Why I Will Never Watch “Leaving Neverland”

When the “King of Pop” passed away from cardiac arrest almost a decade ago, the circumstances surrounding his demise was wrapped in the same shroud of mystery that covered his body, as the cameras created the spectacle of our lifetime with the footage of Michael Jackson being ceremoniously transported to the coroner’s office.

After racing back home once I had been gratifyingly released from jury duty, I recall watching in astonished awe, as the 50-year-old man who laid the musical foundation to my impressionable years, was embarrassingly handled as the freak he had evidently proved to be.

The days leading up to the public memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, was another glaring indication of the hacked reputation of a global superstar, who experienced the unfathomable heights of stardom, as well as the lowest of the lows with jarring gaps in-between.

For me, the oddities began in the mid-80s, when Jackson’s complexion was drastically lightened, and the rumors swirled about his battle with the skin disorder, vitiligo, which caused him to employ the regimen of bleaching as the solution for blending in the white patches.

There were also outlets claiming that Jackson was purposely lightening his skin in reaction to the self-hatred that shaped his childhood, under the disciplined tongue and whip of his no-nonsense father, who was allegedly physically and verbally abusive to his sons. The insults that attacked his features were particularly hard to take, and gave Michael Jackson the incentive to submit to numerous facial surgeries including two rhinoplasties, in an attempt to rectify what had cost him so much anguish.

The major alterations to his once-gorgeous appearance was both shocking and disturbing, and even as his career skyrocketed, it was hard not to be distracted by the astounding freakishness of an elusive figure, who commanded massive arenas all over the world, and then returned to his sprawling fortress where he held court with young fans, and Bubbles, the pet chimpanzee.

The sexual abuse allegations began in the mid-90s and just never went away.

It would be disingenuous of me to downplay my strong response to the shattered frame that had neatly nestled an endearing icon, who consistently provided the tracks to all my social activities as well as the solo make-out session with the Off The Wall album cover.

It was exceptionally challenging to visualize Jackson performing abominable acts on the boys that he bestowed complete devotion with the public itinerary that demonstrated his immense generosity that was probably to a fault.

Remarkably, my young adulthood and limited scope of relying on instincts deprived me of the ability to be reasonably suspicious about the audacity of a grown man spending a considerable amount of time with teenage boys.

Or was it the fact that the exuberant vibe of the decade of excess had given allowance to over-the-top antics, that shielded us from the blatant inconsistencies that normalized the roster of gross inappropriateness that we presently and rightfully judge with horrified glares?

It’s quite accurate that Michael Jackson’s level of adulation armed him with more power than he could accommodate, and that manner of existence can fuck with your head in ways that muster your own self-directed shit show.

After spending about a decade fighting off sexual abuse allegations, the acquittal in 2005, was supposed to be the long-awaited victory lap to restore the disposition of the stoically sobered legend, who immediately relocated to a foreign land in order to begin the healing process after an extended harrowing ordeal.

Needless to say, Michael Jackson never quite recovered from the stigma of those graphically-gruesome allegations, and the combination of manufactured jargon mixed with specs of the truth basically foreshadowed the arduous road ahead.

It wasn’t surprising to behold the somewhat restrained climate that greeted the tragic death of an incomparably gigantic hitmaker, who still holds the record of the “best-selling artist of all time” thanks to the Quincy Jones produced gem — Thriller.

It wasn’t that his abrupt exit didn’t elicit enough worldwide sorrow and fellowship, as vibrant tributes activated an increased interest in his substantial catalog of valuables.

It was really the growing cancer of his last few years on earth, and how it ultimately killed him even before he was administered the lethal dose that wasn’t supposed to knock him out forever.

And now as the 10-year anniversary of his death approaches, the worst case scenario has occurred, in the form of a monumental event that refocuses him on the global stage with the harshness of a spotlight that he fought tooth and nail to defuse.

Leaving Neverland made its much-heralded premiere at Sundance at the start of the year, and its epic success was logged by notably ravenous vendors, resulting in HBO’s profitable acquisition, that led to the impressive viewership, followed by a thorough Q&A by media mogul and former Queen of Daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey.

Social media platforms were ablaze with threads of summations during the hours that showcased the dramatic testimonies of two alleged victims, who are now adult men, still bearing the open wounds from the episodes of abuse at the hands of the man that they grew to love and trust, to the apparent detriment of their overall well-being.

Here’s the thing, I don’t plan on ever watching Leaving Neverland.

The main reasons have everything to do with my own personal struggle with childhood trauma, and how the cruelty of that incident hasn’t loosened its grip even for a second. It would be a sick form of masochism to submit to the treatment that relieves the potency of those terrifying details without a justifiable outcome.

Then there’s the overwhelming loyalty to MJ that doesn’t come from the mindset of bizarrely-spun fandom, but rather the basic principles of honoring the dead, and recognizing the morbid injustice of attacking the already pummeled character of an easy prey, based on the tumultous past, and how we are resigned to the viral notoriety of well-packaged narratives that can be absorbed without merit.

The bitter fact is that none of us will ever really know whether or not Michael Jackson did indeed carry out those horrendous acts against his accusers, and we can’t assume it happened because he was a certified weirdo, who entertained problematic relationships due to unlimited access, and being surrounded by worshippers who were paid to serve him accordingly.

It doesn’t make sense to indulge in an offering that would further torment my inability to unequivocally pick a side without any shadow of a doubt.

But even more debilitating is the pressure from both sides of the argument, and how the ugliness has spurned an apocalypse of morality within the confines of an unethical delivery, that swoops up empathy for the featured players, and renders the notable absentee unfairly disadvantaged and brutalized.

The notion of a defenseless dead person, who can neither repent for his unforgivable sins nor fight for his right to uphold the acquittal that he was awarded when he was alive, is truly more horrific than the documentary that has given so many the judgmental call that nobody is aptly qualified to levy.

This isn’t about denouncing or callously mocking the validity of victims because I am one of those sufferers and I would never minimize the permanency of the damage to vulnerable souls, that are painfully crushed with the blow of utter betrayal.

It’s really about the unwillingness to participate in a losing battle of wills that amasses the casualty of how literally nothing is off limits, and what that frightening assessment means for the rest of our lives and the dead years.


Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store