Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Obfuscations Of "Leaving Neverland"

Neverland Redux: Wade "Little One" Robson, Dan Reed, James "Rubba Rubba"" Safechuck

    Liking or disliking Michael Jackson and his music has little to do with the public spectacle that is Leaving Neverland.  In the overcrowded genre of media about Jackson's pedophilia, director Dan Reed goes for the home run with a slap in the face for those in danger of becoming inured to the subject. Jockeying for center stage is the opposing attack movement firing at Leaving Neverland and its participants. Their discreditation platform wins hands down when it comes to obfuscations since none of their "policy points" stands up to scrutiny: legalism isn't truth being told.

   Torrents of celebrity marketing across decades only ever reinforced my hope that Jackson would just go away. And then he did, sort of. What's always interesting is the business of celebrity branding, and how 'artists' wield their powers of litigation to prevail in life, and in Jackson's case, to curate a lucrative legacy in death. Trawling through the extensive documentations of litigation and more, it's notable that the names of Wade Robson and James Safechuck aren't Johnny-come-latelys by any means, and they're on board the good ship Leaving Neverland with enough unredacted testimony to elevate the sordid Jackson saga up to something else.
   It's taken a few weeks for a suspect media to partially recover from the shock of Leaving Neverland, and they're now predictably scrambling for The Story which best dodges two male victims mentioning the unmentionable: "We were two little boys who enjoyed sex with a man." It might not be a great credibility defense but, given some thought, it's one hell of an offense. Expert forensic psychologists aren't rushing at Leaving Neverland in droves - no doubt unsure which horses to back and which to hobble. Wade Robson and James Safechuck admit past lies, but director Dan Reed gives them close to four hours to tell their rebranded and lurid but consistent tales.

   The non-appearing "Jackson's Camp" predictably dismiss it all as "They're in it for the money", as if to pre-establish the moral high ground of the moneyed. The director is on very shaky ground in claiming that Robson and Safechuck are not...and utilizing that questionable claim as backup evidence of their credibility. Safechuck actually passed on the potentially lucrative opportunity to testify on behalf of Jackson - citing his repugnance of Jackson's character. Perhaps they just are owed money (and lots of it), under a breached implicit contract which dare not speak its name.

How Do You Clean Up A Dirty Story? 

     It's unreasonable to make judgment calls exclusively around who's lying, but it's quite reasonable to theorize that pedophilia is as much clustered manipulative lying as it is sex. As spectacle, Leaving Neverland strikes many as harrowing and disturbing and so it should. As a vehicle to fuel our tendencies to personal and collective rushes to judgment it's quite frustrating. The undeniable complexity of Robson and Safechuck's victimhood as viewed through a prism of "feel pity for us" isn't an easy sell when their past deceits get in the way, and they're not obviously appealing for sympathy anyhow. The most glaringly phenomenal aspect of their new stories is that they are applying pederast values to their part in pedophilia ("We were in love," "We enjoyed the sex", "He didn't do right by us."). It's hard to dispute the reality that pedophiles do shape their victim's sexuality to their own purposes from a very young age, while simultaneously acknowledging that maybe Robson and Safechuck are on to something in terms of approaches to remedy and healing.

   "What's the difference between pedophilia and pederasty?" you might ask. "What side of (around) fourteen are we talking about?" is the most viable answer. While arbitrary ages aren't the last word, they're all we have as a society to begin determining consent issues. And since consent should remain key, if very young men want the right to consent to sex with older men then they need to take to the streets to demand ages of consent be lowered. 

   But puberty as the onset of manhood isn't a bad place to define the point at which the worst type of pedophile might dump young male prey. While there are pedophiles who exploit post- and pubescent males, the dynamics of attraction, power and negotiation usually differ. That exploitation may be of teenage male sex fantasies and experimentation, without any relationship to defined pederasty. And from the perspective of a precociously sexually active gay boy, movie director Joel Schumacher's frank recollections of his young self are most informative, in a dispassionate way.

   "Around fourteen" seems to be the age of cutoff for Jackson, but we're left to wonder why puberty doesn't rate a mention. How exactly does being dumped and shamed for physically becoming a man impact on a boy in the long- and short-term? It's undeniable that Robson and Safechuck, with the assistance of Leaving Neverland , are sailing to ports unknown in asking us to look at victimhood, pedophilia-plus and perhaps child sex trafficking in both older and newer ways.

   Reed could have plugged the many holes in Leaving Neverland's hull with a clear understanding of what a modern pedophile is, as opposed to what a defined pederast was. As a frame of reference it goes a long way to individualizing and humanizing the stories Jackson's victims tell. Their stories are punctuated by Jackson's failures to honor the central responsibilities of a pederast in terms of setting the younger man up for life (with education, especially) and finding him more sexually attractive after pubescence. In many ways it's progressive and courageous to air Wade Robson and James Safechuck's anguish around those exact issues: selling them as the consequences of "being in love" while going hard with graphic genitalia recollections misses the mark.

Who's To Bless And Who's To Blame?

   The director responds to questions around broad and long-term coverups with "The answer has something to do of course with the dazzling glare of celebrity and our instinctive deference to talent and wealth. But it also has a lot to do with collective ignorance."  If Leaving Neverland doesn't stand as an indictment of celebrity worship then we've completely lost our way. "How could she?" is the knee-jerk reaction to Robson's ruthless stage mother. "Very easily" is the answer if we're honest enough about our real motives behind issues like 'wanting the best for our kids and ourselves'.

   "Jimmy" Safechuck claims to be "still working on it" when it comes to forgiving his own mother. For the sake of his own healing he probably needs to work a bit harder on it since she knows and admits she fucked up as a mother. It's just a log-jam situation: she's gone as far as she can go, and drawn-out penance doesn't serve anybody or anything, mother or son. Sadly, there's no mention at all of interventions in terms of his mental health. He presents as a beautiful soul in need of it.

   But back to what Leaving Neverland has been positing on Robson and Safechuck's behalf: that they're not in it for the money. With that consideration not necessarily under a cloud, their claims are certainly tied to the shocking: "We were two little boys who enjoyed gay sex and wanted to get paid." Dan Reed does a fine job of avoiding the implications by bringing in his big guns at the exact point pesky questions about sexuality might get asked: wives and kids. That's about the time that Leaving Neverland starts to take on water. And despite some very slick editing, it all lurches towards the tabloidish,  in an "it is what it is" kind of way.

   The moral of the subliminal story of course is that heterosexuality just might save the day, albeit with some mental trauma along the way. Just one pesky but reasonable question which needs asking is "Would Robson and Safechuck be more or less sympathetic and credible if they were gay or bisexual?" There's actually way, way too much wives and (especially Robson's) family in the second half of Leaving Neverland, to the point that it appears Wade Robson might be in the director's chair. With a brief nod to therapy which isn't revisited, the show immediately invokes the paranormal instead of credible professionals explaining the fine points of how pedophilia does cause sexual dysfunction but heterosexuality doesn't heal it or cure anything. Or that the questionable goal of some treating therapists (to restore men's "true" sexuality) is binary thinking and often presents all homosexuality as a dysfunctional sexuality default. Instead, in an idea torn from the pages of Weekly World News, 'breakthroughs' for dysfunctional and deluded families happen when a relative has a dream that somebody got molested.

    For a couple of weeks The Story was fan backlash and bans on radio play for Michael Jackson, in the absence of that elusive something which might pass for both balance and objectivity. The fact that people who were in no position to know anything were excluded from Leaving Neverland goes a long way towards scuttling hack media notions about the necessity for "balance". With that pretense out of the way, a lack of prior convictions for Michael Jackson  is being pressed into service as objectivity. That he was acquitted / never found guilty of pedophilia isn't objective truth. He wasn't found innocent either, thanks to liars and the expert legal help which only power can buy. Decades of clever serial sandbagging have created a "Michael Is Innocent" myth, and if a pair like Robson and Safechuck who were there force us to confront that myth then we might be on the way to apprehending some truth.

Is It All About Penis-touching vs. Bullshitting To Beat The Band? 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Queer: Good Gay, Bad Gay, Black Gay, White Gay?

The Other Side of The Rainbow: GLAAD Alternative Hall Of Famers

   While Jussie Smollett has admitted no guilt (and indeed hasn't been found so by a jury), Kevin Spacey has "apologized" to an alleged victim. What they have in common is that as things stand  both are causing significant "discomfort" for LGBT+ Inc.

   It was bound to happen of course. As the movement forges onwards with its assimilationist agenda it tends to dismiss Queerdom as an entirely academic pursuit, somehow divorced from a self-imagined reality and undefined by critical thinking. We became the United Colors of Benetton to all intents and purposes. However, People of Color propped up on a Gay Pride float in the hubristic name of inclusiveness is a far cry from how we really feel about "gay boys who offend", and how differingly we might really feel about them along racial lines. While Spacey's accused of underage offenses and Smollett's not, the latter has recently and serendipitously showed up for big-picture consideration -  when, and if, we get past their privileged celebrity.

   A black/white male setup shouldn't be seen as either reflective of Queer global racial interactions or any specific localized example. For some gay men it is so, for some gay men it isn't. While many gay men are completely unaware of their own whiteness, no reasonable Queer assumes that black and white gays are the same, beyond their existence.

   Sameness can't be entertained as an assumptive basis for anything when black men rarely experience the status of a white man in any society: herein lies the necessity of a truthful general gendered discussion which shapes a specific sexuality as experienced discussion. While sexuality can facilitate the crossing of bridges, it isn't the bridge. Less so if it's underpinned by outright denial of disadvantage. When it comes to gay men and race, denial while virtue-signalling can be an exhausting undertaking on the best of days. Time and energy are usually better spent just listening to stories, rather than obfuscating or trying to set an agenda for the betterment of others, as we see it.

   The headline topic is also that of Professor Ian Barnard's most recently published paper (2018). With Smollett on board, the paper is even more relevant. (Barnard is of course a go-to academic whose  Queer Race: Cultural Interventions in the Racial Politics of Queer Theory serves to  effectively challenge tropes like "queer man" equates with "gay white male", all of the time, within its many other definitive insights.) 

   "Good Gay, Bad Gay..." opens with:

"As Deadline .com bluntly put it, 'Kevin Spacey Apologizes to Anthony Rapp for Alleged Sexual Advances; Chooses to "Live As A Gay Man."' The outraged response of progressive intellectuals, activists, and cultural critics to Spacey’s twofold tweet has demonstrated, inter alia, the resilience of old school assumptions and expectations about coming out and about gay identity and gay identifications. These outraged responses have come especially from younger generations of intellectuals, activists, and critics, but also across generations, genders, and sexual orientations. Despite decades of attacks on models of gay identity that center on teleological narratives of coming out, and critiques of the privileging of coming out as the apotheosis of a triumphalist gay identity as racist and ethnocentric in that privileging’s assumption of identity as coherent and univocal, and the assumption of a safe space to come out into (#BlackLivesMatter has served as a forceful reminder of the illusion of such safe spaces for black men, in particular), here we are again at a coming out crossroads, at a coming out as crossroad. 

 Here we are again swept into that narrative expectation of coming out as a crossing from innocence into experience, even when that coming out is compromised and contaminated by decades of denial (on the part of Spacey), by decades of knowingness (on the part of Spacey watchers), and now by the specter of sexual harassment and sexual assault. And despite “queer’s” supposed resistance to utopian or censorious prescriptions for positive representation, the expectation—indeed, the demand—that queer articulation carries with it a triumphal narrative of gay goodness, or, at least a triumphal narrative of victimhood overcome (“it gets better”) persists. Persistence is not always a good thing. It is as if “queer’s” efforts to decenter heterosexuality and heteronormativ-ity are, in the United States anyway, frantically skidding backward into liberal defensiveness in the wake of the Trump-effect’s jolt back to the culture wars, to a multiculturalism no longer taken as given, to kindness and empathy suddenly embattled. Or proof that the triumph of same-sex marriage across the globe is just more evidence of neoliberalism’s cannibalization of queer antiassimilation-ism. As if the antisocial turn in queer theory had not happened. Or, at least, possible evidence of its failure to yet make an impact outside of academia"

(The full - and highly readable - paper continues at Queer: Good Gay, Bad Gay, Black Gay, White Gay?)

   Neo-liberalism/advanced capitalism has form when it comes to throwing us crumbs-off-the-table "rights" like same-sex marriage. It also has form when it comes to pitting groups against each other, with the ever-growing list of LGBTI  "alphabet people" simply seen as vulnerable minority target groups who can be easily picked off without a defined and assertive Queer flag to rally around. ("Defined Queer flag" meaning that queers aren't foot-soldiers and numbers for other groups / ideologies seeking political advancement via alliance: dominion and purpose can quickly become dilution.)

   But the Queer isn't exclusively a political animal, and LGBT is far from a fully-formed personal identity. Staying in your own lane and knowing at what point to rally aren't mutually exclusive. Gay men who aren't in their own lane enough to support and promote a strong and healthy masculinism at nobody's expense have probably learned nothing from feminism. Sublimated masculinity and gender-fluidity aren't interchangeable terms, and men who come to believe they are probably won't have a lot of empathy or solidarity with brothers who in reality are doing it tougher. And yes, I use the term "brother" in both the racial and non-racial senses if there's a perceived difference.

   Aspirational chatter about equality is quite empty when the Gay Dream (or whatever it is), is predicated upon the assumption thats it's equally within the reach of any and all black men. The hail-brother niceness of it all doesn't quite cosmetize what's  essentially archly conservative exclusion. An older generation of gay men for the most part prefers to side-step all intersectionality issues which Queerdom insists he face up to. The young queer man tends to get intersectionality concepts, but he faces significant challenges going antisocially into an age of Pseudo-modernism.
   We've become intellectually sloppy when we don't know the difference between inclusion and tokenism, and revert to old gay habits from the self-defeating closet. Changing times always create newer opportunities for adaptive "passing", and gay men like Milo Yiannopoulos serve to remind us that self-imagined empowerment at the brutalizing and divisive expense of others isn't sustainable anyhow.

   With reactionary forces ominously looming worldwide, LGBTQ+ needs to significantly pick up its game, and look at how it stumbled around "handling" Jussi Smollett and Kevin Spacey. Western alt-Righters have successfully made subtle but deadly inroads, and are ready and waiting with recycled factoids like "gays are racists and pedophiles" and "black men are homophobic", to name two of the more obvious. "Bravely fighting back" will simply evidence that we've lost control of the narrative. We've all got skin in the man game, and we're wise to know it.

   The above notwithstanding, it's easy to see that "man problems" of the non-gay variety aren't going away any time soon. What's not so easy to see is what gay men are doing about our own "man problems". Are we sweeping racism and our gender under every inappropriate carpet we can dream up?