Today’s post is going to be graphic. Proceed at your own risk.
Yesterday, I finally watched Leaving Neverland, a two part documentary about Michael Jackson that was directed by British filmmaker Dan Reed and distributed by Britain’s Channel 4, HBO, and Kew Media. I had to wait for the film to be made available on iTunes. Maybe it’s good that I waited. I remember reading the comments about it when it was fresh news. Of course it was going to be hot on the agenda. This was a film about the rumors that swirled around Michael Jackson and his alleged penchant for pedophilia and child molestation, which dogged him for many years. (There is a difference between pedophilia and child molestation. A person can be a pedophile and never molest a child. Likewise, a person can molest a child, and not be sexually attracted to them.)
Two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom are now married to women, and both of whom used to swear that Jackson had never sexually molested them, were interviewed for this film. The men, who were both children in 1993, when Jackson was first accused of molesting a child, had both enjoyed intimate friendships with Jackson back in the 80s and 90s. Both men now claim that for many years, Jackson sexually abused them. They include graphic accounts of things Jackson did to them. Their families were also interviewed extensively. Both of their mothers seem aggrieved that they were taken in by Jackson’s largesse.
I have a couple of friends who are diehard Michael Jackson fans and doubt the film’s veracity. I can understand why they’d prefer not to believe what these men are claiming. It’s hard to hear that someone as amazingly brilliant, charismatic, seemingly kind, and talented as Jackson was, could be so capable of hurting small children. In Robson’s case, he really was small. At one point in the film, he explicitly discusses how, as a seven year old, he found himself giving Jackson a blow job. I cringed when I heard that, especially as he reminded everyone what that would be like for such a young child. Frankly, I don’t even like thinking about doing that as a grown woman… I can’t even imagine the horror of it as a young child. Robson also describes receiving oral sex from Jackson as a very young child, right down to feeling his hair, which he said felt like steel wool.
The film ran for about four hours total. I can’t say I found it entertaining. I’m glad I watched it, though, just because I was curious about it. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and I enjoyed Michael Jackson’s music very much. I own several of his albums. I never went to any of his concerts and was too young to watch his variety show with his family, but I certainly was well aware of the Jackson entertainment empire of the day. When I was about eleven years old, he was at the top of his game. Everyone loved him… everyone had Thriller and songs from it were constantly being played on the radio. His videos were all over MTV, which everyone was watching at the time. He was everywhere, and it didn’t seem like he’d ever come down from his pedestal.
Wade Robson joined Jackson’s life during the Bad tour. Jackson had come to Brisbane, Australia, where Robson is originally from, to promote his follow up to Thriller. There was a dance contest. At five years old, Wade was too young to enter, but he was so gifted that the promoters decided to let him perform anyway. He caused such a sensation that the was declared the winner of the contest, even though he was too young to be a contestant. The prize was tickets to Jackson’s show. Wade and his mom went to the first show and afterwards, met Jackson, who was very impressed with the little boy’s moves. He and his mom had tickets for the second concert, so Wade was brought up on stage. From there, a “beautifully” toxic friendship developed.
James Safechuck, who used to go by Jimmy, came into Jackson’s world in 1987, when he was cast in a Pepsi commercial that featured Jackson. He was an adorable boy, and although he wasn’t necessarily one of Jackson’s biggest fans, they had a winning chemistry in the ad. The cameras captured Safechuck’s face the very first moment he saw Jackson in person. I have to admit, it really was special. We don’t see ads like that anymore. In 1987, it was an endearing ad that evoked fantasy. The boy was enchanted by all of Jackson’s stuff. Then Jackson shows up. The boy is delighted, even though Jackson sounds like they’re both in a nightclub and he’s about to hit on him.
Both men explain that they and their families were swept away by Jackson’s generosity. Jackson invited them to his famous home, Neverland, where there was a “theme park” and a zoo. They were given first class accommodations and transportation. Jackson would call them on the phone and talk for hours. During the daytime, it was like having another friend their age, who happened to be in an adult’s body. At night… it would turn into something else… something much more sinister. Or, at least that’s what these two men claim. A friendship formed and the boys became regular visitors to Jackson’s home. They’d play video games, watch movies, eat junk food, and then share Jackson’s bed.
All the while, I couldn’t help wondering what the hell their mothers were thinking. Robson’s mom spoke of how Michael conditioned her to accept his proposal of letting her son spend the night in the entertainer’s home, alone. When they took trips, her hotel room gradually got further and further away from Michael’s… and Wade’s. At one point, Jackson asked Ms. Robson if she would let Wade move in with him. He promised he’d help Wade with his career. Ms. Robson, to her credit, vetoed that idea. But she still let Jackson have almost unfettered access to her child. Later, in the film, she emphatically states that no amount of money was enough to sell her child’s innocence. And yet, that’s kind of what she did… unfortunately.
The same thing goes for Safechuck’s mom, who talks about how Jackson offered her and her husband a very low interest rate on a home loan. And then, once the scandal broke, he told her the house was a gift. Jackson bought the Safechucks a house. Essentially, he bought their silence and loyalty at a time when he was seriously in jeopardy of being sent to prison. Maybe he’d still be alive if he had gone to prison.
I guess there’s nothing new about this phenomenon of young, innocent, naive children being taken in by larger than life, powerful men. A few days ago, I wrote a post about a woman named Katie who did a video about how Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein victimized her when she was thirteen years old. The reason she was in their company in the first place was because she wanted to be a model. I’m assuming she had a family out there. Where were they? Why was she at a party, alone, with a bunch of men?
I can’t help but think that while these folks are definitely victims, they have also been caught up in the concept of reciprocity. As humans, we are conditioned not to get something for nothing. If someone does something “nice” for you, you feel compelled to return the favor. Or, conversely, if someone does something “bad” to you, you want to get them back. Reciprocity, as a social psychological construct, has led a lot of people to serious trouble, particularly when one of the parties is toxic. Reciprocity comes into play when a person feels indebted or beholden, even if the reason they feel that way is due to an uninvited favor.
Here’s a less salacious example of what I mean. My husband, Bill, went to an African country a few years ago with one of his former co-workers. The co-worker was someone Bill didn’t like that much. The guy was narcissistic and overbearing, and he was always trying to force others to do what he wanted, without any regard for their needs or desires. One night, while they were in country, Bill’s colleague suggested that they all go out on the town. Bill didn’t really want to, but the guy had already arranged transportation. At an earlier time in his life, Bill might have caved and gone along with his colleague. After all, the man had gone to the trouble of getting the car and everything, even though Bill hadn’t wanted to go anywhere. Fortunately, this time, Bill said “no”.
The co-worker was surprised and got upset. He said, “After I arranged this car and everything, you’re not going to go?”
Bill said, “I never asked you to arrange a car. That was your decision.” Even though it felt strange not to comply with his former co-worker’s wishes, Bill stood his ground and stayed in while his colleague went out by himself.
At an earlier time, Bill would usually cave in to pressure from others, even if it was against his own self-interest. He wanted to be nice, and avoid conflict with other people. So when they’d make a request of him, particularly if they’d “sweetened” it with a favor, even if it was an uninvited favor, he felt compelled to comply with their wishes.
I think Wade’s and James’ mothers, and to a lesser extent the rest of their families (Wade’s dad was pretty much pushed out of his family’s life, thanks to Jackson), felt beholden to Jackson for the showbiz “opportunities” he gave their, beautiful, gifted sons. There’s no doubt these guys did make it in showbiz. They probably would have made it anyway, since they are genuinely attractive and very talented. But Jackson “helped”… and he introduced them to the trappings of being super rich and famous. They felt obligated to “be his friend” and support him, even when there were signs that he wasn’t such a good person.
Robson’s mother even pressured Wade to testify at Jackson’s 2003 trial, even though by that point, he wanted no part of helping him. She told him Jackson was her “friend” and that prison would kill him. Now that she’s heard his story, I wonder– was it worth it? Was it worth it to these mothers that their very young sons were allegedly sucking Jackson’s dick before they even knew what sex is? She says she would have stopped at nothing to put anyone who abused her son in prison. But she apparently missed all of the clues for seven years, or simply turned a blind eye to them. Why? If Jackson had been a normal guy, would she have let him share a bed with her son? Would she have not seen how truly strange their relationship was? Good for her for at least not allowing Jackson to keep her son in his home for a year or more. That would have been a true disaster!
By the way… I think Robson’s and Safechuck’s accounts are very credible. I highly doubt these men are lying about what happened to them. Wade Robson, in particular, is very believable to me. When I listened to him describe the abuse, I could tell it affected him very deeply. He would have to be a stellar actor to be able to pull that off as convincingly as he did.
Besides the stories of graphic abuse these men suffered, particularly Robson, I think the saddest part of the tale came when they realized they’d been replaced by younger, more malleable boys. Robson explains how one day, the hotel wasn’t paid for… there was no hired car to take him to the studio; they had to drive themselves. And when he got to the studio, there was Macaulay Culkin, cozying up to Jackson the same way he once did. Culkin claims Jackson never harmed him. Robson had been usurped by new boys, but we knew it was coming. I don’t know why their mothers didn’t see it coming.
Of course, I write this as an armchair quarterback. I don’t know how I would feel if I had a child who was super talented and someone like Michael Jackson wanted to spend time with them. I’d like to think I would keep a level head, but it’s really hard to tell. We all have dreams… and people like Michael Jackson, with his larger than life presence and talent, make it easy to forget life here on Earth. Most people dream of touching that world of celebrity, forgetting that celebrities are people too. A lot of celebrities paid a big price to be where they are… they might have been abused themselves, or they may have substance abuse issues or mental health problems. Then, there’s the fact that a lot of people in power are extremely narcissistic and they have the ability to justify harming other people to meet their own needs and desires. Just look at the ever growing list of people who were “heroes” in the 1980s… people who were supposedly above reproach in every way, like Bill Cosby. Where is Bill Cosby, “America’s Dad”, now? He’s in prison. That’s probably where Jackson should have gone, too.