You’re at a party and “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson comes on. The following three scenarios exist: 1) You love Michael Jackson, you love “The Way You Make Me Feel,” you dance, you sing along. 2) It just plays in the background and it’s generally ignored. 3) You ask that the song be skipped. Michael Jackson abused children and you can’t hear his songs the same way anymore.
Which one do you decide? It’s hard to choose, and it’s a question that has been permeating media, journalism, how we consume music, and how to deal with learning that our heroes did horrible things. The dilemma is how we move on, and in situations like this, it’s by processing and coming to terms with how we respond to problematic information.
Following the recent documentaries “Surviving R. Kelly” and “Leaving Neverland” (the latter about Michael Jackson), people have had to come to terms with not only the fact that these massive artists were not only sexually abusing minors, but that society generally ignored it. It’s hard to know what to do with this information, and each case has its own nuance: whether the artist is alive or dead, whether they have the impact of Michael Jackson or 6ix9ine, or whether they have the story of Jeffery Epstein or Aziz Ansari.
Canceling artists and cutting people out of our media diets such as Chris Brown, Ryan Adams, and Louis C.K., are easy ways for us to avoid the problem by not supporting their work any further, but it doesn’t erase what they did, stop them from doing it again, or fix the systems that allow people to do harm.
We need to actively process and be aware of how we consume entertainment, music, and the people who create it. When we listen to Michael Jackson, when “The Way You Make Me Feel” comes on at a party, it’s important for us to be mindful that while Michael Jackson was creating music, he was sexually abusing children, and it isn’t really so simple as dancing to the song, ignoring it, or cutting it.
You can’t ignore the problem by loving Michael Jackson, and you can’t ignore the problem by deleting Michael Jackson. Some of our heroes have done horrible, monstrous things, and the most important takeaway is in figuring out how to stop people in positions of power, fame, and global adoration, from being able to do the same.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.