Bad, dangerous, but still not history

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The ripple effect of the Leaving Neverland documentary was felt in Australia too. Source: Complete Music Update

When the melodic strains of Man in The Mirror blared on radio station Triple M this week, some listeners were aghast. Shock horror was unleashed by a legion of Michael Jackson haters and older listeners reached for the smelling salts. The radio station however stood firm in its policy.

“These remain allegations and therefore we currently intend to continue to play his music on occasion,” a spokesperson for Southern Cross Austereo (SCA), whose stations include Triple M and 2DayFM said.

One listener who firmly disagrees is Amy Withers from Forest Hill. “I was a fan of Triple M but ever since they decided to play the music of a known child predator, I’ve ditched the station for good,” she told D*scribe.

The ‘allegations’ referred to of course are the sordid saga that played out on millions of television screens across the world in March this year when director Dan Reed released Leaving Neverland, a documentary about alleged sustained abuse suffered by two boys, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, at the hands of late pop star Michael Jackson. Jackson had been accused of child sex abuse in 1993, but that matter was settled out of court, and he faced molestation charges in 2005, when a jury found him not guilty.

Despite this year’s Leaving Neverland being a glaringly one-sided portrayal with not a single Jackson loyalist interviewed, the documentary was incredibly detailed and the anti-Jackson hysteria began before you could say Billie Jean.

Two Jackson fans who drove from Canada to Utah to protest the premiere of “Leaving Neverland” at Sundance. Source: Danny Moloshok/Invision, via Associated Press

The anti-Jackson sentiments sent America, especially, reeling and echoed throughout the world. Within a few hours, the fallout of the documentary could be seen as radio stations jettisoned his music from their repertoire, Louis Vuitton removed any Jackson-themed items from his shows and the Lakers basketball team pulled Beat It from their in-game entertainment. Starbucks distanced itself from the singer by putting a stop to playing his music in-store and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis removed the late singer’s white gloves and fedora from display. Even comedy cartoon The Simpsons took things seriously for once and removed an episode featuring a Jackson performance from circulation.

In the rest of the world too, the fallout of Leaving Neverland came thick and fast. Radio broadcasters in Canada pulled MJ music from the air and, in Holland, editor of Dutch station NH Arjan Snijders said: “I don’t think people can listen to the songs the same way anymore. They are supposed to make you happy, make you sing and dance.”

In our region, we saw New Zealand’s two major radio networks NZME and Mediaworks pull Jackson’s songs from airplay. In Australia, on the heels of the airing of the documentary, radio stations went into management huddles to discuss what their Jackson policy should be. As a result, Nova Entertainment Group, which runs Nova stations and Smooth FM, decided to axe all MJ music from its Smooth FM repertoire.

“In light of what is happening at the moment, Smooth FM is not currently playing any Michael Jackson songs,” said Paul Jackson, Nova Entertainment’s group program director.

Smooth FM’s Paul Jackson announced he was pulling Michael Jackson’s music from the air. Source: Mediaweek

However, not all local networks jumped on the anti-MJ bandwagon. SCA said it had no plans to remove Jackson’s songs, while a spokesperson for Australian Radio Network (ARN), which hosts easy-listening station WSFM, said: “At this stage, ARN stations with music formats that play Michael Jackson won’t be removing his music. However, as always, we will continue to regularly review our playlists based on what audiences want to hear.”

The fan groups online, and off, however are not taking things lying down. In fact, ever since the airing of Leaving Neverland, fans and MJ fanclubs have gone into overdrive. Under the Twitter hashtag #MJFam, fan accounts are asking people to create counter programs and encouraging fans to stream Jackson’s music.

Marcos Cabotá, a filmmaker said: “As a professional filmmaker, it is easy to detect that it’s more a mockumentary than a proper impartial documentary. Couldn’t believe a word of the ‘victims’. Bad acting. At times, shameful. Directing and script was even worse. 1/10.”

The director of Leaving Neverland said his company had received “dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens” of emails from Jackson fans — “a deluge of hatred which began within 20 minutes of announcement of Leaving Neverland in January. Reed said Robson and Safechuck had received violent threats. “One can only compare them to religious fanatics, really,” Reed said. “They’re the Islamic State of fandom.” Fans however don’t see it that way.

Speaking to D*scribe, Alex Mastoniari, who runs the “thefallininlove” Michael Jackson fan account on Instagram with over 2000 followers, labelled the blacklisting of MJ songs on the airwaves “completely absurd and ridiculous.”

“These radio stations have the ‘cancel Michael Jackson’ mentality but don’t have the same energy for people who are confirmed rapists or paedophiles. I just hope, in time, the truth will prevail. Once his name is cleared, you know they’ll come running back to play his music to get them clout. Karma’s going to get them eventually,” Mastoniari said.

Michael Jackson pictured at his trial in 2005. Source: Getty

In response to a question about his personal take on the whole Leaving Neverland drama and the reaction it received, Mastoniari said: “It’s frustrating to see how easily and quickly people will jump on the bandwagon to lynch Michael and tarnish his name without a single shred of evidence. I’m patiently waiting for the day that the truth finally does come out but, in the meantime, I’m trying my best to educate people every day and for the most part trying to stay calm and collected.”

And like Mastoniari, fans the world over are waiting for the late star’s innocence to be proved. And hear Thriller on the airwaves again.

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