Culture Clips: Leaving Neverland Leaves Viewers Disgusted, Conflicted

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Not in doubt: Michael Jackson was a pretty talented guy. And all that talent helped Jackson and his posthumous reputation (the singer/dancer died in 2009) weather lawsuits, accusations and rumors about his alleged sexual inclinations.

But perhaps no more.

HBO’s documentary Leaving Neverland, focusing on two men who allege that Jackson molested them as young boys, aired this Sunday and Monday, and it became the premium channel’s third highest-rated documentary of the decade. But its ratings don’t do justice to the buzz and conversation the doc has generated.

Oprah Winfrey, a longtime friend of Jackson, conducted an hour-long interview with the two men at the doc’s center. “This is a moment in time that allows us to see this societal corruption. It’s like a scourge on humanity,” she said. But scourge or no, plenty of folks are wondering whether it’s OK to still enjoy Jackson’s music—and if it’s not, how many other works made by flawed and failed people we might have to toss out, too.

Slate’s Carl Wilson namechecks plenty of alleged misdeed doers, from Charles Dickens to Chuck Berry. “Are some figures too big to cancel?” he asks. “Too consequential to write out of the record, especially when they’re deceased, and beyond any effective sanction?” Salon’s Amanda Marcotte rebuts Wilson’s point, suggesting that if we were better at punishing artists for misdeeds when they actually do them, the lament of “cancelling culture” wouldn’t be nearly as loud.

If there was some assurance that real justice was possible, would cancel culture even feel necessary or important to so many people? Could we better separate the art and the artist if we could use a set of prison bars to do it? I can’t help but think the answer is yes.

Meanwhile, Jackson’s family says all the allegations are a bunch of hogwash and is suing HBO for $100 million. That lawsuit, and the documentary itself, is making Sony Music plenty nervous about the $250 million it ponied up to distribute Jackson’s music. And The Daily Beast reminds us that the two boys the doc focused on aren’t Jackson’s only alleged victims.

Obviously, it’s too late to prevent Jackson’s alleged abuse, if the documentary is true. But risks to children have only grown with the ascendance of social media. Now, after learning that pedophiles have used the comments sections on YouTube to connect with and exploit children, the video-sharing platform is banning comments on almost all of its videos featuring kids. But the culture isn’t doing much hand-wringing over the upcoming dark teen romance movie After, which at least one child-protection organization has called “50 Shades of Grey for Kids.” (The movie is based on three books that, like 50 Shades, started out as fan fiction. The author herself has said the teen-predicated series contains “mature content, including explicit and suggestive language, sexual themes, drug use, addiction, and overall mature themes …”)

HBO is thrilled so many folks watched its Leaving Neverland doc, but the premium service—hoping to better compete with streaming services like Netflix—is out for even more eyeballs, and wants to keep them staring at their programming longer. “I want more hours of engagement,” said AT&T executive John Stankey recently (AT&T recently acquired HBO). “It’s not hours a week, and it’s not hours a month. We need hours a day.” (They’re not alone in seeing Netflix as a threat. WarnerMedia is restructuring to compete with Netflix, too.)

“Hours a day” sounds like a lot of screen time for a nation already addled by too much screen time. Doctors are again sounding the warning that teens are spending way too much time engaged with screens and not nearly enough exercising or sleeping. But Brian Resnick over at Vox reminds us that not all screen time is equal. Sure, time spent playing games or fiddling around on Instagram isn’t necessarily that productive, but kids read and do homework on screens, too. Resnick quotes psychologist Amy Orben: “Important nuance is missing if we just talk about digital technologies in general,” she says. “Scrolling through skinny Instagram models will naturally have very different effects than Skyping your grandmother or chatting with your school classmates.” (And certainly, any time you spend looking at Plugged In on a screen is perfectly fine.)

We could finish off this edition of Culture Clips by telling you that 21-year-old Instagram fashionista Kylie Jenner is now officially the youngest (ahem) “self-made” billionaire in the world. Or that teens who smoke marijuana are at “increased risk of psychosis.” Or the plans that ImageComics has to re-imagine Jesus as a “barbarian warrior.”

But I’d honestly rather talk about the new Star Wars-themed park (Galaxy’s Edge) opening soon at Disneyland, where apparently you can walk straight through the Millennium Falcon and even check out the holographic game R2-D2 and Chewbacca played in the very first (and best) Star Wars movie. (That’d be Episode IV: A New Hope to some of you.)  If you ever visit Galaxy’s Edge and have a chance to sit down and play the game yourself, just remember one thing: Let the Wookiee win.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 6 months ago
What do they really think to accomplish with all these accusations anyway? They can't get money from a dead guy after all. Just makes zero sense to me the whole thing.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Apparently having too much trust in people is a bad thing around here.
Anonymous 7 months ago
It's sad that all these people have hate for a dead celebrity. Can't anybody rest in peace anymore without silly accusations being thrown at them?
Anonymous 7 months ago
Michael Jackson was no monster, period. Everyone accusing him of being one has no respect for the dead. Maybe after all of you are dead people should start accusing you of being child molesters and axe murderers.
Anonymous 7 months ago
They wouldn't because i'm not a axe murderer nor a child molester-
The Duke of Popcorn
Anonymous 7 months ago
and just because someone dies does not mean they automatically get my respect. i have 0 respect for Bin Laden or Josef Stalin and both 
are dead as a doornail-
The Duke of Popcorn
[removed] 7 months ago
This comment has been deleted
Anonymous 7 months ago
For the love of all things decent, what the heck are you talking about??

There is documented proof of Jackson taking young pubescent boys to bed with him, five of whom later said that he abused them. He (Jackson) even had an alarm installed outside of the bedroom to alert him when people were coming.
To add to all of this, he had a stash of truly perverted adult magazines beside the bed.
1+1=2
-David the Clown

Anonymous 7 months ago
Where is this documented proof you speak of? 
Anonymous 7 months ago
the fact is Micheal Jackson said that he slept in the same bed as the kids!-
Duke of Popcorn
Anonymous 7 months ago
Doesn't that sound the least bit odd too you?-
The Duke of Popcorn
Anonymous 7 months ago
Exactly. He admitted this himself. It was not a secret.
The New York Times has several articles following the allegations if you are interested.
-David the Clown
Anonymous 7 months ago
Micheal Jackson also had some highly inappropriate magazines by 
his bedside with the children's fingerprints on them
Anonymous 7 months ago
 Jackson lavished the boys' families with gifts and money and he had a bed which was in a room, behind a locked door, at the end of a hallway equipped with alarm systems that would alert him when someone was approaching. This fact is not disputed.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Amen! People need to really stop thinking the worst when it comes to such a talented individual like Michael Jackson. Plus he's been dead now for almost 10 years, so what's next? Accusing Elvis Presley of molesting little girls when he's been dead more than 40 years. Let the poor guy rest in peace for goodness sake.
Anonymous 7 months ago
.....And if it turned out that Elvis molested kids then he should also be treated with scrutiny. I fail to see your logic.
This is not "thinking to worst", it is me responding to multiple, credible sexual abuse allegations.
-David the Clown
Anonymous 7 months ago
Because his insane fanbase keeps defending him!
if we could all agree that he was the monster that he was 
we could all be done here- 
The Duke of Popcorn
Anonymous 7 months ago
My point is Michael Jackson's been dead for so long it's silly for someone now to accuse him of doing inappropriate things to him. It would be just as silly if someone came out and said Elvis molested him too when Elvis has been dead since 1977. After awhile you should just stop accusing dead people of doing sins. It's tacky and just plain silly to me.
Anonymous 7 months ago
If Micheal Jackson was just some old joe who lived on your street
doing what he did inviting children into his bed, giving them candy, 
taking them on "special" trips around the globe you'd be calling him out 
as the pedophile he was. and your only reason for defending him is that he was a really good dancer!!!
I rest my case-
The Duke of Popcorn
Anonymous 7 months ago
Obviously you never had a father/grandfather-like figure in your life, because those all sound like reasonable things to me. It's no different when your grandparents take you out on trips like mine did when I was growing up, or when I went on that senior trip at my church. Just because a grown-up likes spending time with children doesn't mean they're a pedophile. If that was the case all babysitters would be out of jobs.
Anonymous 7 months ago
would you let your babysitter take your children around the world for
weeks on end and
let your children sleep in his bed with him.
no you would not because your reasonable
and your intuition would tell "that's really wrong"
Anonymous 7 months ago
and my dad and grandfather would never ditch me and replace me with someone younger than me which Micheal Jackson did
Anonymous 7 months ago
and just today Micheal Jackson sister said that he was a pedophile 
Anonymous 7 months ago
If I trusted my babysitter enough then yes I would let them take my kid on a trip around the world. Not everyone is out to do harm or something malicious towards your children. There needs to be trust there. Maybe you'd feel differently if you trusted people more yourself.
Anonymous 7 months ago
I personally think Michael Jackson loved hanging around kids much like a father or grandfather would. I've honestly never believed the allegations of sexual abuse and doubt seeing this show would make me change my mind.
Anonymous 7 months ago
You do you bro
-David the Clown