These are tricky times to be a fan. Do you stop listening to Michael Jackson’s music after viewing the HBO series Leaving Neverland? Are songs by R. Kelly off your list, even his exuberant “I Believe I Can Fly,” after the Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly featured dozens of women accusing him of abuse and rape? Do you toss out your Mario Batali cookbooks because of the numerous accusations made against him by women who have worked in his restaurants? With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, will you watch John Wayne in The Quiet Man, if TCM dares to run it? In case you missed that one, a 50 year-old interview in Playboy magazine found Duke making disparaging comments about gays and blacks.
I wrote about this topic once before, although with a much different slant, when Tom Cruise was suffering backlash because of his association with Scientology. I asked “Can we like a star’s movies and not like the star?” But with the #metoo movement seeming to engulf an unending number of men, and what these men are being accused of more serious than embracing a suspect religion even when brainwashing may be involved, I have to revisit this issue. And, I must admit, I brace myself for future revelations about men who, like John Wayne, are no longer with us yet live on in their bodies of work.
In some instances, the decision was made for us. Netflix wrote Kevin Spacey out of House of Cards after he was accused of sexual assault by a number of young men. Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose were ousted from NBC’s Today Show and the CBS Morning Show, respectively, when the accusations against them were publicized. Les Moonves, one of the most powerful men in TV, was let go after Ronan Farrow’s report in the New Yorker detailed many instances of inappropriate behavior towards women, but we can still watch reruns of Friends, NCIS, and ER, shows he green-lighted. And even though Harvey Weinstein produced many, many films, some of them Academy Award winners, we can still watch those films without having to see him on the screen.
Accusations about Jackson have been swirling around for many years, even before he died of a drug overdose on June 25, 2009. Many questioned all those overnights with young boys at his Neverland ranch. He even talked about being in bed with them. But those boys, now young men, never spoke out as they have in this HBO documentary. That’s the difference. These charges are given credibility by such testimony. Michael is no longer around to defend himself, but his family, particularly his daughter, Paris, are speaking out. Yet it’s easy to be suspicious about his relatives’ loyalty. According to Forbes, Jackson last year pulled in a reported $825 million, “the highest annual total for any entertainer dead or alive,” thanks to the sale of his half of the Sony/ATV catalogue.” No one wants to kill that golden goose.
But the value of even that catalogue could drop precipitously if fans stop listening. So, in the end, it’s up to us. Will we continue to listen to “Thriller”? “Beat It”? “Billie Jean”? Will “I Believe I Can Fly” remain a popular anthem at graduations and weddings? Or every time we make a pasta from one of Batali’s cookbooks, do we get indigestion?
Right now my feeling is that there is enough music and recipes out there by outstanding creators – men and women – that if we have to take a few off our lists, we can survive. In fact, that’s my new anthem, Gloria Gaynor’s, “I Will Survive.”
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