In the wake of the release of the Leaving Neverland documentary, which tells the story of two victims of sexual abuse by Michael Jackson, there has been an effort to erase the singer from history, making him into an unperson. The latest attempt has been a decision by the producers of The Simpsons to take an episode featuring Jackson’s voice permanently out of circulation.
The Simpsons is pulling an episode featuring Michael Jackson’s voice, co-creator James L. Brooks told the Wall Street Journal yesterday. “Stark Raving Dad,” which featured Jackson as the voice of a mental patient who believes that he is actually Michael Jackson, is, or has been, one of the show’s most beloved installments, coming in 10th in the Ringer’s 2017 ranking of its best episodes. But after the broadcast of Leaving Neverland, in which two men describe in detail how Jackson allegedly molested them when they were children, Brooks said that taking the episode out of circulation was “clearly the only choice to make.”
Brooks told the Journal that “Stark Raving Dad,” in which Homer is committed to a mental institution, was “a treasured episode” for him, but it’s already been removed from Simpsons World, the online portal that offers access to every—now every other— episode of The Simpsons, and Brooks said that “the process has been started” to remove it from syndication and future physical media editions. “I’m against book burning of any kind,” Brooks said, “but this is our book, and we’re allowed to take out a chapter.”
I don’t know about this. It’s true that they have every right to pull any episode they want. They don’t have to broadcast, stream, or sell DVDs of any episode of the Simpsons at all, if they don’t want to, and yet this sort of airbrushing the past bothers me. It feels somehow Stalinist.
This is why I oppose toppling statues of Confederate generals, covering up pictures that display the Ku Klux Klan, renaming cities that were named for slave holders, consigning old movies to oblivion because they don’t meet contemporary standards of race relations. How are we supposed to learn from the past, if we don’t know anything about the past?
Considering that the child abuse allegations against Michael Jackson are decades old, why is Michael Jackson being erased and boycotted now, ten years after his death. That documentary didn’t really reveal anything about Jackson that wasn’t already known. Yes, a jury acquitted him of child molestation back in 2005, but I don’t think anyone who wasn’t a diehard Jackson fan seriously believed that Michael Jackson was innocent, considering his odd lifestyle in which he surrounded himself with children. Jackson all but publicly announced he was a pedophile. So why now? Why didn’t these people sever all business relations with Jackson when he was still alive. Is it safer now that he is gone? Is there no more money to be made from his name?
This also brings up the question of how do we separate the artist from his art. I was never a Michael Jackson fan, but he did make good music. I love the music of Richard Wagner, but he wasn’t an especially nice person. Wagner was an anti-Semite who borrowed money from his friends with no intention of ever repaying them, while he was seducing their wives. Beethoven was extremely hard to get along with and was an alcoholic. Mozart was not quite the obnoxious man-child depicted in the movie Amadeus, but the portrayal was not entirely inaccurate. John Lennon abused his first wife, before abandoning her and their son. These artists made sublime music while being despicable human beings. How do their human failings affect our appreciation of their art? Can we listen to the music of a man who abused children without feeling somehow defiled? Does the art transcend the man?
I think this is a question that we each have to answer for ourselves. I would rather make that decision for myself, however, rather than have it answered for me.