All this fuss over Michael Jackson’s death. Tributes, weepy interviews, 24-7 coverage, a million dollar, star-studded memorial service. We simply can’t dump enough love on him since he died. I just have one thing to say about all this: Where were all you people when Jackson was trying to cobble his shattered career back together after those child molestation charges?
Oh, that’s right… didn’t want any ick by association, right? But now that he’s met an early and tragic death, all is not only forgiven but forgotten? Hypocrites.
If all these “loyal fans” kept buying Jackson’s albums and attending his concerts years ago, he might’ve bounced back from the molestation charges rather than drift into drug addiction and get wackier and wackier with each passing day. Key word: “charges.” Jackson was acquitted of all of them. We seem to consistently forget that part.
Although acquitted in a court of law, Jackson was convicted in the court of public opinion. True, that was partially his own fault. Jackson was a pretty weird dude. But that didn’t make him a pedophile.
Jackson’s weirdness went way back -- Bubbles the Chimp, the hyperbaric chamber, the gradual transformation from cute black teenage heartthrob into garish middle-aged white woman… Lisa Marie Presley, a kid named Blanket, and his home itself, Neverland, complete with carnival rides and zoo animals.
Clearly, Jackson wasn’t like most of us at the baseline level. Weirdness aside, most of us aren’t billionaires, so we can’t relate to him right from jump. Furthermore, an endless supply of money opens up a wide, wonderful world of eccentricity. (Ghost of Howard Hughes, are you listening?)
Besides the billions, Jackson was a celebrity and few of us really know what a celebrity’s life is like. And, not just a celebrity, but a celebrity amongst celebrities. He represented less than one percent of the less than one percent of our population, arguably among the most gifted performers of all time, and not just musically. His dancing alone placed him alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov and Nadia Cominici -- those who can make the body do things that no one dreamed a body could do, leaving onlookers with jaws dropped in amazement.
So, all in all, who amongst us can truly relate to Jackson’s life? Who can imagine being viciously scrutinized over every move we make or being demonized by fabricated accusations from greedy parents as well as legions of other bottom-feeders who saw an opportunity to make a little lawsuit cash? Jackson dealt with little else in his later years, and given that he was obviously a delicate, sensitive soul, who amongst us can say that given the same temperament and faced with the same circumstances, we wouldn’t finally just snap and end up living with a chimp in an amusement park?
The vast majority of us have no clue what Jackson’s world was really like, or what went on in his head. You can’t transpose our reality on his. The edges don’t match up. Saying you understand what it’s like to be Michael Jackson is like saying you know what it’s like to be a dolphin because you went swimming once.
So, when Jackson admitted that he’d allowed children to sleep in his bed with him on many occasions, we applied that to our own average, mundane template of reality, which allowed only one conclusion: pedophile.
But what if your reality doesn’t have the same template as everyone else’s, as clearly Jackson’s didn’t? He explained his actions adamantly and almost pitifully, that the sleepovers were totally innocent, and included storytelling, milk and cookies, and everyone getting tucked in and drifting off to dreamland. No one bought it. He was met with nothing but ridicule and disdain.
For just one moment, step away from your template, release the grip on your cold, rigid preconceptions and consider: What if… he was telling the truth? Could a fragile, gentle soul be so shattered by a lifetime of pressure and exploitation that it retreats to a safer, simpler state of mind? It’s possible. Just ask your friendly neighborhood psychologist.
A pedophile is sexually attracted to children. That wasn’t Jackson’s angle. He surrounded himself with children not to molest them but to, as closely as possible, become one of them. He was trying to recapture something he never had: a childhood. While other kids played Little League, Jackson was thrust under the public spotlight as a child, and forced to spend long hours in recording studios and on tour busses. Think about your own kids. How much stress can they take? My kids used to melt down if they had math homework. And they didn’t even have to finish it after spending a two-week stint of 18-hour days in a recording studio.
I can imagine that a fragile soul grieving over an unlived childhood might want nothing more than to be a child. Even fame and fortune couldn’t fill that hole. But fame and fortune could provide the financial means to recreate a childhood, and live in a place where no one ever grows up. Like Neverland. The name is no coincidence.
Could we let go of our beloved, precious judgment for a moment and imagine this scenario, complete with innocent sleepovers? Didn’t all our childhoods include innocent sleepovers? Jackson’s didn’t. He just wanted what all the rest of us took for granted. Desperately. I’m sure of it. So, maybe we shouldn’t judge someone until we’ve walked a mile in his sequin-covered moccasins.