This is not quite the reference I would have used to defend those who play Michael Jackson’s music after the allegations of child abuse. There’s a slightly less controversial one that could be used instead. But there’s a truth to what Will.i.am says all the same. Not that he’s got the details right, Bayer didn’t manufacture the Zyklon B that was used to gas in the Holocaust but still, there’s still a moral truth here. The goodness or badness of a thing depends upon the attributes of that thing, not the source. To insist otherwise would be to take a very Catholic indeed moral stance – the triple vaccine is not moral because part of it is derived from an aborted foetus and good cannot come from evil – which isn’t what I suspect most think they are doing:
Speaking of playing the music of an alleged abuser, Will.i.am said he can think of a “thousand” worse crimes that are tolerated without reparations being sought. He said: “We live in a very, very, very, very hypocritical, double-standard, fake society. “I can name a thousand other products that we still buy, still use, that are owned by folks that have done the most horrendous things to people, millions of them, and we don’t take their products from the market. “You’re not talking about banning Bayer that made the chemicals to kill all the Jews. “You’re not talking about real shit and yet you want to flex on a song?
It wasn’t Bayer that made the gas but still, Bayer did make aspirin and still does. Should we not use aspirin because of the Holocaust? Even, not use aspirin from a company which did make the gas that killed in the Holocaust?
Well, the aspirin doesn’t have the attributes of the people who made it, it’s just aspirin. We should use it as what it is, aspirin.
The other early and less controversial comparison would be to Vespasian and “pecunia non olet”. His son, Titus, complained about the way money was being raised by taxing the use of public toilets. The Emperor responded, “Money has no smell”. It’s not the source of the money that matters, it’s that it’s money, we’ve got it and can use it.
So, the correct reaction to the allegations about Michael Jackson and kiddie fiddling is to wonder whether he did it or not and then move on. Michael Jackson’s music stands or falls purely as the music that it is. What he did or didn’t do is irrelevant to the music. A point that Daniel Barenboim made when taking Wagner’s compositions to be played in Israel – they’d not been for decades because of the Nazi love for Wagner and his antisemitism. But the music is the music, it doesn’t have or not have the moral attributes of its maker.