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Michael Jackson: Gone too soon 

Tom O'Carroll 

Gone too soon, sang Michael, mourning the tragic death of young Ryan White, a boy who at the age of twelve contracted the HIV virus from a contaminated blood transfusion. Haemophiliac Ryan was barred from school after that, made a pariah through public ignorance.

Small wonder Michael felt a bond with Ryan and a sense of loss. He too had teetered on the brink of being cast out as a pariah, had he not? In death the erstwhile King of Pop has been crowned again, resurrected in the public imagination to all his former glory and more. 

His adoring children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, will surely feel their father, like Ryan, has gone too soon. But for the music business his departure is a dream come true: to those people, Michael’s death has been his greatest career move: sales have skyrocketed. 

Even the fans can be happy: now they can dance on Michael’s grave, free at last to enjoy the music without having to worry that the king might embarrass them again with a new sleepover scandal. They can slip straight back into comfortable denial over Michael’s paedophilia with little fear of contradiction from some new exposé.

And what of child lovers? Has Michael gone too soon? 

I speak of “Michael”, not of “Jackson”, which itself says something about my feelings. I am old enough to have thrilled to Michael’s pre-teen Jackson Five numbers  when they were first released. But I lost track as he grew up. 

Then, when the scandal of his close friendships with boys broke upon the world in 1993, I started paying attention again, as so many did. I went to one of his Wembley concerts, in London, succumbing to the magic; I took to the disco floor in my old age, dancing with manic, unseemly abandon to Michael’s music, risking cardiac arrest in a premonitory parody of the king’s own fate. 

These things do not make me a devoted fan but I have most assuredly become an avid and largely sympathetic Jackson watcher, even when his behaviour has cried out for criticism or even outright condemnation. 

Like a concerned teacher, I have often felt – at the risk of being patronising – the need to be critical but not hostile. I imagine writing his school report: “Michael clearly has an aptitude for Music and Dancing and he achieved quite well in HIStory a few terms ago. Unfortunately, he has rested on his laurels too much since then and his marks for Home Economics have been appalling. As for his somewhat unusual interest in Boyology…”

Well, yes, what about that interest? I expect many child lovers share my feeling that we all have a stake in Michael’s reputation. In his lifetime, many of us wished him well and hoped the scandal would go away just for his own sake: why would we want to see him publicly crucified, especially in a criminal court? We might also have thought that if Michael goes to jail the dark ages that so beset us will grow even darker and bleaker.

So I was hugely relieved when the jury four years ago found Michael not guilty of sexually assaulting 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo. But it seemed wrong, and a wasted opportunity for a socially important debate, just to shut up about the sleepovers. 

Michael plainly had a fantastic rapport with kids: he loved them; they loved him. And that love was mutually expressed in physical, sexual ways. For those of us who have studied the evidence of Michael’s numerous “special friendships” with boys over the years there really can be precious little doubt about it. And that is great! It’s wonderful and should be celebrated, not hidden away and denied. 

To insist on Michael’s “innocence”, to claim he was “pure and innocent like a child”, is to deny both his sexuality and that of the kids he loved. This is a lie. It will not do. Those who “defend” Michael in this way actually demean him; they debase and denigrate all child lovers; they rob children of the freedom to be themselves. 

When I started my own long journey into “Jacksonology” back in 1993, I had one key thought in mind: Michael’s fame would mean that his deeds, real and alleged, would inevitably play a major part in the public understanding of paedophilia for a generation or more. 

Since then, Michael has proved to be a far from ideal poster boy: his fabled “Wacko Jacko” traits have left me exasperated and fascinated in equal measure. Perhaps we all share that ambivalence. 

So, goodbye Michael. Did he “Heal the world, Make it a better place, For you and for me and the entire human race”? 

Well, he sure got the sentiment right and brought a lot of hope and happiness to countless millions, including thousands of kids he visited in hospitals and entertained at Neverland – not all of them in his bedroom. How many of us have made a contribution like that?

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