discussion about Jackson, and made it clear he did not accept the damning narrative put forward in the documentary.

“If someone accuses you of something,” Joyner said on the air Tuesday, “they had better have some facts to back it up. They didn’t have any facts.”

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