Sex abuse scandals have become a fixture of modern society. Stories involving children are particularly troubling. The fact these kinds of crimes are receiving an increasing amount of attention shows progress is being made. What is especially encouraging is the fact that the wealthy and powerful no longer seem to enjoy the level of immunity that has allowed them to blatantly commit horrific and depraved sex acts against the vulnerable. A deluge of sex scandals surrounding highly influential entertainment, business, and religious figures began with startling revelations, but accountability has become the prevailing theme. The conviction of Cardinal George Pell serves as one notable example. The trial of R. Kelly is another. The conviction of Bill Cosby is yet another. The Harvey Weinstein revelations and the Jefferey Epstein scandal also show the world that powerful figures face accountability. The question now, however, is how does society cope with revelations and convictions involving highly popular, culturally significant figures.
One of the most persistent and confounding cases of child sex abuse allegations in recent history revolves around the so-called King of Pop. The Leaving Neverland documentary about the life of Michael Jackson has forced the public to relive the sex abuse allegations made against the music legend. While Michael Jackson was never convicted of a crime, the fact he invited young boys to “sleepover” at his Neverland Ranch, engaged in other socially unacceptable behavior with children, and made payments to those who accused him of sexual abuse, left many to wonder how true the allegations against him were. In a culture inundated by sexual abuse scandals, the extremely eccentric nature of the psychological-stunted child star makes it easy to assume his guilt. Whether Michael Jackson is a victim of popular misperception or a sexual predator, the handling of his legacy offers insights that can help society learn how to deal with the aftermath of high-profile sex abuse cases.
Those who are innocent should not be treated as criminals nor should their reputations and legacies suffer from the stigma of false allegations. Doing so leaves the innocent susceptible to untrue and malicious allegations. At the same time, the guilty should not be worshiped. Doing so creates a culture of impunity that empowers true predators to victimize the vulnerable and minimizes the voices of victims. Typically, society has reacted to cases of misconduct by either ignoring undeniable transgressions or whitewashing history. In other words, they have avoided the unpleasantness of confronting sexual misconduct one way or another. In the case of R. Kelly, his fans and associates have simply ignored his egregious wrongdoings for decades. In the case of Bill Cosby, there were those who helped him conceal his attacks on women, but the revelations of misconduct have pushed people to dismantle his legacy. Where the world would certainly like to ignore the fact a sexual predator has had a major impact on the world, it is the entertainment industry that has reacted to Cosby’s conviction and the convictions of others by attempting to bury their legacies.
In the case of Michael Jackson, and R. Kelly to a lesser degree, sex abuse allegations have not been enough to bury their contributions to the world of music. Fans continue to listen to Michael Jackson and R. Kelly. Countless fans will continue to listen to the hit songs of these men for decades to come. They may or may not learn of the alleged wrongs done by these legendary singers, but people will enjoy their music and they will know the impact their music has had on the world. For anyone who believes in justice and wants to see sexual predators punished for the harm they have done to victims, the idea can be appalling. Changing history, however, only helps bury history. The world is finally starting to hold common and influential sexual predators accountability for the pain and destruction they cause. The last thing any culture needs to do is hide its shame. Pretending predatory stars never mattered only helps conceal the wrongs that were done and supported by the entertainment industry.
If the music of Michael Jackson could be removed from history books and never played again, future generation would never know the man existed.. The same is true of R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, and all other famous sexual predators. The world would also have absolutely no opportunity to learn about the wrongs they committed. The world would not know the history of how the entertainment industry helped perpetrate the crimes of sexual predators. They would not know society faced a reckoning where it was forced to confront the wrongs of beloved figures who did wrong. It is absolutely essential for all people to condemn the actions of wrongdoers and wrongdoers as individuals, but the wrongs of people do not negate the constructive impact they have had on the world. Pretending the likes of R. Kelly and Bill Cosby did not have a positive impact on countless lives is both dishonest and helps conceal future cases of sexual abuse. As in all cases of wrongdoing, transparency is the answer. The world should embrace the works of famous wrongdoers, but their legacies must be redefined by wrongdoing. R. Kelly is not a singer who was a sexual predator. He was a sexual predator who gained notoriety for some famous songs. That is how history must hold sexual predators accountable.
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