Ellie Levenson: The ethical dilemmas of a Michael Jackson fan

It's not quite hate the sin, love the sinner. More, love the song, hate the singer
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The Independent Online

Much as we moan, I suspect we love it really: the pasty faced public figure trying to convince us of his honesty; the media circus; the inappropriate kissing of small children; the chance to take the moral high ground; the way we all get to predict the result. No, not the election, the Michael Jackson trial, now entering its third month.

Much as we moan, I suspect we love it really: the pasty faced public figure trying to convince us of his honesty; the media circus; the inappropriate kissing of small children; the chance to take the moral high ground; the way we all get to predict the result. No, not the election, the Michael Jackson trial, now entering its third month.

I was at one of those middle-class dinner parties the other day, the type that senior police officers seem to know so much about. Our vice, however, was not cocaine. It was to put on, after dinner, a copy of Number Ones, Michael Jackson's "best of" album, released just around the time a warrant was issued for Jackson's arrest on charges of sexually abusing a fourteen-year old-boy.

Now it's not as if we were celebrating notorious musicians exactly - more that the album has a number of brilliant songs on it. I mean, the host didn' t say: "Let's have some music on - who wants what? I've got Gary Glitter, Jonathan King and Michael Jackson to choose from."

But there is a question of whether it is okay, if a person is charged with serious misdemeanours - which Michael Jackson has been but not, as we should remember, yet been judged - to buy their music and therefore line their pockets.

Mind you, show me a British adult under the age of forty who doesn't own at least some music by Michael Jackson and I'll show you a copy of the News of the World that doesn't contain the word paedophile.

It's not quite hate the sin, love the sinner. More love the song, hate the singer.

After all, the naughty musician isn't a new phenomenon - think Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his thirteen-year-old cousin or Chuck Berry and the fourteen-year-old prostitute.

So the dilemma depends on whether you feel you can separate art from the artist. I certainly find it easier to buy inoffensive music by criminals than offensive music that talks about, for example, violence to women or homophobia, by people who otherwise lead perfectly acceptable lives.

One way around this in the Michael Jackson case is to buy all of his music that you may ever want now, before the verdict. That way, if he is found guilty, you were not buying the music of a convicted paedophile.

Sexual abuse is quite different to merely having the wrong politics. It is quite clearly worse to be a paedophile than to be a Conservative. In fact, ignore that sentence; they're not even comparable.

But some similar arguments do come to the fore when celebrities openly back political parties and I do face similar quandaries over buying music by musicians who have professed their allegiance to the Tories.

In fact, it's one of the reasons why I haven't bought any CDs by recently split-up boy band Busted, who last year came out of the closet as Conservative supporters. (The other reasons being that I am over twelve years old and possess a small amount of musical taste - that is, if you overlook the purchase of a CD called Sad Songs that I bought after seeing it advertised during a weekday daytime TV ad break.)

And if only I'd known that former Spandau Ballet star Tony Hadley was also a Tory, then I'd have thought twice before bopping away to him at a corporate ball I went to a few years ago.

I did however particularly like the response of Oasis's Noel Gallagher recently when he said in an MTV interview that he would be voting Labour in the general election: "[If] the Conservatives get in Phil Collins is threatening to come back and live here. And let's face, it none of us want that."

Of course, bad people can make good music, though in recent years Michael Jackson has also made his fair share of truly awful music. It is hard to forgive "Ben", the 1972 song about his relationship with his pet rat, not least because twenty years after its release I was forced to sing it in secondary school music lessons and the lyrics, now burned onto my brain, surface at odd times so that I find myself humming "Ben, the two of us need look no more" at the most inappropriate moments such as, you know, job interviews or first dates.

But Jackson was just fourteen then. It is far more difficult to get over the 1991 album Dangerous. To mix advert metaphors, if Friends of the Earth made music rather than leaflets, then it would probably be the worst music in the world, and would sound like this snatch from a song from that album, Heal the World:

"Heal the World make it a better place/ for you and for me and the entire human race/ there are people dying if you care enough for the living/ make a better place for you and for me."

This at least means that a friend of mine, who argues that if Jackson is convicted then it's only okay to buy music he made before the allegations of abuse, is safe. In fact the first sexual abuse allegations, of abusing eleven-year-old Jordy Chandler, were not made until 1993.

This means my friend can even buy Dangerous should she so wish, though she would struggle to get away with the 2001 album Invincible.

Of course, if Jackson is acquitted then none of this matters, and she just shouldn't buy it because it really is truly dreadful.

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