The rules for cancel culture are far from clear – just look at JK Rowling and Michael Jackson

Meanwhile, Michael Jackson continues to be celebrated not only in a major new Broadway musical. His music still generates millions of dollars. Forbes magazine publishes an annual list of the dead celebrities whose work has earned the most money that year. In the 12 years since his death, Jackson has topped this list on all but two occasions.

I do acknowledge that Jackson was never convicted of any crime. He paid an $23 million out-of-court settlement to end one set of allegations in 1994, and was acquitted on all counts in a criminal trial in 2005. Yet allegations against him have continued to circulate. In the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland, two men alleged that Jackson sexually abused them as children. This appears to have had little if any effect on his work’s acceptability – or profitability.

Perhaps it’s really very simple. If you’re a big enough star, your work will survive any attempt at cancellation. And if you aren’t, it won’t. So, to the aspiring canceller, a less popular artist may make a more inviting target, because you’re likelier to get the result you want. Despite tireless efforts to smear JK Rowling as a transphobe, after all, her books remain as popular as ever.

At any rate, I’m glad the Jackson musical hasn’t opened over here. I’m not sure what I’d say if my son wanted to see it. Which is certainly possible. I know that he used to love Jackson’s song Bad, because it featured prominently in the children’s film Despicable Me 3. In fact, he loved the song so much that when, at the age of six, he was asked to prepare a little talk to his class about the famous person of his choice, he picked Michael Jackson.

When he told me, I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to tell him to pick someone else. But I couldn’t. Because – with the insatiable inquisitiveness of all small children – he would have insisted on knowing why. And I had no idea what to tell him. (“Well, you see, some people think Michael Jackson wasn’t a very nice man. Because…”)

So instead, I supplied him with, shall we say, a not entirely comprehensive summary of Jackson’s life. I told him, for example, that Jackson owned a funfair and a zoo.

“Wow!” said my son. “A funfair and a zoo! Did he have any children?”

“He did, yes.”

“They must be the luckiest children ever!”


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