There will be many people who greet controversial Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland with a sigh and a question – why should we bother diving back into the Michael Jackson thing? The man was acquitted twice on several accounts of child molestation, an FBI investigation found no credible evidence, and he’s dead, why are we doing this again?
Jackson himself was a bit of a tragedy. As soon as his parents worked out he could sing, they wrenched normal childhood out from under him, moulding him from an early age into the enormous superstar he became. This is why he developed a Peter Pan syndrome and turned into a baby-dangling ‘Wacko Jacko’, say fans and armchair psychologists around the world.
In British filmmaker Dan Reid’s HBO documentary, this yearning for childhood and normalcy comes across in Jackson’s behaviour toward the victims and their families.
Wade Robson was a 5-year-old dance prodigy obsessed with MJ who won the opportunity to meet his idol and dance with him on stage at a concert in the early ‘90s. Three years later, on a family trip to the States (the family is from Brisbane), Robson’s (stage) mum tracked Jackson down and off they trotted for lunch at Neverland. Later that day, the family set off for the Grand Canyon, leaving their kid with a bloke they’d only known for a few hours.
James Safechuck met Jackson when he featured in his Pepsi commercial. Nek minute, Michael’s spending all his free time at the Safechuck’s mediocre suburban home, eating Mrs Safechuck’s cookies, taking the family on tour with him and begging Mrs Safechuck to let her son have sleepovers in his bed.
Both Robson and Safechuck claim Jackson sexually abused them for several years. Neither of them told anyone until they were well into adulthood with children of their own. Yes, they sued the Jackson estate. And yes, (like anyone who’s tried) they lost. But not because the judge thought the evidence wasn’t credible, it was because he felt too much time had passed since the abuse.
The average amount of time it takes for victims of child abuse to speak up is thirty years. Why so long? Well, if you understand what child grooming entails, you will better understand why victims keep their horrific experiences so secret for so long.
Wikipedia sums up child grooming as “befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child's inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse.”
And that’s what Leaving Neverland is really about. It’s not about Michael Jackson, it’s about what happened to two young boys and their families when they were groomed by this bloke who was a global superstar. Don’t expect Reid to trot out experts, or Jackson family members, or former maids who always suspected, or bodyguards who swear he never hurt a soul. This is Wade and James’ story. And in many ways their mothers’ story too.
Is it credible? Would you sit down and tell the whole world how you got so carried away basking in the glory of fame and fortune that you failed to protect your child from a sexual predator? Would you get up and tell the world you lied to everyone for years and even defended your abuser in court, not once, but twice? There is so much shame and regret and long-term ramifications for these people in the telling of this story.
And if all this seems incomprehensible then yes, we really do need to watch Leaving Neverland and revisit the whole Michael Jackson thing. Because grooming is so gentle and seductive in nature that priests, politicians, pop stars, people in positions of power, have been getting away with it for years.