Jackson fallout: How society should see art

Jackson fallout: How society should see art

When society creates the hero out of the famed artist, it shall constantly remind itself that even the greatest of artists are not beyond social scrutiny

After the release of the documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’, many radio stations across the globe have banned Jackson’s music in protest.

Child abuse, the enormity of this offense shouldn’t be overlooked based on the perpetrator’s social standing, especially when the person in question is a celebrity.

Allegations that Michael Jackson was a paedophile were commonplace when the pop icon was alive. But, somehow his overarching legacy and ethereal presence managed to thwart those accusations and prevail, at least during his life time and up until now.

Art and artist -- can we separately approach these entities? The question arises once again on the backdrop of recent calls for shunning the works of one of America’s biggest and perhaps greatest pop exports of the last century, the so-called King of Pop.

A revealing documentary, Leaving Neverland, released recently, has testimonies of those who claim Jackson sexually exploited them when they were children. It sent shock-waves among fans and critics alike deeply dividing opinion on how society should confront the issue.

At the moment, many radio stations and other media concerns across the globe have banned Jackson’s music in protest. The fans though are refusing to believe or even concede and are holding forth that their idol is above scrutiny, dismissing it as another smear campaign. So, how shall we understand this dilemma?

Why wasn’t Jackson brought to book when he was alive? And now, when he is dead and gone, boycotting his music is not in any way going to change anything. Notwithstanding the influence the musician enjoys the world over.

In these times as society turns increasingly insecure, individualistic and protective, despite greater modes of communication and connectivity, it is a paradox that the stupidest of reactionary antics appropriate the narrative. The great social media isn’t coming to the rescue either. In fact, it is fuelling the fire if you like, as always.

Increasingly, when the artist’s persona assumes greater importance than the art itself, especially on online social platforms of the day, we should stop being irrational and look for real art elsewhere. Moreover, in this day and age, we must learn to see art and the artist as two different and rather opposing forces that complement each other, ultimately, for the betterment of art itself.

Social mores and celebrity

Prince was a prominent music figure
in the 80s. Pic courtesy: wamu.org

Perhaps, the collective should take up the blame for the degenerate-creative-genius-turned-celebrity’s fall, like in the case of Jackson, or even his/her untimely demise. Another

phenomenal musician from Jackson’s time was Prince, who passed away a couple of years ago. Prince was such a profound musician, ahead of his time, also a bit overshadowed by Jackson himself. Prince too, like Jackson, lost his life to prescription drugs.

Celebrity and society never were on the same plane. The celebrated artist was always a misfit and considered herself/himself a tad above the rest, thanks to the reach and influence that accompanied stardom. In retrospect, many of these individuals were battling to fit in. When that wasn’t happening their inner monsters took over and devastated their lives and careers in their loneliness and social alienation.

Amy Winehouse lost her life due to
alcoholism and drug abuse. Pic courtesy: factmag.com

Take the case of Amy Winehouse, for instance, genius of a musician, quite unlike her contemporaries and very much like the legendary black soul singers from across the continent, cut short in her career by her alcoholism and drug abuse. Or the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and many other gifted artists the world would miss long after they are gone.

Winehouse the musician, if she were alive, could have changed the course of music itself, proving to be a seminal one at that, which is so hard to come by today. Hoffman’s performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Master would tell the world what a great actor he could be, not to mention his portrayal of Truman Capote.

Society is responsible

This exposes the fundamental problem. Society as such is in a state of decay, never really able to decipher things as they are. Just like the make-believe stars of the day, turning up as closet creeps. Of course, inner struggle and a trauma-filled past can contribute to great works of art in reflection, but when it manifests as offensive behaviour that scars the lives of unsuspecting individuals in hero-worship, neither the society, the artist nor the art can redeem what has been done.

Surely, society must reflect on this question. When it creates a hero out of a famed artist, it shall constantly remind itself that even the greatest of artists are not beyond social scrutiny. They are as vulnerable indeed as any other in the collective.

If there is a break in the pattern, as we see in the recent past in losing many talented musicians, actors and others to social pressure leading to their deaths, there is a reason to worry. No doubt, society have wronged them.

Neither should be the art created by such artists be shunned based on their personal social conduct. It should stay as pieces of socio-cultural milieu of the time. Those who want to love it can love it. Those who want to loathe, indeed can. Eventually though, the works would remain as part of our collective evolutionary history.