Friday, 24 February 2012

Musical Moral Ambiguity


Here’s my confession: I might be one of the last people on the planet who habitually pays for all the music I listen to.  I’m not comfortable with downloading the free stuff, especially since I’m looking to break into the creative arts as a writer.  I’d be annoyed if someone made a PDF of my novel and sent it around to their friends.

But it has put me in a quandary when I don’t want to support something a musician has done.  I like Chris Brown’s song “Forever” but when it came out, he had just beaten up his girlfriend, Rhianna.  I didn’t feel comfortable buying it, it felt like I was somehow condoning his actions.  (My husband thinks I’m overly morally particular when it comes to this, for the record.)  But it was only one song and, while I liked it, I was okay with living without it.

My big moral quandary has come with Michael Jackson.  I owned cassettes when I was a kid and while I wouldn’t describe myself as a huge fan, I did enjoy the music.  But then the whole child abuse scandal broke and he went into creative hibernation.  I was upset enough that I stopped listening to the cassettes and didn’t replace them with CDs when I was updating my collection.  I noticed that radio stations stopped playing his songs (except for Thriller on Hallowe’en).  It made me feel like I was making the right decision.

Then he died and it was as if everything bad went to his grave with him.  Granted, the one trial returned a verdict of not-guilty, but it wasn’t a universal acquittal.  Now his music is everywhere again and everyone seems to be proud to be fans again.  He even got to be the featured performer on Glee.

It’s put me in a difficult position.  (Like my husband, you may think I’m making too big a deal out of this but this is honestly how I feel.)  I am being reminded of how much I liked his music.  But I am still deeply uncomfortable with the allegations.  Granted, nothing was ever proved in court but I think even the best possible interpretation shows a man who was unaware of the inappropriateness of his conduct and in serious need of a reality check.  I also have some misgivings about the relentless promotion his family has pursued after his death.  It smacks of exploitation to me and I don’t want to support exploitation.

And yet, I’m not inviting Michael Jackson or his family to become friends.  If I buy the music, I’m paying an artist for a creation which spoke to me.  It’s a simple business transaction.

Ironically, I don’t support the idea of celebrities having to be perfect role models.  It’s too high a standard and one they inevitably fail.  If an actor cheats on his wife, I don’t have a problem going to see a movie he filmed.  It’s an issue between him and his wife and not my concern.  But there are some things which do cross the boundary lines.  Child abuse would be right at the top of that list.

I’ll have to make a decision eventually.  To make things more difficult, I went and peeked at the tracks for the most recent “best of” collection.  I was hoping I wouldn’t like most of it, making it easier to walk away.  Instead, out of almost forty tracks, there are only three I’m not fond of.

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