Michael Jackson and the morality of the artist

John McWhorter says, and says with his usual clarity and grace, pretty much exactly what I thought of Michael Jackson. The one exception is that he passes over Jackson's molestation accusations more breezily than I am wont to.

Which brings me to what Ta-Nehisi Coates has to say on the matter.

Ray Lewis may well be an accessory to a man's murder. But when I watch him run up and down field on Sunday, it sparks something in me. Woody Allen wooed his wife's adopted daughter, and may well be a child molester. But I think Bananas makes me laugh. Mike Tyson is, among other things, a convicted rapist. But I had not lived until I saw him demolish Trevor Berbick. And so on...

I guess I could peel these people out my life. I guess I could stop seperating art from men. Regrettably, I think, I wouldn't be left with much art worth admiring. Sometimes awful people, do beautiful things. One doesn't cancel the other.

I agree that awful people do beautiful things. I disagree that one can separate art from artists. Art is a form of communication, and is in part understood by understanding the author's intentions. (I could go on and on about this, and I have in writing philosophical work, but I'll refrain here. Suffice it to say that I think the concept that we look at, say, a poem as simply a text or series of words with dictionary meanings, with no regard for the author or context in which it was written, often results in a failure to properly understand the poem).

That said, I don't only enjoy art created by people I find morally acceptable or with whom I would be excellent friends. Like Coates, I find Bananas quite funny (although my favorite early Woody Allen still has to be Love and Death). What seems to matter more is whether or not the artwork communicates something about the immorality. A movie such as Manhattan, which seems to defend and glorify his sexual preference for high school age group (and not simply for reasons of tauter skin, but because older women are too sophisticated and challenging) is much more off-putting given the facts I know about his life.

In the case of Michael Jackson, I am apparently one of the relatively few people who does not think he is a genius. I like his voice quite a lot when he was a child, much less so as a falsetto adult. His songs are often catchy enough. His dancing was very good. And that's about it. Knowing how brutal his father was in forcing him to perform does influence my enjoyment of his childhood recordings. But his later music, which does not seem to deal with or defend his apparent preference for young boys, is still reasonably enjoyable for me.


  1. there are a couple of really good songs on Thriller. after that it's all crappy music and tabloid headlines, isn't it?

  2. What we are seeing right now isn't really about Jacko (apparently it wasn't a heart attack. he was in the children's ward stroking). Its about the current state of humanity. There is a GLOBAL outpouring of sentimentality. It appears similar in tone to the British reaction to Diana's death. He stopped being relevant as an artist 20 years ago. Since then he was a tool for various Establishment forces. What is sad about all this is the extent of brain washing that has occured. I have listened to, boogied to, enjoyed some of his music. I don't like his predaliction for young children but I didn't (like the blogger here) let that change my views towards his music. What saddens me is that a female philosophy student in Iran was shot down in cold blood fighting for freedom and the world shrugs its shoulders. A pop star with an interest in f*cking young boys dies and we have MASS hysteria.

  3. Goldbug, I will keep this comment posted, but I have deleted your other comment. I don't really care what goes on anywhere else in the blogosphere, but here in our tiny little corner, I would ask that you refrain from making puerile references to Jackson's improprieties.

    With regard to the woman who was shot in Iran, I would hardly agree that the world has "shrugged its shoulders." There is very little that we, as western member of the chattering class, can do about it, and presuming that we should somehow be rectifying things in another country is precisely the kind of hubris that has ensnared our foreign policy of late.

    I would also put forth that neither Elizabeth's post nor mine are in any way sentimental. We both have things to say about his fame with regard to his role qua artist or celebrity, but neither of us are shedding any tears.

    And you clearly feel strongly enough about his passing or what it says about society or whatever to have posted two different comments on two different threads.

  4. My first memories of MJ are his years with the Jackson Five. I wouldn't call him a genius, but I do think his childhood performing talents were prodigious. I enjoyed his early recordings very much, especially "ABC".


  5. He was an awesome dancer, very clean moves, neat feet, and a great stylistic range, along with an inventive personal style. I don't think he was quite that level as a singer, but I'm not a pop aficionado, so I can't really judge. I'm not even sure I've heard Thriller (the song) all the way through. But I'd watch him dance anytime, anywhere.

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