It was hard this week – watching R Kelly jump up and down on CBS while claiming his greatest problem was being “big-hearted”, and sitting through four hours of Michael Jackson revelations – to hang on to the idea that the truth has implacable meaning. In both cases, the sense of outrage from the accused parties (in Jackson’s case, his estate) was palpable and brought to mind another example of male-pattern entitlement: that of Brett Kavanaugh during his supreme court confirmation hearing.
Published in The Guardian
“They are trying to bring us down,” Jackson was reported as saying to one of his victims, while asking him to lie in court. The double-think was part of the abuse. The narrative was only ever these men’s to control, and one suspects that control was in large part what they got off on. Guilt or innocence seemed secondary to the fury generated by the presumption of those who dared to doubt them.
And the prominence of these men, across different worlds and eras, has traditionally been a part of their camouflage. It seemed to me, after watching Leaving Neverland, that the biggest grooming project was less of any one individual than of a culture as a whole. Most of us are primed to believe that a powerful man is more likely to be telling the truth than his nobody accuser, even though he has so much to lose. Revisiting child abuse allegations against Jackson from 1993 and again from 2004 brought on an almost out-of-body experience. All that footage of him wandering around holding 10-year-old boys’ hands; the admission that he slept in a bed with them; the way he got older but the age of his “friends” never did. It was hard to condemn the two mothers in the film when their faith in Jackson’s innocence – or at least their doubt in his guilt – had been shared by the rest of the world.
One did blame them, though, of course. While the fathers in the film floundered on the sidelines, it was the mothers Jackson zeroed in on and his techniques pertained, in the first instance, as much to these women as to their young sons. Both James Safechuck and Wade Robson’s mothers talked of the separate relationship they thought they had with Jackson, how he courted them in their own right; and although they both spoke of it as a mother-son thing, it was clearly a matter of seduction. Meanwhile, he was teaching their sons to hate their mothers and distrust women in general.
It was this, I think, that felt like the oddest reversal of received wisdom: that whether Jackson was a lovable weirdo or something darker, he was essentially a guileless individual. In fact, it becomes clear through the two men’s testimony that he was, like all abusers, deeply calculating. He went to huge lengths to set up the conditions for abuse. Large parts of his career – putting young boys in his videos and on stage with him – weren’t artistic decisions but a means of furthering his aims as an abuser.
Another recent documentary, Abducted in Plain Sight, told the unbelievable story of a girl taken from under her parents’ noses by a neighbour who’d seduced them both. This happened in 1974, and many of us said in response to the foolish credulity of the parents, “Those were different times, it couldn’t happen now.” I’m not so sure.
By Emma Brockes
Published in The Guardian
8 March 2019