The Jackson Legacy, And Me


-- चार हजार पांच सौ इक्यासी --

Why do I keep thinking about Michael Jackson? Well, that's a leading question, of course -- I know exactly why. He comes up occasionally, on podcasts. I signed up for a free month of Stitcher Premium (which I have already canceled so I won't get automatically renewed, don't worry!) just so I could listen to the back catalog of the current season of the truly delightful podcast Threedom, featuring Paul F. Tompkins, Scott Aukerman and Lauren Lapkus, who have an unparalleled chemistry that only works when all three of them are present. In the occasional moments when one of them has to leave the room during recording, and only two are left, the dynamic changes and it is of a lesser quality. The three of them together are, for me, magic. They're like the Fleetwood Mac of podcasting.

And, in a couple episodes of this season, Scott Aukerman has talked about his relationship to Michael Jackson's music. I think it was Laruen Lapkus who brought up how surprising it is that radio stations keep playing it, and how gross it feels to have his songs come on wherever you happen to be, such as at a wedding. That very thing happened at Britni and David's wedding in June. The DJ put on a Michael Jackson song during the reception, and one of the guests even started busting out Michael Jackson dance moves. And I was just like, What the fuck?

Presumably it's easier to separate the art from the artist for people who do not have a direct connection to the type of crimes the artist committed. I bet anything someone who is not a survivor of child sex abuse has a far easier time just continuing to listen to Michael Jackson's music without a second thought -- especially given the man has been dead for fully a decade. But I actually was molested as a child, and that HBO documentary Leaving Neverland forced me to confront how even I was deluding myself about Michael Jackson all these years. I haven't been able to listen to his music since, and I watched the documentary in March. I did a lot of online processing in the wake of it, and I have not listened to any of Michael Jackson's music -- all of which, at least from his adult career, has been in my music library for years -- since.

But that remains a question: is there any way I could eventually enjoy his music again? It was fascinating to me in the documentary how the victims themselves urged Michael Jackson fans to go ahead and keep enjoying the music -- that wasn't their issue; they just want to be believed. I find it difficult to separate that man from his music now, though. It's still the voice of a monster, is it not? And this was the fascinating thing about how Scott Aukerman talked about it. He spoke about his own personal relationship and history with Michael Jackson songs, which many of us have, and he told a story I found very relatable: how the very first time he ever heard music through a set of Walkman headphones, the song was "You Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," a pretty spectacular opener to Thriller, itself the best-selling album of all time, a record unlikely to be broken any time soon now that nobody really buys albums anymore. His story brought me right back to a vivid memory of being at Danielle's house in the early nineties, for some reason briefly in her sister Alisha's room, where she put that very song on with a cassette in her boom box, and really grooving to it.

Aukerman talked about how the basic proof of Michael Jackson's pedophilia has soiled such memories, and it's far more difficult now to listen. And then? Not two episodes of Threedom later -- two weeks in the time of their release; it could have been longer in their recording special -- he brought it up again, basically to admit that now he once again has no problem listening to the songs. His positive associations and memories with the music are just too strong.

I would not be surprised if he, like many fans, actually goes back and forth on this over time. Perhaps I will too? Who knows? It probably makes a difference that Aukerman, again like most fans, evidently has no history of victimhood with the very crimes Michael Jackson committed -- and I do. It's been five months, after all, and I have not once willfully listened to Michael Jackson. I have probably gone that long without listening to him in the past just incidentally, however. I have this desire to try to find some way to stomach the music again. Michael Jackson being a monster actually has no bearing on the quality of his music production. It does, however, have pretty massive bearing on how much I think about him, about how awful he was, and of course the rather embarrassing and uncomfortable notion of my own rationalizations of him in the past. I was convinced for years that he probably did do "inappropriate things" with children -- share a bed with them, say -- but he was just too warped by his own childhood trauma and his current fame to realize it. In essence, I made excuses for him. But the men in Leaving Neverland describe straight up sexual acts, in detail, in a way that could not possibly have been made up or some elaborate conspiracy to discredit a so-called "great man." (I actually did dispute the idea of him as a "great man" for many years; I just wasn't willing to go the extra step and believe he was a textbook pedophile.) The documentary forced me to confront reality, and it's a reality I still struggle with.

So today I literally googled "how to enjoy michael jackson songs," just to see what people several months on might be saying about a continued relationship, if not to the man himself, but to his music. I found this NPR piece to be appropriately unwilling to offer any clean conclusions for me. It was perhaps the very thing I needed to read, which basically has this message: it's just a mess, and there are no tidy answers.

So where does that leave me? I still don't know. I have thought many times about literally erasing all of the Michael Jackson tracks off my hard drive, and I have not done it. I haven't listened to them, but they're still there. Maybe subconsciously I have this desire to reach a point where I can stomach listening to it again. I sort of have my doubts that I ever will, though. Consider Bill Cosby: I once considered myself a big fan, and I particularly loved his comedy special Bill Cosby Himself, which I have watched countless times over the years. It's all but certain now that I will never watch it again. True, a relationship to music is a far more visceral one than a relationship to comedy, but it's still relevant.

Claudia here at work brought up an interesting point a few weeks ago, about other artists we seem to be giving a pass. She mentioned David Bowie specifically, and how he slept with teenage girls -- something I did not know. I was never a big collector of David Bowie's music, and have only ever owned Changesbowie which I was given by my mother, so I actually have never spent money on the man, so even though I still acknowledged him as a musical genius, I kind of feel like a dodged a bullet there. I still have a response to that, though: I actually feel that Bowie & Jackson is a false equivalency. That doesn't condone what Bowie did or make it better, but I do think there is a key difference. Relationships with teenagers in the seventies and earlier were broadly more permissible in our culture. It's gross, but it's the way it was. If Bowie were coming up in today's world instead of in the sixties and seventies, I actually think he would have known better. (Either that, or he would have been "canceled" early on and never had the same career trajectory.) By comparison, moving Michael Jackson to a different time? He would have done all the same shit. He still would have been a pedophile. And even if it's wrong for a much older person to engage in sex with a young teenager -- and I do believe it is wrong, and that statutory rape laws are correct -- there is still a key difference between children who have not yet reached puberty and teenagers who have passed it. I do think of adults who have relationships with teenagers as sick and wrong, but I don't necessarily consider them podophiles. Teenagers bring with them a gray area, however slight -- younger children do not.

-- चार हजार पांच सौ इक्यासी --


-- चार हजार पांच सौ इक्यासी --

There's not much else for me to catch you up on, aside from my having taken myself to see Crawl last night, which some people might be surprised by how much I enjoyed. I just found it to be a fun concept, and also, the movie was released a month ago and there just isn't anything better for me to see this week.

It's been out long enough that it's only playing at one theatre in Seattle proper anymore, the one I go to the least often because I have no membership with Regal: the Meridian 16. I saw on their app and also in the theatre that they are now offering a subscription service comparable to the AMC Plus A-List membership I have, and even at a technically better deal: AMC limits to three movies a week, and Regal is unlimited. Functionally, though, that makes no difference. I never see more than three movies in a given week anyway. Also, AMC has not one, but two multiplexes for me to choose from -- downtown at Pacific Place, and in the U District at what used to be Sundance Cinemas (itself once being The Metro). It's only in very rare cases -- such as Crawl that a movie is playing at Regal that I cannot see at either one of the two AMC theatres or one of three SIFF Cinema theatres (at which I do have to pay for individual tickets, but with a $5 discount thanks to my SIFF membership). Whenever possible, I just go to AMC. This week that wasn't possible.

The showtime was later than usual though, at 7:50, so I rode my bike home from work, then made myself a veggie chicken patty sandwich for dinner and I watched two episodes of Strange Things 3, which I am enjoying even more than I expected -- it is notably better than the disappointing second season. Not as good as the first season, of course, but we can't have everything. I actually kind of hope they leave it at just three seasons so it doesn’t wear out its welcome, but that is unlikely, especially considering how important this particular series has been to Netflix.

The movie, which was the perfect length at just short of ninety minutes, got out around 9:30, so I walked home and got back just before 10:00. I considered waiting until this morning to write the review, but then I sat down and banged it out in unusually short time. Shobhit got home from work just as I finished, but then it was well past time for me to get into bed.

-- चार हजार पांच सौ इक्यासी --


[posted 12:20 pm]