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? 

L to R: Wade Robson, James Safechuck, Oprah Winfrey

   Another player here is Oprah Winfrey, herself a survivor of child sexual abuse, who goes so far as to say that child sexual abuse is a misnomer; it should be called “child sexual seduction”. And Winfrey might be far closer to nutting things out than even she might realize. Seduction at its essence is a non-gendered exercise of power-wielding, and manages to fly under the radar of scrutiny when paired with similarly-veiled ideas about romance. "Seduced and abandoned" is a sometimes-comical old-timey expression, most often used  against women to imply lessened value due to misplaced virtue...undoubtedly on the assumption that men just can't be seduced and abandoned due to their superior heterosexual agency.

  "Seduced and abandoned" is conceptually aligned with the now-archaic "Breach Of Promise (To Marry)" common law tort which in practice allowed (usually) a man to be subject of litigation and damages should he not follow through. It's notable (and believable) that Michael Jackson invoked marriage in seducing James Safechuck at the age of ten, and the child-sized rings as both symbols of marriage and rewards for sexual services performed are as heartbreaking as they're shocking. As a young man on the make, Wade Robson's assumption that adult male friendship flows naturally post-pedophilia persisted as a one-sided belief on his part. While feelings of abandonment and toxic shame are concomitant with sexual abuse, there's merit in looking at actual abandonment by an abuser as something non-abstract enough to be worthy of concrete and appropriate examination, in its own right.

   The common myth that societies advantage all males is easily refuted: war informs us that nothing is more disposable and worthless than the young male body, and that this has been so since the dawning of time. A soldier is a thing of dehumanization in the eyes of men who wage war.  Additionally, somebody else's son always threatens patriarchal breeding. From this perspective, it becomes much easier to at least see the staggering implications of child sex seduction of boys within a framework of how males exploit and cull other males. James Safechuck and Wade Robson were further diminished by disposability, after years of functioning as objectified flesh. If we don't have the guts to say "seduced and abandoned" really is traumatic for men we probably won't have a very clear grasp on the issues many veterans are faced with, for starters.

   In the light of church-related pedophilia revelations, some psychologists theorize that sex crimes against boys by men are the result of institutions which self-perpetuate by seeking to attract and recruit the sexually dysfunctional. And that's reasonable: demanded celibacy within an environment of homophobia- and misogyny-driven patriarchal systems creates opportunities to exploit young male bodies especially. But Michael Jackson functioned outside of institutional pedophilia, and while Leaving Neverland makes it clear that his sexuality was misogynistic it doesn't make it clear that misandry and homophobia were the driving co-factors. He best demonstrated this by first dehumanizing the young male as an object of self-gratification, then homophobically rejecting him around pubescence. Michael Jackson didn't miraculously turn into a man with heterosexual or homosexual preferences (or anything in between) when he found a young man in his bed instead of a young boy.

    I know a few MRAs and Incels who'd gladly jump on a "seduced and abandoned" bandwagon if they thought they could get away with directing their accompanying anger at women...feminists being destroyers of men's agency, and all that stuff. I'd simply remind them that no two things are exactly the same, and the thing we're talking about is being seduced and abandoned by another man. Sex crimes by men against other men deserve gender-specific study, since identification with perpetrators appears to be rife.

    But shouldn't Leaving Neverland be deftly playing us with loss of childhood innocence as its thematic drive? Indeed, its raison d'etre? Neither Robson nor Safechuck appear to be co-operating with that narrative, and we're left wondering if they're in some state of denial. Or if they're suggesting that dealing with early traumas necessarily involves feeling such a profound masculine hurt that it transcends the age parameters we put on pedophilia. Wade Robson certainly knows how to play to a camera, and abetted by his good looks he'd more effectively convey the latter if he accounted for fame-whoring as adjunct to pedophilia in his case. Psychologist Professor Pamela Stevenson's doctorate reasonably states that some people do experience fame as trauma, and that's something which should have grounded much of what's left hanging in Leaving Neverland.

   Putting a price on stolen innocence necessarily involves a myriad of cognitive abstractions, but putting a price on seduction and abandonment doesn't. Perhaps the very idea threatens traditional manliness as we know it to the core, but a quick reference to our Classical forebears reminds us that those societies' strict moral / ethical codes punished men who essentially seduced and abandoned younger males, for reasons of honor (especially around enslavement of citizens) ahead of anything much to do with sex. Our modern preoccupation with all things sexual may be clouding what's demonstrably true: Michael Jackson was deeply and wretchedly dishonorable as a man to the young of our species, and for that certainly unfit for societal privilege. An honorable man of good character simply would not have a retinue of boys grown older seeking recompense, with two able to clearly articulate abandonment and promises not kept as serious and justified complaints. And another who simply got paid off, among the many others.

   It's not within a documentarian's (or a critic's) domain to psychoanalyze on-screen 'patients' since practiced professional psychotherapy is both boundaried and private. One critical observation of Dan Reed's work however sees it coming up as remarkably empty of helpful content for men and boys, beyond the already-known importance of speaking up when abused.

Healing and Victimhood

   There's currently some reasonable opposition to "victimhood culture", and the idea that a victim of pedophilia is ruined for life is just as odious as the opposing narrative which runs along the lines of Camille Paglia's sometimes misunderstood ex-Ayn Rand theories about "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps". To doom somebody to a life of victimhood isn't a statement of fact, but a statement that healing is impossible. When healing becomes the topic, both highly-politicized sides of the above conflict are rendered fatuous distractions.

   The nicest of people dish out pity in the most obscenely misdirected ways. Arguably, Michael Jackson played the pity card himself for all it was worth. How many times must we been told that "He was just a maybe damaged child himself'", now victimized in perpetuity by the greedy "them"?  Perhaps a more honest society will make a paradigm shift of consciousness from the laziness of felt pity to a pro-active insistence on healing the psyches of all victims of sex crimes, as validation of the rest of their lives. (Perpetrators too should have the benefit of healing: in an ideal world that would occur before they offend. Since Michael Jackson is now dead and his victims are not, ideas about his unhealing and/or rehabilitation prospects aren't as relevant to the here-and-now as some would undoubtedly have us believe.)

   The toxic effects of carrying inappropriate shame can't ever be over-stated, and to make pronouncements that a victim is a victim for life is to compound shame. It neatly answers the masochistic question "What have I done to deserve this?" with the sadistic "You are a victim." Whether or not Robson and Safechuck are liars who may not even be victims isn't central to the topic of healing: their sex-laden tale is frank about what they did, is neither coy nor warranting shame. If it offends Puritanical approaches to psychotherapy then that's a good thing. If it panders to ridiculous thoughts like heterosexuality saves men then it's not a good thing at all.

   We're told that the apprehension of a pedophile isn't something to be celebrated, but instead our thoughts and prayers should be with the victims. It sounds like a fair call - albeit of the sound-bite variety - but it's actually not if those thoughts and prayers aren't demanding positive and effective healing. Society can't restore lost innocence, but it can challenge every resource available to make real healing available in a way that thoughts and prayers don't.

Captain, We Have A Few Good Men Down

   The point of psychotherapy should always be healing, and that's not guaranteed by medication and religion. Good therapy doesn't necessarily distinguish between healing of the mind and healing of the spirit. Disciplines are as many and varied as the individual approaches by practitioners. Few of us are above indulging in our toxic masculinity when it comes to having a laugh at other men who fuck things up even more because "the fool wouldn't ask for help". It's not so funny when we don't realize that every now and then we're that fool.

   Best then that we just objectively start shopping for mental health help when things seem to be fucking up. It's not that we need general one-size-fits-all help, we need to shop for that specialist with whom we click almost immediately...the right man or woman for the job, as it were. Nobody's hopeless or unfixable with the right tools, and a therapist with training and insights more often than not allows us to fix ourselves.

   Evidence of male malaise is everywhere. It's hard to go a day without hearing some guy's catalog of reasons why it's so hard to be a man in the 21st Century. It invariably winds up with "and we're all developing metal health problems." But is that totally so? I'd argue that the 21st Century gives us more opportunities than ever before to be the man we'd probably most like to be: that happy-enough guy who always brings his A-game, at nobody else's expense. "Opportunity" need not be the domain of opportunistic predators exclusively: as we justifiably revile a sexual predator like Michael Jackson why do we then turn around and elect other essentially predatory men to high office, and call them our leaders? Has our male attachment to male hierarchies defaulted to "abusers go to the top?"

   It's not too late to take stock but it's getting later, as they say. James Safechuck and Wade Robson aren't somebody else's problems - they're ours, are they not?

(If this article raises issues for readers, then they're encouraged to seek help. This listing of websites and helplines for Australian readers is a good place to start.)  



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