Michael Jackson: How One Artist Groomed the World to Enable His Abuse
“When J.M. Barrie wrote that line about Peter Pan in 1911, it was generally taken as the expression of a beautiful and melancholy fantasy: Children are so lovely and so innocent that it seems a shame that they have to stop being children eventually. Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up, is the expression of the dream that they may not have to, and as such he is both beautiful and tragic.
But in our own era, the idea of a child who never grows up has a decidedly sinister bent to it.” -Constance Grady
I remember the first time I saw Michael Jackson.
I was 10 years old and it was on my television screen.
My parents were having an unusually big family get together. As the adults congregated around the dining room table for dinner, my brothers and cousins gathered to eat in the TV room, watching MTV.
It was then that the “Beat It” music video came on.
I was mesmerised. In my 10 years of life, I had never seen anyone sing and dance as he did.
Not long after that, Michael Jackson unveiled the Moonwalk at the Motown 25 Year Anniversary special.
The next day at school, there was not a kid who wasn’t talking about the Moonwalk, or trying to replicate it during recess.
I remember seeing Michael most often accompanied in many TV appearances by different children, whom he would refer to as friends. It wasn’t long until my 12th birthday so I decided to invite him to my birthday party.
I took out the white pages phone book and started to call every “Jackson” listed in Los Angeles county, asking for Michael. I was halfway down the list when my father walked in and saw the phone book opened up, a phone in one hand and a pen in the other - ticking off the names I called. He asked what I was doing and I said: “I’m gonna invite Michael Jackson to my birthday party.” He had a chuckle and said: “Son, you’re not gonna find Michael Jackson in that book.”
He was right, but I was undeterred.
I continued calling. "Can I speak with Michael please?"
Most responded with laughter or “wrong number”. One lady joked and said, “Michael’s not here right now but you can speak with Tito if you want. “Who’s Tito?” I asked.
That was the end of that.
This was my fascination with Michael in the 80’s. I was intrigued and glued to my TV set anytime he made a music video or made news.
Then came the 90’s and the 2000 decade…and Michael was still making news, but it was a different kind of news that had me glued to my television screen.
Allegations of child sexual abuse started to surface and Michael was never the same again in my eyes.
Even though he maintained his innocence and I really wanted to believe him, as a survivor of child sexual abuse…there was one question I kept coming back to: “How does a grown man in his 30’s willingly sleep in the same bed as a child and think to himself ‘This is normal?’”
When I was confronted with this thought, I did something which was very common for me to do when I had to face a moral and ethical dilemma: I disassociated. I separated him from his music and told myself I can still appreciate how he contributed to my childhood with his art.
This is what I told myself for the next 20 years.
Last week, my wife Fiona and I sat down to watch Leaving Neverland. After hearing the story of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, I can say that Michael Jackson will never be the same for either of us. Ever.
The difficult part of this documentary wasn’t believing Wade or James. I know how abuse works. I can see the consequence of it in my life choices, my friendships, the relationships I pursued and the justifications I would make by putting other people first. Including my own abuser.
I saw the aftermath of speaking out about the abuse I endured from my uncle Muhammad, because of the people he had groomed throughout my existence: my parents, my brothers, my cousins, his siblings, his children, his wife and all of the people so closely associated with our family.
By the time I started to speak out, not only was there indifference and disregard towards me, but they had now been conditioned to see me through his eyes. The very people he groomed, became the ones that spoke up for him, enabled his abuse towards me and undermined my every step towards self empowerment. I was made to feel at fault for the disunity this was causing our family because I could not let go of “something that happened so long ago.”
Muhammad didn’t abuse every single child that came within his radar. Only some.
His abuse happened most often when I visited my cousins.
When I slept at their house.
When he offered to give me a ride home.
Never in plain sight.
Always when we were alone.
And yet, it still happened.
He singled me out just as he did with children before me, and after.
All of this was strategy.
In 2014 when I spoke out publicly and named my uncle as my abuser, Muhammad and his family, who until that moment where complicit in hiding the abuse, did everything they could to discredit me. They circulated my claims are not genuine, that I am jealous of their success despite the love and support they have shown me my entire life; that my wife and I are social media hungry, motivated by revenge and money.
When that didn’t work, his nephew contacted my immediate family and offered a large sum of money in exchange that my blogpost be removed.
My own brother urged me to consider the money.
As did my mother.
I witnessed the dissolution of my family and the circle of close friends I had kept for decades.
This, for me, was the consequence of speaking out.
This, is the exact consequence for every survivor when they speak out.
This is what’s so difficult when it comes to hearing Wade and James tell their story: The thundering response of the ones who have been groomed.
The internet is now filled with rumours and gossip about Robson and Safechuck. More so Robson. Stories, some of which may be true. Others, definitely irrelevant or false. Propagated for reasons none other than creating smokescreens which shift the blame from the abuser to the victim.
Regardless of what the nature of Robson’s relationships were and if there were any indiscretions, it does not delegitimise his claim of being groomed and sexually abused by Michael Jackson. It is also worthy to point out the behaviour or character flaws his accusers refer to, reinforce the narrative that he experienced narcissistic and sexual trauma as a child.
I have never met these men and until the screening of Leaving Neverland, I knew nothing about them. Yet, I have a very good idea of what they’re going through for speaking out.
To be clear: I believe them.
Without a question or doubt.
I don’t judge them for their choices in the past, question why they chose to defend Michael in public interviews or perjure themselves in court. I probably would have felt compelled and the need to do the same had my uncle been in a similar situation.
Why, you may ask?
Power comes in many forms. Especially in a dynamic between an influential adult and an impressionable child.
In cases of child sexual abuse, the influence is so deep that even when a child stops experiencing sexual abuse, the psychological exploitation associated with the abuse often lingers and progresses into adulthood. This is notably true if the victim and abuser continue to be in contact with one another. Long term exposure to trauma becomes compounded trauma.
It takes decades, sometimes 3 or 4, for abuse victims to recognise what happened to them was in fact abuse, not love. That they have been psychologically traumatised as a result. Three or four decades worth.
This is why Robson and Safechuck do not deserve scrutiny for choices made to support a man who psychologically manipulated and groomed them for almost a decade, during the most formative years of their lives.
A significant amount of grooming is needed and necessary before a pedophile can gain your trust and the trust of a child.
A significant amount.
The intent for grooming a child is to establish a bond and trust, which will in turn pave the way for the sexual abuse to commence.
The purpose of grooming everyone in the child’s inner circle has an added layer: to undermine the voice of that child. Specifically if he or she was to ever speak out. It’s to ensure their claims are met with scepticism and doubt, ultimately causing the role of the abuser to be shifted to that of victim and victim to that of abuser.
I have long grappled with the notion of whether or not I can continue to listening to Michael Jackson’s music.
How would I separate my personal memories from his music?
Couldn’t I just separate the art from the artist?
Let’s start with the latter. There are artists that, regardless of how troubled or flawed their personal lives are, you could reason with yourself and separate the art from the artist.
James Brown is one artist that comes to mind. Brown was more than just a musician. He was an iconic performer whose musical contribution to history continues to influence many artists to this day, including Michael Jackson.
The tragedy associated with James Brown was his violent temper, which he used to mercilessly beat the women in his life. As reprehensible as domestic violence is, one has a better chance of disassociating Brown’s personal life from his art. Unlike Eminem, for example, James Brown never promoted violence towards women in his music nor was it ever a part of his branding.
Michael, on the other hand, is different but far more complicated when it comes to this.
He was a vital part of so many childhood memories, for many of us.
But ask yourself why? Why such vital roots in our childhood memories?
What purpose would an adult have for likening himself to Peter Pan and refer to his residence as Neverland?
And what about his movies or music videos?
Remember The Wiz?
Captain Eo in Disneyland?
Or the Moonwalker movie?
Everything about Michael Jackson’s branding, from the public narrative of himself that he so meticulously controlled, to his image, his persona and the videos he created stood out.
They were geared towards children.
Let me rephrase that. Geared towards “luring” children.
Now hold on...because it gets deeper. This is what makes Michael so insidious for me.
He was surrounded by children. Some of them where in need of medical help. Some needed financial assistance. He was there to visit them in hospitals and homes. He contributed financially to helping families that were in need.
Some he invited to Neverland. There were sleepovers.
They slept in the same bed – it was innocent and platonic.
They played arcades and had squirt gun fights.
They went on hot air balloon adventures.
They put on disguises and went to Disneyland without Michael's security detail. For many, he made them feel the magic of childhood, never to be forgotten.
In 1993 and 2005, when accusations of child sexual abuse were being alleged, it wasn't just Michael's family who spoke up in his defence. Every single one of those children, now adults, who experienced the platonic magic of childhood with him; every parent who benefited from his philanthropy, rose up beating their fists on their chest of armour, attesting to Michael’s innocence.
That is the smokescreen. That is the strategy.
The irony is, we accusingly ask survivors why they don’t speak up sooner. One answer is this: When they do, we defend their abusers.
This is how child sexual abuse is institutionalised in a society or in a family. There is a culture of doubt and blame that thrives, but it’s never directed at the abuser.
Yes, I had the same reaction. Those mothers should have known better but what’s overlooked when we engage in that narrative is we forget that those mothers were also victimised. They were masterfully groomed, as were the rest of us, by a malignant narcissist and pedophile. Therefore, it becomes that much easier to disassociate and cast blame at parents who make regrettable choices rather than the abuser who has been the architect of deception.
It’s important to recognise that not every narcissist classifies as a sex offender…but child sex offenders exhibit narcissism in its most destructive form.
A narcissist will never take responsibility for their actions. They are incapable of accountability, especially if they’re the ones responsible for the pain. When confronted, in their narrative they deflect and portray themselves as either the victim, or the hero. Never at fault.
Here's an obvious example. This is R. Kelly, confronted by the boldness of Gayle King:
Now, here's an excerpt from Michael's 1993 public statement concerning allegations of child sexual abuse. Do you see a pattern?
If there’s a takeaway from this article, I ask that you please remember these 2 points.
Blame is ALWAYS with the abuser. Always.
Strategy is EVERYTHING.
They are both crucial and important when it comes to understanding this war that is being waged against children and survivors of child sexual abuse. The latter, strategy, most especially because there is not a pedophile or narcissist in this world that has not understood the timely purpose of strategy.
Michael was a larger than life, charismatic entertainer with worldwide fame. He was the artist and the world was his canvas. He didn’t just groom the children and families that came into his circle. He groomed all of us through his art and branding, knowing when necessary, we would enable his abuse and silence his accusers.
That is the betrayal.
Knowing this, I personally consider it impossible to separate the art from the artist when it comes to Michael Jackson.
The monster is too great to ignore.
The man who thought he could live forever, masquerading as an immortal child in a make-believe land, is dead.
His legacy in question.
The Smooth Criminal who prided on being Bad and Dangerous, who thought himself to be Invincible…finally had his cape removed.
Thank you, Wade. Thank you, James. It took courage to tell your story.
The entire world may not see it now, but we are indebted to you for your convictions and bravery.