Does it matter? I'm asking myself this question after watching the first half of a documentary that's got the world a-twitter.

Leaving Neverland features two men - James Safechuck, 40, and Wade Robson, 36 - who say late pop start Michael Jackson sexually abused them as children.

The four-hour film by British director Dan Reed premiered at Sundance in January. It has caused a tsunami of controversy with radio stations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand boycotting his music.

Does it matter if the men's stories of abuse are true? Yes, but there's a bigger issue at stake.


Jackson died in 2009. His family has denied the allegations.

Whether a deceased star did or did not molest children has sliced deep divisions among the public and riled fans like Tauranga cafe owner Kaylee Haakma, who declared a "Michael Jackson Monday" and played his music all day.

Miss 15 and I watched most of part one Sunday evening. She turned the sound down during some of the graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse. They were gross and tough to hear.

Listening to the mums was hard, too. They seemed so normal. But it's not normal to allow your child to sleep in the same room with an adult you barely know. It's not okay to suspend judgement because you're starstruck.

Which is precisely the problem. Families spoke of being in Jackson's thrall. They stuffed good decision-making in the shredder and stifled rational thought. Regardless of whether you think Jackson was guilty or innocent, you must ask why families would allow their children to spend so much one-on-one time with a virtual stranger.

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Many of us are guilty of being starstruck. We turn from penny-pinching misers to big spenders, buying lipstick, cookware and clothing for inflated prices because they were endorsed by a celebrity. We commit our money and our votes to people we think we know because we follow them on Instagram and Twitter or see them on TV. Americans gave a former reality TV star control of the free world. Thank NBC and The Apprentice for elevating Donald Trump from multi-bankruptcy declaring property developer to President of the United States. Voters heard "You're fired!" during 14 television seasons and decided Trump would be hired.

The vast majority of us didn't know Michael Jackson; we don't know Trump or Kylie Jenner or any of the other celebs selling themselves while promoting a universe of products. We picture someone we've seen on-screen as a trusted advisor or friend - more than mere mortal, they're the triple threat of talented, successful, beautiful. If we can't be them, we can buy a piece of them. As a teenager, I plastered my bedroom walls with Michael Jackson posters. I loved his music, bought his CDs and invested in his mystique. We build pedestals upon which our heroes and heroines stand. We denounce anyone who'd remove those pedestals as greedy liars.


Broadcast television and subsequent entertainment iterations - YouTube, Instagram, Facebook etc... can be excellent tools for marketing celebs and their wares. We admire someone's on-screen image without knowing who that person really is.

Working as a news presenter in the US, I got an email from a disgruntled viewer. I recall her insult more clearly than her gripe - she said I was too busy getting my nails done and drinking Starbucks to do the story she wanted me to. I nearly spat out my automatic drip coffee as I peered at my tattered fingernails. I had just returned from maternity leave and had barely scrubbed all the baby vomit from my suit. I wore a faceful of makeup and a deficit of sleep. The complainant didn't know me from a tub of Napi-San. She thought she did because I appeared in her lounge (or wherever she watched telly) on a regular basis.

We must be wary not only of stars but of other charismatic leaders - political figures who manipulate facts and followers to serve themselves; pseudo-scientists who pay journals to publish shoddy research before presenting their case to fans who marinate in confirmation bias; business owners who bully most employees but turn on the charm for favourites...

Writing in Inc., Kevin Daum said it's possible to become addicted to charismatic leaders' approval, and we'll do anything to get it. "Beware the person who is full of your praise at first, then begins demanding favors, loyalty, or support in exchange." Also beware the leader who suggests you suspend thinking in favour of feeling.

Scientific studies show good decisions come from a balance of emotional and rational processes in the brain. Strong emotions make it harder to think clearly.

Regardless of what a dead pop star did or didn't do, what matters most is our ability (or lack thereof) to shake the cult of celebrity that would allow us to put any child in a stranger's bedroom. We don't know these people. We only think we do.