Most parents are ultra vigilant about safeguarding their children.
But what if the threat were to come from a celebrity stranger named Michael Jackson?
In the new HBO documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” the parents of two of Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse victims deliver their sons to Jackson’s lair with stunning enthusiasm.
As Jackson is shown spinning a web of enchantment around the boys and their families, I silently screamed Don’t fall for it!
Yes, Jackson appears as childlike, a possible non-threatening case of arrested development. But give up your sons to his fantasy world?
Don’t do it!
But they did. They fell hard for the entertainer’s charm.
“Leaving Neverland” plays out over four hours. The professed victims, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, graphically talk about what occurred during their pre-adolescent years when each had his turn as Jackson’s sleepover favorite.
At the time, Jackson was the King of Pop, a bigger-than-life figure idolized across the globe.
The honor of being picked from among millions of other boys to be his best friend — well, who could resist that? Then to travel with him, to stay for extended visits at his Neverland estate/amusement park/zoo?
The boys fell in love with Michael Jackson and his magical world. The parents were equally gobsmacked. Their sons had won a most peculiar lottery that might benefit their adult careers.
Creepy? Most certainly. Common sense suggested that all might not be as it appeared with Jackson.
I tried imagining 30 years ago when my children were young and vulnerable. Could I have been similarly charmed by someone with fame and wealth?
I’d like to think not — at least not by Michael Jackson, a stunted chameleon of a man who in his youth was mauled by the music industry’s star-making machinery.
I didn’t particularly like his music. Not that I could escape it. There was a period when I would come home from work to find his “Thriller” album blaring for family aerobic workouts. And who in that era didn’t attempt to moonwalk?
The story of Jackson and these young boys is such a tangled web. Parental protectiveness meets parental ambition. Fame dazzles.
Pedophiles often win the trust of their victim’s families. The movie suggests that Jackson was an exceptional practitioner of this dark art.
Perhaps the parents deserve to be cut some slack. In raising our children, we can’t be paranoid all the time. We all want to live in a world worthy of our positive imaginings.
Jackson’s accusers kept their secrets well into adulthood. They even testified in Jackson’s defense when he was accused by other boys of sexual abuse. They loved the man. They wanted to protect both him and themselves.
Eventually their childhood attitudes collapsed. Their shameful secrets had begun to undermine their adult lives and marriages to women who had no clue as to what their husbands had endured as children.
The men went public only after Jackson’s death. They filed lawsuits for financial damages that were dismissed for procedural reasons.
The documentary ends on the saddest of notes.
There is finger-pointing within the victims’ extended families. Relationships are blown apart. A father’s suicide is mourned.
The mothers’ remorse is overwhelming. They were complicit in their children’s abuse. They had failed the most basic role of parenthood: child protection.