Banning Michael Jackson’s Music: As Parents it’s Time We Left Neverland

Leaving Neverland leaves parents with a quandary: should we ban Michael Jackson’s music from our children’s playlists? From our own? Is Jackson’s music now tainted due to public acceptance that the now dead performer was, in all probability, a pedophile?

Watching the public wrestle with what to do about their playlists in the wake of the documentary is a mystifying phenomenon to this parent. The fact is that Michael Jackson’s music was frowned upon in my home way before Leaving Neverland with its testimony from alleged child sexual abuse survivors.

Not that there was ever any doubt about MJ’s musical genius and fluid dance skills. The performer never failed to amaze us with his outstanding talent. But Jackson’s public crotch-grabbing, antisemitism, and baby-dangling all combined to kick my maternal instinct into high gear.

That instinct told me to protect my children from his influence.

#MeToo Zeitgeist

Leaving Neverland comes at a time when the public feels constrained to believe the testimony of victims of sexual abuse. But some of us didn’t need a #MeToo zeitgeist to guide us in what to do as parents. To parents like me, Jackson’s iconic and quite public crotch grabbing was always something obscene, even pornographic.

This was not something I wanted my kids to see. And I figured that the music of a person who grabs his crotch in public could not be a good influence. So I told my children there would be no Michael Jackson in the house and I told them why.

I knew that meant my children might still listen to his music and watch his videos out of the house or perhaps on the sly. But I wanted them to register and take in the nature of my disapproval. No matter how independent teens may seem, they do still care for their parents’ opinion. I wanted them to think twice before listening to or watching MJ. I wanted them to internalize the message that such graphic exhibitionism was not okay, and even worse than not okay, considering a large sector of Michael’s audience were young people.

“Jew Me, Sue Me”

In addition to explaining to my children why I thought it was inappropriate for Michael Jackson to grope his own crotch in public, on the stage, I brought up the issue of Michael Jackson’s lyrics in They Don’t Care About Us. The singer’s protests and apologies notwithstanding, the words “Jew me, Sue me,” smacked of antisemitic sentiment.

But the antisemitism went beyond lyrics that could be explained away when Michael Jackson called Jews “leeches.” Speaking of pornography, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said: “I know it when I see it.”

Paraphrasing the famous jurist, I told my kids that the same held true for antisemitism: “You know it when you hear it.”

Beyond the public crotch-grabbing and the lyrics that appeared to defame me, my family, and my people, there was the incident in which Jackson dangled his then infant son Blanket from a balcony four stories high. Michael seemed unaware that to do so threatened the baby’s life. To me, this said something about Jackson’s character that could not be glossed over, no matter how great his music.

Because of all these things: the crotch-grabbing, the antisemitism, and the way he endangered his infant son, Michael Jackson was off-limits in our home in every shape and form.

I knew about the allegations of pedophilia, of course. The whole world knew about them. But no one could prove the allegations and with the alleged victims denying abuse at that point, I figured that on that score at least, Michael Jackson, like everyone else, was innocent until proven guilty.

Not that it mattered. From my perspective, there was enough information about this man’s character and comportment to indict him without the added charges of child abuse and molestation. Which is why I watch on, bemused, as the world rushes to join the hasty chorus to ban MJ in all shapes and forms.

From The Guardian:

A number of radio stations, from Australia to Canada have stopped playing Jackson’s music after the documentary was aired, and the creators of The Simpsons also shelved one of the animated series’ classic episodes because it featured Jackson’s voice.

The French luxury brand Louis Vuitton dropped Jackson-themed clothing on Thursday from a collection it had shown at Paris fashion week in January, saying it found the “allegations in the documentary deeply troubling and disturbing”.

From ESPN, meanwhile, we learn that UCLA star gymnast Katelyn Ohashi is no longer using Michael Jackson music as the background to her perfect routines:

As proud as she is of the routine, she felt conflicted following the release of “Leaving Neverland,” the two-part HBO documentary about Michael Jackson and his alleged sexual abuse of children. She no longer felt comfortable using his music, or his moves, and made the deliberate decision to remove his influence entirely. She now boasts a routine set to artists that include Tina Turner, Beyonce and Janet Jackson.

If we want to measure parenting trends, we have only to look at the On Parenting section of the Washington Post.  When Leaving Neverland came out, On Parenting was full of to ban or not to ban. One op-ed went so far as to seek the expert opinion of two psychologists: was it okay for parents to nix the music. Spoiler alert: If it makes anyone feel uncomfortable, feel free to stop listening to Michael Jackson songs.

We could perhaps forgive the out-of-the-blue rash of awareness that Michael Jackson and his music might not be such a good influence. That is, were it not for the earlier stamp of approval the world had given the man. Until now, however, Michael Jackson was plugged as mentor to the world’s children.

From The Daily Mail:

The Prince’s Trust has cut ties with Michael Jackson musical Thriller Live following allegations the late singer abused young boys.

The show in London’s West End is based around Jackson’s music and hails his ability to ‘change the world’. . . Now The Prince’s Trust, the youth charity founded by Prince Charles, has ended a partnership with the musical.

Last September, Thriller Live, which has run at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue for ten years, committed to offering ‘experiences and mentoring’ with the trust for a year.

Sign for Thriller, a London show, which has lost its backing since Leaving Neverland, the documentary
Sign for Thriller, a London show, which has lost its patron, Prince Charles, in the wake of Leaving Neverland, the documentary

Rolling Stone, meanwhile, tells us that several Michael Jackson items were removed from a display at an Indianapolis children’s museum. Because not only was Michael Jackson a “mentor” to children, but an actual icon:

“When we put together exhibitions, we look at the objects and their association with high-profile people. Obviously, we want to put stories in front of our visitors (showing) people of high character,” said museum Director Chris Carron.

“When you learn new stories or you look at something historical in a different way, then sometimes we re-evaluate whether that’s appropriate to be (on display).”

(photo credit: Abi Skipp from Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins exhibition of Michael Jackson’s Wardrobe collection, October 12, 2012, illustration, only)

I have to ask: what about Michael Jackson was “appropriate” for display prior to the documentary? Why the change in public opinion now that a documentary has been aired? Wasn’t he grabbing his crotch before Leaving Neverland? Hadn’t he already referred to Jews as “leeches?” Dangled his baby four stories high?

Were these behaviors we wished our children to admire and emulate?

(Raise your hands if, as a parent, you too find it difficult to buy the sudden rush to disavow the man and his music.)

Too many parents and institutions rely on headlines instead of parental instincts and the headlines now tell us to omit Michael Jackson from our lives and the lives of our children. What we need to do instead is develop an inner voice to inform our behavior as parents. Because hearing the truth only now, makes all our parenting up to now, a sham.

We Knew Better

All along, we were exposing our children to a negative influence. And it simply isn’t true that we didn’t know better until the documentary.

The Jewish mother in me wants to respond with sarcasm: “What? This was a mentor, an icon? You wanted your child should maybe grab his crotch in public?”

I think not.

Time We Left Neverland

Here is the truth: we knew enough about Michael Jackson to ban his music all along. None of us needed a documentary, or headlines, or even allegations of pedophilia. We knew that he was neither mentor nor an icon for children. We just pushed our concerns aside.

It was easier that way.

Going forward, we may need to reexamine how we feel about other famous people and their influence on our children. Let us see the aftermath of Leaving Neverland as the watershed moment that signals a need for all parents everywhere to examine their hearts. We need to be parents first, consumers of music and entertainment second. We need to listen to our “inner parent,” our own voices, rather than let the media tell us what to think.

Because it’s time we left Neverland for good.

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Smarter Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.

Reader Interactions


  1. Arthur Wright says

    This is comical. Now, if you believe MJ was guilty, by all means ban him. But the first part of this article is pathetic.

    So you would ban uplifting and inspirational songs such as Man in the Mirror, Heal the world, will you be there and gone too soon, and anti racism and violence songs like Beat It and Black or white, and benign love songs like Rock with you and I just can’t stop loving you, and fun wild songs like thriller, don’t stop til you get enough and you rock my world all because he grabbed his crotch in a couple of videos? Lol

    You also would question his character while ignoring the literally 10s of millions he donated to charities or victims of school shootings, college funds, building a burn unit at a hospital, etc, because he dangled blanket? Lol.

    Your message to your children is that one must be 100 percent perfect or they should be banned and I doubt you yourself are that perfect.

    Plus, what modern musical pop artist isn’t banned in your home given your ridiculous parameters. Nobody out there is perfect. Your kids must only listen to choir music.

    You need to get off your soap box and recognize the ridiculousness of this article. You sound like a zealot.

    • Varda Epstein says

      Actually, MJ is the only musician I have ever banned in my home. Do you think someone who calls Jews “leeches” should be held up as an icon?

  2. Joanie says

    I disagree on banning his music. Whether you believe he is guilty or innocent almost all of his music has a positive message. If you are going to ban him for his crotch grabbing then most of today’s pop should also be banned for their sexual innuendos and constant swearing. I grew up watching him and listening to him but was also taught what’s right and what’s wrong. I respect your opinion to do what you feel is right in your home, I just don’t necessarily agree with it.

    • Varda Epstein says

      I agree that a lot of today’s pop should be banned. But I also think there is a difference between innuendo and performing lewd acts on stage. I note that you haven’t commented on Jackson’s expressed antisemitism, at a time when antisemitism and antisemitic violence is on the rise, worldwide, and in particular, in the United States. Is this an example for youth, who are tomorrow’s adults?


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