I watched the documentary 'Leaving Neverland' over the weekend. It was devastating and at the same time fascinating. Like most people, I think, I was never really sure about whether Michael Jackson could have done the things he was accused of. Certainly he was weird...all that stuff with his friend the monkey, and hanging out with kids like he was a boy himself trapped in a man's body. But weirdness was forgivable given the amazing genius evident in his music, right? Child abuse, though, that's a whole other thing. And one thing I am certain of, having watched those two young men recount their stories, is that Jackson was absolutely the perpetrator of such abuse. I would argue that any thinking person would come away from viewing 'Leaving Neverland' anything other than utterly convinced that Robson and Safechuck were telling the truth. Jackson was unquestionably a creative genius, and it is hard to marry that understanding of the man with someone who deliberately and systematically groomed these young boys, manipulating them and their families for his own pleasure. But apparently he was both, and my fear is that once all the brouhaha has died down in the media, people will return to the old 'genius v nutcase' argument, where one can't have such intense creativity without some form of madness. And in this case, the 'madness' was illegal, immoral and devastating for all those involved. But let's not forget the other creative genius in this story: filmmaker Dan Reed who portrayed this story with sensitivity, gently teasing out complex emotions from the victims and their families, shining a light on the vacillation between relief, anger, fear and guilt and developing in the audience (at least in me) a conviction that power, money, or even creative genius is never ever sufficient reason to abuse children. Art is a powerful tool of communication - this is clear from Jackson's devoted fans, many of whom refuse to believe the worst of their idol. But creativity is neither the cause of or excuse for his manipulation and abuse of children. Creativity, used well, will provoke, make connections, shift perspectives, evoke memories, provoke discussion, and reveal truths. Well done, Dan Reed, and best wishes to Wade Robson, James Safechuck and their families.
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