If I were to devote a column to who is, in my opinion, the best villain I’ve ever known, I feel it is also very necessary to write a column about who may be the worst hero I’ve ever celebrated.
This hero transcended my small amount of time on earth; he was my dad’s hero first. And he maybe still is. I don’t know, and I don’t intend to find out. There are some things we just don’t talk about.
But I am not concerned with maintaining any relationships in this column, and this column is not a conversation.
The hero I speak of is Michael Jackson, and my resolutions about him are not up for debate.
Jackson was my first idol. The first album I ever owned was Bad. All of these tracks informed the kind of kid I was. There was no thrill more attractive than being 6 and uttering those dangerous opening lines: “Yo’ butt is mine.” I admit these words carry different implications today than they did then, but I can assure you I delivered them with as much acid and vitriol as my little 6-year-old voice could muster — my audience of many stuffed animals were certainly quaking in fear.
Generally speaking, much of my music taste developed its origins at the hands of my parents. What they listened to was what I listened to, and a lot of that music ended up being from the ‘70s and ‘80s. My dad still jokes that I was born in the wrong era, which, given my current status as a neon-loving, synth-savoring ‘80s addict, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree.
Consequently, Jackson was making music that spanned both the ‘70s and the ‘80s. Be it The Jackson 5’s “ABC” or “Bad,” by the time I could talk, I had a lot of his discography committed to memory. In fact, he was so entrenched in what I understood to be good music that anytime I heard a song I liked, I just assumed it was his.
When I was little, I’d have dreams of getting the chance to see him live, and because of what I was sure he’d view as my undeniable talent, he’d bring me onstage to sing with him. To be in the King of Pop’s presence was the ceiling of my dreams, the absolute highest honor I could aspire to.
As I got older, my love for him changed, became quieter. Everywhere I turned, he was getting ridiculed. Be it his dramatic change in appearance to his overtly childlike nature, he was the butt of every joke. I didn’t grow up in a time that was very conducive to being an avid Michael Jackson fan, and though I wasn’t particularly vocal about how big of a fan I was, I didn’t let that stop me from being one in secret.
It also didn’t stop my parents from letting me grow up with his music, despite the fact that he’d been under investigation for child molestation charges since before I was even born. It didn’t stop me from guiltily defending him, even after I came to learn this information myself. And as evidenced by the worldwide mourning of his death, it seemed as though a lot of people were doing the same.
When I first found out about the allegations, the consensus seemed to be that Jackson himself was the victim. This was still early enough in the 1990s that the internet wasn’t at everyone’s fingertips. From the perspective of many fans, racism and general cruelty of humankind seemed to make Jackson a target, and the fact that in 2005 he was acquitted of all charges made the allegations even more difficult to believe.
The documentary “Leaving Neverland” was an explosive revelation into the severity of the allegations against Jackson. The impact has felt like a cultural reconditioning — we no longer live in a world where these allegations are easily ignored.
When I entered my adult life, my understanding of the world changed dramatically. The complexities of rape culture and the way racism comes into play within these oppressive structures were only a few of the reasons why. And the way all of these things convene within the discussion around Jackson’s allegations made it impossible for me to pick a side. I was chronically hesitant to destroy the heroic image of Jackson I was still holding onto. I avoided the documentary, instead scouring the news for any developments to dispute it.
But I’ve begun to realize that this moment will never come. Michael Jackson is dead.
There will never be some red herring, some big reveal of evidence to clear his name. And that shouldn’t be necessary for fans to reflect on the repercussions of ignoring the allegations altogether. This ideology is the hammer I wield as I begin to deconstruct the walls protecting the image I have of Jackson.
And this kind of reflexivity should be applied to any “hero.” For the Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen worshipers, the Kevin Spacey apologists, all of you. All of us. None of us are omniscient. Safeguarding the accused should not be our point of preoccupation. We should be asking ourselves why it is so easy for us to defend the accused, rather than believing the victim.
Don’t be afraid to kill your heroes, especially in the face of criminal allegations. No person should be placed on a pedestal, and pedestals are meant to crumble anyway.
Areyon Jolivette writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on finding and celebrating identity through art. Contact her at [email protected].