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.