Maligning dead celebrities and obsessing about victimhood is not the ‘settlement’ real victims need
Another day, another litany of sexual-abuse allegations, and another exposé of a lionised man once considered invincible. The recently aired documentary Leaving Neverland has once again cast one of the most illustrious celebrities into the spotlight, and once again for all the wrong reasons. Directed and produced by Dan Reed, the documentary focuses on two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused as children by the singer Michael Jackson.
This is not the first time people have come forward accusing Michael Jackson of sexual abuse. In 1993, Evan Chandler, a dentist, accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing his 13-year-old son, Jordan “Jordy” Chandler. A settlement was reached, resulting in Michael Jackson paying $23 Million. Eleven years later, Michael Jackson was embroiled in a much-publicised criminal trial held in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, which saw the controversial singer accused of molesting 13-year old Gavin Arvizo. The jury delivered a verdict of not guilty on all charges, including four lesser misdemeanour counts.
In the wake of #MeToo, people rightly feel unafraid to disclose inconvenient truths concerning their experiences of sexual abuse. Many argue that this wave galvanised Reed to make the documentary, a verdict given by lawyer Tom Mesereau, who defended Michael Jackson in his 2005 criminal trial.
We have seen #MeToo-inspired reactions across the globe: a museum in Britain has removed a statue of Michael Jackson; an abundance of articles have appeared online by former fans who no longer believe Michael Jackson’s innocence; Oprah Winfrey publicly supports Robson and Safechuck; and radio stations in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have banned Michael Jackson’s music. If we really are in the wake of #MeToo, how are we supposed to arbitrate such a sensitive topic? Do we side with Jackson, keeping the #MeToo-stirred at arm’s length, or do we side with those claiming to be abused, seeing Michael Jackson as an esurient paedophile who spent millions creating a lavish ranch to ensnare young boys?
A disturbing fact about this cause célèbre is that Michael Jackson is not around to defend himself, making any abuse allegations one-sided. Regardless, the #MeToo wave has the potential to further encourage a whole generation of sexual victims—especially boys and men—to speak out. Doubtlessly a silver-lining. Although #MeToo has inspired an entire generation, some have questioned whether #MeToo can avoid its public persona as obsessed with creating victim-mentalities. But why is this a problem?
Although #MeToo has inspired an entire generation, some have questioned whether #MeToo can avoid its public persona as obsessed with creating victim-mentalities.
As studies show, one moment people with victim mentalities present themselves dramatically as victims; the next, they morph into victimisers, intent on hurting the people trying to help them and leaving would-be helpers. They display passive-aggressive characteristics when interacting with others: their behaviour exhibits a self-defeating, almost masochistic quality. The victim style becomes a relational mode—a life affirming activity: I am miserable therefore I am. In other words, breeding a generation of victim-mentalities results in #MeToo failing to be the panacea we need it to be.
This shouldn’t be surprising when #MeToo has appropriated victim feminism, a type of feminism which reinforces the idea that women are weak or lacking in agency, and therefore need to be protected. This type of feminism is antipodal to power feminism. Victim feminists typically represent women to be beleaguered and fragile, thwarting women from taking responsibility for the power that resides with them. Feminist Naomi Wolf rightly points out that victim feminism also projects violence and competitiveness onto men or their patriarchy, while disregarding these qualities in women. Another way of seeing this distinction is to consider how feminists are dealing with the liabilities that women suffer; while victim feminism simply dwells on them, power feminism seeks to identify them, with the end goal of challenging and overcoming them.
The fact of the matter is that the #MeToo hysteria around the documentary has largely concerned how Robson and Safechuck’s accusations should impact our engagements with Michael Jackson’s artistic legacy. This is an example of picking low-hanging fruit, and it’s a missed opportunity to bring to light the unique problems surrounding male victims of sexual abuse. This is understandable given that #MeToo is driven by victim feminism, a system that is not straightforwardly accommodating of men, and it is certainly not cognisant of the experiences unique to them.
Regrettably, unlike the reporting on Harvey Weinstein and many other powerful people accused of sexual abuse, Leaving Neverland will not thwart predatory behaviour, and it will not bring Michael Jackson himself to justice. Fortunately for the #MeToo movement, similar conversations have followed artists who are alive, including Louis C.K, bringing many to justice. But if #MeToo is intent on tracking down justice, the target must be Robson and Safechuck—people who are either besmirching the wave or holding the power to bolster it with a much needed emphasis on bringing celebrity sexual predators to justice. A fixation on victim mentalities and maligning dead celebrities is not the ‘settlement’ victims need.