Tuesday, March 05, 2019


The New York Times and The Washington Post have now run nearly identical stories about the possible fallout from HBO's broadcast of the Michael Jackson pedophilia documentary Leaving Neverland. The two stories have a shared hook: How bad is this financially for Michael Jackson industry?

The Times story -- which I believe is the only recent Jackson story to make the front page of the print paper -- is titled "Michael Jackson Documentary Revives Lurid Claims, Imperiling His Thriving Estate." The Post story, which is front and center on the paper's website as I type this, is "How ‘Leaving Neverland’ Puts Michael Jackson’s Cultural Legacy and $2 Billion Empire in Jeopardy."

The Times:
... Now, nearly 10 years after his death, the dark side of Mr. Jackson’s legend has returned through a documentary that rocked the Sundance Film Festival and is being championed by Oprah Winfrey. In addition to delivering a hit to his mended reputation, the film poses a significant risk to the Jackson estate, which has engineered a thriving posthumous career, including a Broadway-bound jukebox musical.

... “There has always been this shadow or cloud about Michael,” said Charles Koppelman, a longtime music executive who once served as a financial adviser to Mr. Jackson. “With this documentary about to be shown to millions and millions of people, and all the notoriety that it’s now getting, I think it will have a detrimental effect to the legacy and the estate.”

... [After Jackson's death, h]is estate, led by John G. Branca, Mr. Jackson’s longtime lawyer and deal maker, and John McClain, a music executive, struck an array of lucrative deals, including film and record contracts. It also approved two Jackson-related shows by the dance-theater troupe Cirque du Soleil. One of those, “Michael Jackson: One,” has been a Las Vegas staple since 2013.

Since 2009, the estate has brought in more than $2 billion, according to Billboard.
The Post:
When Michael Jackson died in 2009, the singer had hit a low point, dogged by personal scandals and diminishing star power that paled in comparison to the rarefied heights he achieved in his record-setting career. But the decade since his death has seen a wholesale rehabilitation of his image, returning the King of Pop to prominence as both a cultural icon and financial powerhouse whose afterlife became a billion-dollar brand.

Now, a documentary detailing graphic allegations of child sexual abuse has created a new wave of public outrage against Jackson, imperiling his legacy as a music superstar — and the business that his estate has rebuilt into an empire.

The entertainer’s estate, once roiled by hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, has flourished remarkably since his death from an overdose, pulling in a reported $2 billion through posthumous deals, including the forthcoming Broadway musical “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” a Cirque du Soleil tribute spectacle performed five nights a week in Las Vegas, and the $287.5 million Sony paid for Jackson’s share of EMI Music Publishing.
Both stories note that the Jackson estate is suing HBO for $100 million. The Post:
The $100 million is “putting a price tag on what they think these allegations are going to do,” said Adam Streisand, a Los Angeles-based trial lawyer specializing in celebrity estates. “If people are turning away in droves from other very famous people and their work, is the same thing going to happen to Michael Jackson? Clearly the estate thinks so.”
I could regard this as a story about relatives rising to Jackson's defense less out of family loyalty than out of concern about a revenue stream -- but I've been reading the elite press for too long to think what's really going on here. Elite news organizations produce a lot of voyeuristic stories about money, aimed at people who care what happens to their own investments. I strongly suspect that as we read these stories we're meant to have a pang in our hearts, vicariously imagining all the lost revenues if Jackson's fan base begins to reject him.

Since at least the Reagan era, we've been conditioned to watch financial fluctuations and think not who cares what happens to those rich bastards? but rather: My 401(k)! What will this do to my 401(k)? We're so well trained that many of us are prepared to root for Amazon against Queens activists, health insurers against single-payer advocates, or team owners against striking players.

The surviving Jacksons are wealthy people. I won't shed a tear if they don't get wealthier. Why am I supposed to care?

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