After Neverland: Popular-music profs ask how best to teach about Michael Jackson

The most recent abuse allegations revealed in the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland has prompted two Canadian university professors to question the way they teach about Michael Jackson.

The polarizing documentary focuses on two men who allege the late pop star sexually abused them as children. Jackson died in 2009 at the age of 50.

Steven Baur, who teaches popular music at Dalhousie University in Halifax, will address the accusations for the first time in his lectures later this semester.

“The documentary was harrowing and painful to watch, and in a lot of ways a game changer because these are by far the most credible allegations that have come out,” he said.

Jackson was charged in 2004 with 10 counts, including child molestation, extortion, child abduction, false imprisonment and giving a minor an intoxicating agent. He was acquitted on all charges in 2005 following a highly publicized trial.

Michael Jackson performs in October 1988 at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland. (Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images)

Baur said he expects to have some of his 365 students come to Jackson’s defense during his lectures.

“When we grow up with a pop star who we idolize, it’s almost a deeply personal relationship and you don’t want that tainted with negative stories about the person responsible,” said Baur.

Baur is not the only professor re-examining the way he teaches about the King of Pop. 

David Brackett, who teaches popular music at McGill University in Montreal, said he is also considering how to approach Jackson’s career as one of the bestselling recording artists of all time weighed against the allegations.

Last week, three major Montreal radio stations pulled Jackson’s music as a result of the Leaving Neverland documentary.

McGill University professor of music history David Brackett says he wants to have open conversations about Michael Jackson with students. (Submitted by David Brackett)

“I’m not really sure what I’ll do, but I certainly won’t avoid the subject and I would like to have open conversations with my students about these things,” said Brackett.

“As a music history teacher, you have to confront these things.”

Baur said he won’t treat the late pop icon’s influence as a creative genius any differently. He believes Jackson’s music will continue to be treasured and enjoyed well into the future.

What will change, however, is how Baur contextualizes his lectures. 

“Right now it’s very difficult to listen to Michael Jackson because it brings up these horrific stories.”

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