Every now and then, our cultural zeitgeist coughs up a new public Rorschach test, the sort of big, emotionally charged issue that almost everyone can have an opinion on, and almost everyone can get really mad at other people for having the wrong opinion on. The internet has, of course, accelerated this process immensely, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all still take a minute every once in a while for a real classic, as when HBO’s recent Leaving Neverland resurfaced the long-standing accusations of child molestation against musical superstar Michael Jackson.
Much of the debate around Dan Reed’s documentary has centered on whether viewers believed the emotional, clearly personally painful accusations levied by subjects Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom laid out, in explicit detail, how Jackson allegedly groomed and took advantage of them when they were children. Jackson’s family denies them, certainly, and his most vociferous supporters refuse, as always, to be swayed. The effects on less partisan viewers were such, though, that a number of radio stations, and even TV shows, have moved to cut ties with the musician and his estate.
Which brings us, in roundabout fashion, to Jackson’s fellow musical celebrity, Barbra Streisand, who absolutely believes Robson and Safechuck. But also, really: Was being sexually assaulted by a world-famous musician really so damaging to their lives?
That’s the extremely rough takeaway from an interview Streisand gave to The Times this week, wherein she responded to questions about Neverland with a truly baffling mixture of sympathy and “Bygones be bygones, huh?” cheerfulness. Let’s jump right to the worst bit, shall we?
“You can say ‘molested,’” Streisand started, ominously, “but those children, as you heard them say [the grown-up Robson and Safechuk], they were thrilled to be there. They both married and they both have children, so it didn’t kill them.”
Indeed, it did not kill them, and, indeed, they did, as young children, derive some excitement and material benefits from the extremely rich, extremely famous person lavishing them with attention, praise, and gifts as part of a long-term process to (allegedly) sexually assault them. That, presumably is why Jackson lavished said gifts and attention, although on the subject of his motivations, Streisand also has some thoughts: “His sexual needs were his sexual needs, coming from whatever childhood he has or whatever DNA he has.”
In the interview, Streisand—who only knew Jackson in passing—is fairly forgiving of his accused intention of using his status and power to take sexual advantage of Robson and Safechuck (who were children), stating, “It’s a combination of feelings. I feel bad for the children. I feel bad for him. I blame, I guess, the parents, who would allow their children to sleep with him.”
Reactions to Streisand’s statements have been expected, which is to say, absolutely livid, given the degree of compassion Streisand is offering to the extremely powerful man that she also fully believes used said power to molest children. We can only imagine that she’ll soon try to somehow remove these comments from the internet, but that, of course, is a proven impossibility.