Michael Jackson and the Dead Celebrity Problem

The dead celebrity business is alive, well—and deeply disturbing.

It’s not new, of course. Elvis Presley’s death didn’t stop his estate from making money for decades. Rapper Tupac Shakur cranked out albums years after his still-unsolved murder in 1996. More recently, Hologram USA, a company that broadcasts hologram concerts by dead performers, is suing the estate of the late Whitney Houston because it pulled out of an agreement to have her hologram “perform” on NBC’s The Voice.

Now, the people overseeing Michael Jackson’s estate have embraced an even odder posthumous business for the star: The King of Pop will stage a comeback of sorts in time for Halloween. Jackson created one of the creepiest music video ever with 1983’s “Thriller,” but this project isn’t aimed at lovers of horror films; it’s aimed at children.

CBS’s animated special, Michael Jackson’s Halloween, will feature both Jackson’s music and his animated doppelganger.

Created and produced by Optimum Productions, the Michael Jackson company now owned by his estate, the special will feature the voices of actors Christine Baranski, Kiersey Clemons, Alan Cumming, George Eads, Brad Garrett, Lucy Liu, Jim Parsons and Lucas Till.

A cartoon Jackson will appear during the special as part of a dance-off finale, according to Deadline.com.

A Michael Jackson TV special … for children? Is our collective cultural memory so short that we don’t remember the chilling charges of abuse made against the singer during his lifetime? In 1993, Jackson’s legal team settled with the family of a thirteen-year-old named Jordan Chandler who charged that the music superstar molested him. The terms of the settlement were estimated to be in the millions.

Jackson was later accused of sexually assaulting thirteen-year-old cancer survivor Gavin Arvizo. Jackson was cleared of those charges in 2005. But more allegations followed. The flow didn’t stop with Jackson’s 2009 overdose death, either. He is no longer able to defend himself, but each new person who comes forward with allegations of having been victimized by Jackson reminds the world of his disturbing personal legacy.

And it makes the idea of crafting a children’s special around the late singer unwise, to say the least. Why would his estate even want to dig up those stories by producing a kiddie special?

Even setting aside the creepiness factor, what would an animated TV special mean for Jackson’s reputation as an artist? The singer’s meticulous attention to detail helped shape his career. As the 2009 documentary, This is It, showed, his perfectionism was well-known. He was focused and detail-oriented during rehearsals, but not like a diva. He simply wanted to make sure he was creating the very best show he could. Would Jackson have approved the use of his animated image to adorn a television Halloween special?

Probably not. And the question of whether or not we should allow such posthumous money-making by celebrity’s estates won’t end with Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson. Consider how producers of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story digitally resurrected Peter Cushing for several key scenes in the movie. The technology that brings deceased stars back to life will only improve in the years to come. Someday we may not even be able to tell if an actor is alive or digitally created—and Hollywood agents will have to start including a kind of Lazarus clause in actors’ contracts, signaling their refusal to be digitally resurrected in the future.

As for a Jackson Halloween special, whatever CBS ends up airing, it won’t need to advertise it much. Given Jackson’s personal history, the premise of the show is creepy enough.

Image: CBS

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