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Separate the author from the work? Notes on Leaving Neverland

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Leaving Neverland is a documentary that explores the mind of Michael Jackson through the statements of two men who claim to have been abused by the singer when they were children

Separate the author from the work? Notes on Leaving Neverland

This year marks a decade of the death of the king of pop. Michael Jackson undoubtedly changed the history of pop music and its staging. The singer and dancer died ten years ago because of heart failure in mysterious circumstances in which the artist would have taken different drugs in harmful amounts.

Leer en español: ¿Separar el autor de la obra? Apuntes sobre Leaving Neverland

At the 2019 Sundance Festival, in January of this year, Leaving Neverland, an HBO documentary, was released. The general public knew him so far in March when the network transmitted it in two parts.

The documentary, which lasts four hours, revolves around the story of two men who give details about his relationship with Michael Jackson during his childhood: Wade Robson and James Safechuck. In 1993 Jackson was accused of sexual abuse by Jordan Chandler, who at that time was 13 years old. The singer's lawyers reached an agreement with Jordan's family and did not present any charges. Then, in the early 2000s, Jackson went back to dealing with rumors about his relationship with young children at his Neverland Ranch after the release of the documentary Living With Michael Jackson. However, in 2009, after his death, these rumors disappeared behind an idealization of the pop king.

In 2013 Wade Robson filed a lawsuit alleging that Michael Jackson had abused him for seven years since he was seven years old. This lawsuit was dismissed because, according to the court, it had been set too late. A year later he was followed by James Safechuck, who claims that Jackson abused him for four years since he was ten. Both had been witnesses in court on other occasions in which Jackson had been accused of sexual abuse, and both defended him as children. Now, ten years after his death, they tell their story of abuse for HBO at Leaving Neverland.

Read also: Kevin Roldán faces charges of sexual abuse

The Leaving Neverland reception

The documentary's transmission has generated mixed emotions within the music industry and among fans of the king of pop. On the one hand, the response of criticism is between positive and negative. At Rotten Tomatoes it has a 98% approval. Some critics of different magazines such as the Hollywood Reporter and The Daily Telegraph find it mediocre as a documentary and believe that it is completely balanced on one side of the story and shows no interest in showing or investigating another version. However, everyone recognizes the importance of history and the terrifying witness of the victims. For some, like David Fare of Rolling Stone, it is a virtue that the documentary has chosen a side and take a stand on the story that is telling.

The transmission of Leaving Neverland has also aroused displeasure and sabotage to the figure of Michael Jackson. Several radio stations have decided to stop putting their songs, and some artists have moved away from the figure of the singer. The Canadian Drake, for example, has removed from the streaming platforms his song "Do not Matter To Me," which had some vocals from Jackson. Some believe that the music of the pop king should not be and can not be heard after watching the documentary. Hank Stuever of The Washington Post says "turn off the music and listen to these men."

Paradoxically, according to Billboard, Jackson's songs have risen 10% in reproductions. Nor are his more brave fans who have accused the documentary of biased and light. Some of his fans demanded that Sundance canceled the premiere of the documentary and protested at the offices of Channel 4, the network that produced the documentary in collaboration with HBO.

Stop listening to Michael Jackson?

For many this new information about the king of pop means a dilemma, can the author be separated from the work? It is not the first time that campaigns are undertaken that seek to boycott an artist for what he does offstage. This same year, the hashtag #MuteRKelly became a trend after Lifetime broadcast for several consecutive Sundays Surviving R Kelly , a documentary that gave voice to the victims of the king of R & B. This same year the allegations against the Colombian artist Kevin Roldán, whose "PPP" had been playing in discotheques and stations for several months, were also known.

Should not we, then, read Quevedo's misogynist verses or dance reggaeton? I believe that most of the conflicts that cultural products pose cannot be solved. The truth is that we live in a sexist, racist, homophobic society, and that, as children of that society, the cultural products we consume will be mostly macho, etc. This does not mean, however, that we, as consumers of these cultural products, do not have any responsibility. While we can not seek to resolve absolutely all the conflicts posed by music (salsa, for example, obeys a figure of love and flirting absolutely macho, but that's not why we should stop hearing it, but ask ourselves about that image of love that this genre poses us and question it), we can take charge of what we hear.

Also read: Everything you need to know about 'Surviving R. Kelly'

In this sense, after knowing that Kevin Roldan hits his girlfriend, we can already imagine what he means when he sings "she likes when I'm PPP." Thus, it is not just sabotage of the artist (which must, of course, exist), but the meaning of his music and the meaning of his songs radically change when we know these details about his life. It is impossible for me to sing the song of Kevin Roldan without imagining that it makes reference to gender violence, or listening to the songs of R Kelly that talk about the fact that age is not a barrier to "love."

Also, we must be aware that our consumption of cultural products generates income for the artists we listen to. In this way, each reproduction of a song of these characters means economic support to the artist. Thus, if the law does not punish them, at least we listeners must boycott them. I wonder if this boycott makes sense in the case of Michael Jackson, who is already dead and does not win with his music. The reader will judge whether the meaning of his music changed after having seen Leaving Neverland.

 

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Rodríguez Pabón

* Writer's opinion does not represent LatinAmerican Post

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