Workers Vanguard No. 1153
19 April 2019
Leaving Neverland: Lying Hit Piece
Down With the Demonizing of Michael Jackson!
“The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all…. All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; the blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair.”
—James Baldwin (1985)
Recalling the zombie creatures in the acclaimed music video “Thriller,” there is a renewed feeding frenzy over the deceased King of Pop. HBO’s Leaving Neverland, a sensationalist four-hour film by Dan Reed, showcases Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege years of childhood sexual abuse by Michael Jackson. Falsely marketed as a “documentary,” Leaving Neverland is based solely on the spurious and uncorroborated testimonies of Robson and Safechuck, two men who for decades were known as ardent defenders of Jackson against sexual abuse charges, of which the singer was fully exonerated. Now the news vultures, with the blessing of the “Queen of All Media,” Oprah Winfrey, are rehashing the old smear campaign, and the racist, anti-sex and anti-gay witchhunt that encircled the celebrity during his life and hounded him to death. As Marxists, we categorically reject such witchhunts and the moralistic bourgeois framework behind them, which criminalizes any contact between adults and children that is perceived as sexual, casting adults as predators and children as victims.
Dan Reed’s hatchet job presents zero evidence, deliberately omits anyone who could easily rebut the abuse allegations and conceals the accusers’ financial motivations. Howard Weitzman, attorney for the Jackson estate, details in both a 7 February letter to HBO CEO Richard Plepler and a 21 February lawsuit against the company, how the accusers lack all credibility. Between 2013 and 2017, Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed “master of deception,” tried to extort hundreds of millions of dollars from the estate. Their multiple civil cases related to alleged abuse were dismissed with prejudice. Still trying to collect huge sums for damages, the two men’s lawyers pursued a new course: using the court of public opinion to help their appeal gain traction.
Characterizing the network’s hit piece as a “posthumous character assassination,” the Jackson estate’s lawsuit rightly observes:
“Ten years after [Jackson’s] passing, there are still those out to profit from his enormous worldwide success and take advantage of his eccentricities. Michael is an easy target because he is not here to defend himself, and the law does not protect the deceased from defamation, no matter how extreme the lies are. Michael may not have lived his life according to society’s norms, but genius and eccentricity are not crimes. Nothing and no one can rewrite the facts which show that Michael Jackson is indeed innocent of the charges being levied at him.”
And the facts are that in a 2005 criminal trial, Michael Jackson was found not guilty of 14 counts related to the alleged molestation of 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo. At that time, Wade Robson, who testified on Jackson’s behalf, was adamant in both his deposition and on the stand that Jackson never touched him or any other child. That trial also vindicated Jackson as to the previous 1993 child abuse accusations against a different 13-year-old. Likewise, the FBI conducted extensive investigations and surveillance of Jackson for over a decade between 1992 and 2005. The Feds and prosecutors, intent on finding any way to frame a black man for molesting white children, could not produce a shred of evidence, including in the over 300 pages of FBI documents published online.
Leaving Neverland has begun to receive some blowback as multiple discrepancies come out in the shady tales of Robson and Safechuck, who clearly rehearsed their scripted interviews in multiple takes. Director Dan Reed has gone to the wall over his incendiary piece of fiction, comparing Michael Jackson defenders to religious fanatics, calling them “the Islamic State of fandom.” Such defenders would include Jackson’s longtime friends Macaulay Culkin and Brett Barnes, as well as Diana Ross. Barnes, who the film implies was the “next in line” to be molested by Jackson, denounced the movie in a message online: “Not only do we have to deal with these lies, but we’ve also got to deal with people perpetuating these lies.”
One of those lies is from Safechuck, who claims that he and Jackson spent their sexual “honeymoon” in the Neverland train station starting in 1988. Yet the station was not built until 1994, when Safechuck was beyond his childhood years (one of the claims is that Jackson dumped kids when they reached puberty) and when Jackson, then married, was not even living there! Meanwhile, Robson claims his first sexual encounter with Jackson took place in 1990 when he was left alone at the Neverland ranch while his family took a trip to the Grand Canyon. But according to his mother’s own sworn statements, Robson accompanied his family on the trip. The timelines of “abuse” for Robson and Safechuck are so illogical that they could only be manufactured.
The liberal bourgeois U.S. media, like the New York Times, has promoted salacious headlines of the “predator” Jackson and blacked out any criticism of Leaving Neverland. Meanwhile, countless bloggers, YouTube commentators and online communities (as well as a couple of foreign news outlets) have meticulously pieced together the real story. Conservative talk show host John Ziegler, who is no fan of Jackson, was one of the first to interview Michael’s niece Brandi and nephew Taj in search of the truth. Well acquainted with the accusers, they paint a picture of Robson and Safechuck as professional opportunists whose families latched on to Jackson, took advantage of his friendship and generosity, and only turned against him when their own personal fame and fortune took a downturn years after Jackson’s death. Shattering Robson’s pretense as a naive, chaste adolescent who was duped by Michael into hating women, Brandi notes that in her seven-year teenage relationship with Robson, he had sexual encounters with multiple women.
In 2009 Robson, then 27 years old, attended Jackson’s funeral and wrote in a tribute that Jackson is “one of the main reasons I believe in the pure goodness of humankind. He was a close friend of mine for 20 years. His music, his movement, his personal words of inspiration and encouragement and his unconditional love will live inside of me forever. I will miss him immeasurably.” Just two years later, after Robson failed to nail a choreography gig for Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson ONE” and his career dried up, he suddenly “realized” through therapy that he had been abused. For his part, Safechuck “discovered” his abuse when watching Robson on the Today show, which coincided with the Safechuck family’s financial meltdown.
Moral Frenzies and Mob Justice
In a thoughtful piece called “The New Lynching of Michael Jackson” (medium.com, 27 February), Linda Raven-Woods observed: “That so many prominent journalists and media talking heads have displayed the willingness to accept this film blindly at face value, without raising the much needed questions that need to be asked about its veracity, is a bigger unforgiveable travesty than the film itself.” She goes on to note how the backers of Leaving Neverland are confident “that the current zeitgeist of MeToo and its ‘don’t question victims’ mentality will create the tunnel vision needed to willfully blind viewers.” In an atmosphere that has junked the presumption of innocence and due process for those accused of sexual abuse, this tale finds a fertile medium.
Up until he died, Michael Jackson firmly maintained that his relationships with children had been platonic, an assertion backed up by forensics and witnesses. But in the #MeToo climate of “believe all survivors,” HBO’s prurient screenplay was “proof” enough to rile up the torch-bearing mob. Numerous radio stations around the world pulled Michael Jackson’s music, clothing lines withdrew their Jackson apparel, and an episode of The Simpsons with Jackson’s voice was removed from its catalog.
Even if at any point in his life Jackson did have some kind of romantic relationship with an underage boy, that is no crime in our eyes. He was accused of violating laws that prohibit sexual activity, even when consensual, before an arbitrary age. As steadfast defenders of privacy and sexual freedom, the Spartacist League has always opposed “age of consent” laws, which are intended to stigmatize and punish all intimate relationships between adults and younger people. By branding any sexual act involving a minor as rape, such laws are inherently repressive and promote state interference into people’s intimate lives.
Sexual activity is natural for humans of all ages. The sole guideline for any sexual relationship should be that of effective consent—that is, mutual agreement and understanding by the parties involved, regardless of age, gender or sexual preference. In that light, we have always uniquely stood for the rights of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), which advocates the legalization of consensual sex between men and boys. We also oppose all legislation against victimless crimes, such as pornography, which is simply images and words intended for pleasure.
In anti-sex witchhunts a la Americana, mass hysteria and moral outrage are crucial ingredients to stoke fear and push ideological conformity to bourgeois norms. The “predator” bogeyman is socially useful for the capitalist rulers, who can hypocritically parade as “protecting the children” and divert attention from the social system they uphold, which regularly denies children basic needs like food, shelter and education. Hysteria over “child abuse” does nothing to confront real violence, but merely serves to bolster the institution of the family. The family, the main source of the oppression of women and youth, is key under capitalism to enforcing behavioral roles and the obedience of the next generation.
During the “Satanic sex ring” panic of the mid 1980s and early ’90s, hundreds of innocent people, especially day care employees, were framed up on fantastical charges of raping and torturing children. Child psychologists, who implanted false “recovered memories” during therapy, assisted in the crusade. The ideological backdrop was the promotion of “good” stay-at-home mothers as against the supposed evils of childcare. A not-so-subtle echo of this “right” vs. “wrong” parenting schema appears in Leaving Neverland, with its warnings against leaving kids with strangers or letting them sleep in bed with an adult. The implication is that only the family can offer a safe haven. Yet it is often within the family itself that children, who are confined in the horrible straitjacket of moralism and religious guilt, suffer criminal abuse.
The graphic sexual accounts in Leaving Neverland, which come off as rather gentle and innocuous, are manipulatively presented as part of Jackson’s “grooming” process whereby he seduced children into loving him. The film’s intention is to equate entirely harmless affection from adults with assault and trauma. This is the shtick of Dan Reed, a self-declared “gun for hire” who made his name from tabloid movies like The Paedophile Hunter that sensationalizes bloodthirsty vigilantism. His “grooming” narrative is the focus of HBO’s follow-up special After Neverland hosted by the billionaire Oprah. Parading as an authority on child sexual abuse, she invited an audience of “survivors” to take part in “this moment” that “transcends Michael Jackson.”
There is a deeper agenda at play, not only in terms of boosting profit and ratings, but also in deflecting attention from Harvey Weinstein, whom she considered a close friend during the many years of his alleged serial assaults of women. Oprah’s HBO stunt has earned her deserved animosity from black critics calling her a sellout and a traitor for throwing Jackson’s corpse to the wolves, with trending hashtags #NOprah and #CancelOprah. Appearing on Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show last week, Oprah claimed that such “hateration” would not make her waver in her defense of Robson and Safechuck, maintaining that molestation amounts to a “pattern” of sexual seduction. In fact, the only “pattern” in this entire saga is that of con artists repeatedly trying to shake down an innocent man.
The Man in the Mirror
The legacy of Michael Jackson spans a period from his roots as a working-class black kid in Indiana to his 45 years as a successful entertainer, during which he transformed the face of pop music, broke records, transcended racial barriers and became a celebrated international superstar. Yet his life was no “American dream” but mirrored racist American cruelty. As we commented in our obituary for the artist (WV No. 940, 31 July 2009):
“The tragedy of Jackson’s death is that an extremely influential music career was driven to the brink of destruction by a savagely racist and puritanical witchhunt spanning more than a decade. The mass hysteria whipped up against Jackson over charges of ‘child molestation’ was an indictment of this anti-sex, bigoted capitalist society, where being an eccentric black celebrity is enough for the state to try to frame you up with something.”
From his early years in the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson went on to become a global icon shortly after the struggles of the civil rights movement. Notwithstanding the “lightening” of his physical appearance, in a country where the color-caste nature of black oppression is enforced through the “one drop of black blood” rule, Jackson was always a black man. And for that he was a marked man. Since the days of chattel slavery, in the U.S. black skin has carried the stamp of permanent servitude, social isolation and “inferiority,” regardless of social status or success and sometimes because of it. Black oppression is the cornerstone of American capitalism, enforced by custom and law and expressed through segregation, cop violence and extralegal terror.
Decades after the racist lynching of Emmett Till, accusations of sexual assault are still used as a pretext to go after black men, including those like Jackson who did not conform to toxic stereotypes of black male sexuality. Throughout history, anti-sex frenzies, not least the current #MeToo variant, have fanned the flames of racial and sexual bigotry, conjuring up the supposed virtue of white womanhood and purity of white childhood. It is perhaps no coincidence that Jackson’s favorite book was To Kill a Mockingbird, the story of a black man ruined by false rape allegations.
As a performer, Michael Jackson helped define American pop culture as a whole, and for that he continues to be both celebrated and crucified. His behavior may have been an enigma to many, but his lyrics reflected his own struggle to overcome the discrimination and hounding he confronted throughout his career. Everyone who personally knew Jackson can testify to his unaffected “Peter Pan Syndrome” and his kindhearted fondness for children, which likely derived from his utter lack of a childhood. He was exceedingly generous with his time and money, as shown by his commitment to help Robson and Safechuck develop their careers. But in this callous society, no good deed goes unpunished.
Our defense of Jackson over the years is an expression of our dedication to the socialist liberation of humanity. As communists who champion the cause of all the victims of this decaying social order, we seek to build a revolutionary party based on the vanguard of the working class—one that can act as a “tribune of the people” against every form of oppression and bigotry. Such a party will lead the struggle for the complete political and economic reorganization of society through workers revolution, which will open the door to rooting out racial and sexual divisions and overcoming material scarcity. A communist world will be one of complete sexual freedom and material abundance, in which every black child, and all others, can grow and develop their talents, and every person can express themselves fully, propelling human civilization to undreamed-of heights.