A brief insensitive point about this Michael Jackson business

1 Jul

The public reaction to the death of Michael Jackson, our nation’s preeminent weirdo, has been surprising to say the least. Upon news of his death, the public seemingly forgot every strange thing he ever did (like, oh I don’t know, serious allegations of pedophilia – that Michael, what a kook!) and instead feverishly bought his music and listened to it days on end, speaking in reverential tones about how fucking amazing his music was, and that “Thriller” album that everyone owned, and also his dancing was the bomb, right? What an artist.

There was of course a bit of backlash to this over-the-top fawning of a superstar most of us haven’t thought of in a decade or so – a few people here and there standing up in the sea of celebrity worship to speak out against his alleged wrongdoings – but for the most part, his freakiness has been forgiven in favor of 80s pop music.

And why? According to everyone I’ve talked to and the stories I’ve read, the main excuse for Jacko’s behavior stems down to one point: he didn’t have a childhood.

I call bullshit on this for two reasons.

1. He did too have a childhood. He toured the world singing and dancing to crazed young girls and making TV appearances and enjoying luxuries the likes of which you’ve never seen, and basically looked to be having the time of his life. Many children would have killed to live such an extravagant childhood. We know now that all was not well in the Jackson household, and obviously money and fame doesn’t guarantee happiness, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a childhood. Just because it was different from the rest of us doesn’t mean he was a grown-up.

Kids who have to take care of themselves and younger siblings at a young age, the ones with no parents or guidance or supervision … those are the ones with a legitimate claim of never having a childhood. Michael Jackson was not one of those kids. It may not have been a typical upbringing, but it sure as hell wasn’t premature adulthood.

2. Even if we admit that Jackson’s childhood was far from typical, so what? There have been thousands of childhood stars; kids who achieved fame and fortune far before they were mature enough to deal with the spotlight. Many of them experienced bumps in the road to their adulthood, which is to be expected. Sleeping with 12-year-old boys almost every night for years on end is hardly the same thing as the hilarious tribulations experienced by the Feldmans and Barrymores of the world. You can’t explain away his adulthood behavior because his childhood was out of the ordinary.

Look, I love the guy’s music, and all respect to the dead, but can we please act like the adults Jackson never became and cool it with the misplaced sympathy? It’s OK to dance to “Smooth Criminal” while simultaneously being appalled at the guy’s personal life. It’s not impossible to separate the art from the artist. You can do it. I promise.

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7 Responses to “A brief insensitive point about this Michael Jackson business”

  1. RandBall's Stu July 2, 2009 at 7:17 am #

    99% of the time, I have no problem with speaking well of the recently deceased and letting the warts-and-all assessments come later. However, when the “warts” in question are multiple pedophilia allegations and a 20-year run as the weirdest SOB on the planet, those things probably should get more play than they’re getting.

    “Billie Jean” still owns.

  2. Dave MN July 8, 2009 at 3:00 pm #

    “All was not right in the Jackson household” is a massive understatement.

    Michael got the shit beaten out of him by his father for basically his entire childhood. Does that excuse crazy behavior? No. Would it fuck someone up? Absolutely. His young life consisted largely of performing and getting the shit beaten out of him. Goddamn if I couldn’t have such an “extravagant childhood”. “Misplaced sympathy” for someone who was abused as a child? Hardly.

    B, you took something where people were going to hyperbole about Jackson in the positive, and, rather than taking a measured approach, went to the other extreme.

    There’s no question the man was batshit crazy. He created a monument to extended childhood as his home. He lived with a chimpanzee. He expected people to believe that he actually was with Lisa Marie Presley. He was accused of child molestation several times. To discount his childhood’s effect on his screwed-up adulthood is a strange stance. We’re all affected by our experiences, probably moreso by those that happen when we’re young.

    I’m not a huge defender of Michael Jackson. I was often torn between whether the child molestation charges were legit, or whether they were just a way for people to make money off of him. I’m sure there were a bit of each. I mean, if someone accused you of child molestation and you had the money to make it go away, wouldn’t you? I mean, the accusation is all that matters. It wouldn’t matter if your name was cleared or not. It’s kind of like rape in that way. There’s no cleaning that accusation off of you, whether you’re innocent or not. I don’t know about you, but I don’t hear Kobe Bryant’s name without thinking “rape”. Is it fair? Probably not, but the second those accusations come to light, they don’t go away.

    Anyway, I was just a little surprised that you took the position that you did on this, as I’m more accustomed to reading you as some kind of “voice of reason”. The situation is complex. News outlets are oversimplifying, fans are oversimplifying, and you oversimplified. I probably did too. One thing that can be said for Jackson is that he definitely elicits gut reactions from people.

  3. B. July 9, 2009 at 5:29 pm #

    I wouldn’t necessarily claim that was an understatement, Dave. Far as I know — and I could definitely be wrong — there isn’t a whole lot of information about the extent of Michael’s abuse from his father. I think he broke down on Oprah that one time, but didn’t go into specifics. So I am not sure. If it was ongoing and extensive, sure, I feel bad for him. But in no way does that excuse his adulthood transgressions.

    What I do know is the childhood abuse allegations against him are very real. If you’ve got time to read 60k words about them, go for it. http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/archive/1994/01/orth199401 Pretty clear that his actions were incredibly disturbing and inappropriate, if not illegal.

    Again, I realize I’m being insensitive, and I agree with Stu that speaking ill of the dead is mostly wrong, but I’m endlessly frustrated with lionizing an extremely troubled adult because we enjoyed watching him sing and dance. Just seems strange to me. But I understand what you’re saying.

  4. Dave MN July 10, 2009 at 7:25 am #

    I think the interview where more details came out about the abuse during his childhood was the extensive one with Martin Bashir.

    You’re right, it doesn’t excuse adult transgressions. Hell, if bad childhoods excused adult transgressions, we wouldn’t have too many people in prison right now. I’m just saying that there’s no telling how someone’s screwed up childhood is going to mess them up. It doesn’t manifest itself in the same way in every person. It would appear that it made Michael cling as an adult to some kind of semblance of a childhood, no matter how twisted or strange it became. But who really knows? At this point, I’m guessing we’ll never really know.

    I can see lionizing him as an entertainer. He was an outstanding entertainer. I don’t know that I’ve heard of too many people in the media talking about what a great person he was. I’ve heard things about his philanthropy (mostly at the memorial), but I don’t think anyone’s trying to pretend he wasn’t weird or screwed up (Al Sharpton not included). They’re just choosing not to talk about it….for now.

    I’m sure all of that is going to get more than it’s fair share of airtime. I just think that it’s hard to expect media outlets and people in general to immediately start attacking someone after they die. Particularly someone who had a side to their existence that a lot of people loved and grew up with. They’re sticking to the “well, we can say something nice, so we’ll say that.”

  5. Dave MN July 10, 2009 at 7:26 am #

    Oh yeah, and I’ll check out that article eventually. I’ll have to set aside some time.

  6. tricey3! July 28, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    hold on just a damn minute! let me tell yall something u sittin’ up here talking about how the man was fucking crazy but did yall even think that the media drove him crazy?and since when did getting the shit beat out of you become “extravagant”? tell me this how many times has the man donated to charities and america and people just dragged his name through the mud? all these damn people talking about how michael jackson was a kook, look at your fucking selves! you need to get the fuck outta his grill and stop smelling your funky asses like you so much fucking better than him! why the hell yall still hassling the man? u still talking shit even after he dead! leave him the fuck alone and let him rest in peace! i’m pretty sure everybody did stupid shit in their lives, so wat the fuck you tripping 4? let me hip you to some info… the damn cancer victim said that his father made him do that shit to get 20 mil outta him. and not to mention he let the kids have his bed and he slept in a sleeping bag…a SLEEPING BAG! so stop it with this damn bullshit about molesting kids. you know wat’s real funny? all these fucking people crying over him and some of them were the same people talking all this shit about him. why it take for him to die for people to recognize the GOOD he did? i hate people who walk around with this damn holier than thou attitude.that just lights my fire. who the fuck are u to judge him? since when the fuck did you become god?????

  7. Numero 6 July 28, 2009 at 11:59 am #

    Haha…. tricey3! That gave me a good belly workout of laughter.

    Either you are a good friend of B’s that wanted to post something clever in disguise, or you served proudly with Michael on the S.S. Lunatic boat.

    (if you are the latter, nobody that posted claims to be God. and if one of them were, i don’t think He would appreciate your use of expletives young man)

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