Opinion: You shouldn’t judge a piece of art based on who created it

Cristo Dulom

As the dust settles from HBO’s “Leaving Neverland” documentary and Oprah Winfrey’s after show, “After Neverland,” I believe it is time for us to review our opinion of Michael Jackson as a person and as a musical artist.

The four-hour documentary featured the stories of Wade Robson and James Safechuck who are now coming out with their stories of how Michael Jackson sexually abused them as children. Their stories are frankly harrowing. I felt sick to my stomach many times as I watched both parts of the documentary. How could Michael Jackson, a superstar that has made such an enormous and lasting impact on pop culture, have committed such grotesque acts against these young children?

As more people came to feel the same way I did after watching the documentary, I noticed that many radio stations stopped playing the King of Pop’s music. This is where I began to feel uncomfortable about society’s reaction to the confessions of Robson and Safechuck. I fully believe the stories they have told about Michael Jackson and his sexual abuse, but his personal life and career as a musician are very different and separate. Because these two lives are different, they should be judged differently.

Let me ask you: how do these accusations change how we should jam to “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” or any other Michael Jackson songs when they come on the radio? Quick answer for you: the accusations don’t change the music. It doesn’t matter if you’re listening to “Thriller” in 1982 or 2019, the music itself is unchanged by time or accusation.

Yes, you may be reminded about the crimes Michael Jackson committed, and that’s okay. But what about all the good memories you may have associated to one or more of Michael Jackson’s songs? Should we give the good up, as well? I believe it is important that we look past what we know about Michael Jackson’s personal life and into the art he created. In order to get a pure opinion of any piece of art, one must completely look past the artist and judge the art on its own.

If you’re having trouble with this, let me bring another artist to your attention. Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the subsequent additions to the universe he created, was also known for drawing and photographing nude children. Carroll’s actions are unforgivable. However, should we throw away a massive part of English literature because of the writer’s actions? I think not. We have to set aside his actions and judge the what he created on its own.

Being able to separate the artist from their art is a difficult task, and one that shouldn’t be rushed. We shouldn’t hurry up and forget about the crimes Michael Jackson committed in order to feel no guilt in listening to any of his music. We should never forget about what was done to Wade Robson, James Safechuck and possibly countless other children. However, this is not just a black or white situation. It’s complex, and requires us to travel a path to understand what Michael Jackson did, come to terms with it and to finally begin judging his music on its own again. Sure, this all is coming from someone who wasn’t sexually assaulted by Michael Jackson. This is easy for me to argue, and I understand that. The point is that if we as a society are going to be critics of art, it is imperative that we simply criticize art and not the artist.