My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began, So is it now I am a man, So be it when I shall grow old Or let me die! The Child is father of the Man: And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.-William Wordsworth
Buckle down, guys! We’re heading back to class again for today’s entry.
In the past, I’ve managed to draw several parallels between the life and works of Michael Jackson and the life and works of many prominent literary figures. Today I’m going to examine some interesting parallels between the poetic philosophies of William Wordsworth-one of the major Romantic poets-and Michael Jackson. An odd combination, you think? Well, think again!
First of all, let me just say I am a firm believer that things don’t happen purely by coincidence. Just a couple of weeks ago I did an article rebutting Joanna Schaffhausen’s 2003 hit piece, ‘Is Michael Jackson Stuck In Childhood?”
At about the same time, I was also prepping a lecture on William Wordsworth’s poetry that I would be giving in a few days to my current British Lit II class. This is the first semester in a few years that I’ve been assigned to teach British Lit II; in fact, the last time I had taught this course was back in 2007, long before Michael died and long before I had begun my serious scholarly study into his life and work. In the interim, I hadn’t thought much about the connection between Wordsworth’s and Michael’s views on childhood, but as I reread the works of Wordsworth for this course (as I always do, since it’s imperative that I come to any writer’s work with fresh eyes after five years) I was startled by how closely Wordsworth’s views on the necessity of holding onto childlike inocence echoed exactly what Michael Jackson was trying to tell us almost two hundred years later!
It’s interesting to think that, while the words of William Wordsworth on this subject are still being anthologized even today as works worthy of serious academic scholarship, Michael was scorned and ridiculed by the masses for espousing nothing more than the exact, same views!
Too often, the public and the media has done a grave disservice to Michael Jackson by trying to simplify his views on the connection between artistry and innocence into an either/or. This was the whole point of my previous article. Cynics have been trying to prove for decades that Michael’s apparent desire-not to hang onto childhood per se, but to hang onto childlike innocence-had to be the result of either some form of mental regression (i.e, an illness or defect) or else something more sinister. Few seemed to consider that this was an aesthetic CHOICE-the conscious choice of an adult in full control of his faculties, who had discovered that the true key to creativity was in holding onto not only the innocence, but also the reverence, awe, and wonder of childhood.
The above poem by Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold” is one that continues to inspire debate among critics and students alike. Most puzzling to many is the line, “The Child is Father of the Man.” But really, it’s not that hard of a concept to interpret. The entire poem is written from the viewpoint of a man in middle age who is recalling how he viewed the wonders of nature as a child, and is thankful that he has been able to maintain that sense of innocent wonder into his adult years. He implores passionately, “So was it when my life began” (I had the child’s ability to marvel at the beauty of Nature)/”So is it now I am a man” (Miraculously, despite the jadedness and cynicism that comes with adulthood, he has been able to hang onto his reverence and innocent awe)/”So be it when I shall grow old/Or let me die!’ (If there should come a time he should ever lose this innocence, he would rather die first).
That impassioned line is exactly the same sentiment Michael was expressing when he told Martin Bashir that if there were no more children left, he would jump off a bridge. “I’m done.” To some, that statement may have seemed extreme; even a bit bizarre. But it was really just another way of saying what Wordsworth is saying in his poem. If we lose our innocence, we might as well be dead! For Michael, children were the embodiment of that innocence. Without them, we are nothing-nothing but a world of jaded and cynical adults. From the beginning of time, poets, artists, philosophers and great thinkers have urged us to look at the world “through the eyes of a child.” There is good reason for that. Who really wants to look at the world through the eyes of an adult? Knowing all the filth, smut, and greed that would be looking back at us? It’s the child in us that helps us to mainatin some sense of purity; some sense of hope; some sense of magic.
While a lot of critics have their own spin on the line ‘The Child is Father of the Man” the line itself really isn’t that hard to interpret. Religious interpretations aside (and even those are not invalid to my purpose here) it is simply saying that the child we are/were determines the adult we become. Human life is cyclical-the child begats the man (or woman); the adult is simply that same child in a bigger body. We do not serve our purpose, either to Nature or to God, when we allow ourselves as adults to become a separate entity from our childhood selves. In this regard, Wordsworth had more in common with later Transcendentalists like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman than to his contemporary Romantics, and was even a bit of an anamoly among them.
When this line was put up for analysis on enotes.com, it was interesting to see the diversity of responses it received! Yet what’s even more interesting is that one could easily take any one of these interpretaions-or all of them!-and see how easily they apply to Michael Jackson. Just glancing at this first page of the discussion, I was able to highlight some interesting parallels (boldfaced emphasis mine):
Editor Emeritus, Debater, Dickens, The Bard, Churchill
In his famous ode to nature, William Wordsworth says that the child in every person teaches him to appreciate nature beginning with the simple beauty of rainbows and by implication, other natural wonders. What we think as children will help determine how we think as adults. The lines that follow “the child is the father of the man”, suggest, with almost religious zeal, that he hopes to always love nature as he did as a child.
Editor, Debater, Expert, Educator, Dickens, The Bard
In addition to the answer above, this line could also be religious in nature, due to “Child” and “Father” being capitalized. We can think of this line as the child is Jesus, the father is God, and man is everyone on Earth, in one interpretation. Also, we can look at it like this: the only way to salvation is through Jesus, according to Christian beliefs, because Jesus was sent to bear all of our sins through his suffering and death. Jesus, the child of God, was the father of men because he came onto this Earth, preached and shared his beliefs about salvation and about God, and died so that his “children” could be saved, much as a father would do if one of his children was in danger of dying or being killed.
In reply to #1: I am little philosophically oriented person. When I read this poem in this light I felt there is a reference to the ETERNAL BLISS. And one would experience this only by aligining and surrendering to NATURE. This line, as well as the whole poem, might be highlighting the ENTERNITY.
In reply to #1: I am little philosophically oriented person. When I read this poem in this light I felt there is a reference to the ETERNAL BLISS. And one would experience this only by aligining and surrendering to NATURE. This line, as well as the whole poem, might be highlighting the ETERNITY.
I grew up with lots of childhood issues, which I buried until I was in my late 40’s. These issues dominated much of my adult behavior, especially with my children. With this background I see Wordsworth’s quote as meaning that things we experienced as children, which are still buried within us, play the role of a controlling father to us as adult men. Classic example: “I hate the way my father treated me and I don’t want to treat my children that way, but I can’t seem to help it.”
Editor Emeritus, Debater, Expert, Educator, Scribe, Dickens, The Bard
Is so interesting to see how many interpretations we all have about his phrase, which is what makes his poetry so magical and intense as an experience. I feel that, as some have posted, Wordsworth is saying that our heart speaks for our brains, in not such exacting words. If we are children at heart, our inner child will dictate all the great and the wonderful things that we find in life. If we aren’t born with an inner child, our life will lack that, and we might even lose control of it.
Whren in a College English Lit class we explored the meaning behind Wordsworth’s words “The Child Is The Father Of The Man.” We determinedf that he meant that the Child is born all knowing and it is through experiencing life that we lose that knowlege! That our life experiences make us lose those knowings those memories we are born with because The Child Is The Father Of The Man!
The response of poster #4 reminded me of Michael’s poem “Are You Listening?” with its refrain “From bliss I came/In bliss I’m sustained/To bliss I return…”
Poster #6 also reminded me very much of what Michael said in his speech at Oxford, when he spoke of how his own childhood experiences had shaped the adult he had become and how he was striving to be a much better father to his own children (or at least, a more loving and affectionate father) than his own father had been to him.
In all of these responses, I could hear the very words Michael had echoed so many times coming back, but no one was listening because…well, this guy is freaky and strange, right? So what does he know?
Wordsworth’s poem was actually part of a larger collection entitled “Ode: Intimations Of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood.” Wordswoth stated in a letter from 1814: ‘The poem (“Intimations”) rests entirely on two recollections of childhood, one that of a spendour in the objects of sense which is passed away, and the other an indisposition to bend to the law of death as applying to our particular case. A Reader who has not a vivid recollection of these feelings having existed in his mind cannot understand that Poem.” (Damrosch and Dettmar, Masters of British Literature, Vol. B, 272).
Much of Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood” is steeped in a single, simplistic view: When we lose touch with childhood, we have not only disconnected from our innocence, but also our own immortality (for we are never as far removed from the notion of death as we are in childhood).
In the letter quoted above, Wordsworth drew on another one of his own verses to further illustrate the concept of “Ode”,” a poem entitled “We Are Seven”:
————–A simple Child, That lightly draws its breath, And feels its life in every limb, What should it know of death?-William Wordsworth
Most of us can still recall what a traumatic experience it was a s a child to first learn the concept of death. However that realization may have come about-perhaps the death of a beloved pet, or a close relative, or even, God forbid, a fellow playmate our own age-it’s often for many the first, jarring initiation into the world of adulthood. A world where we realize that nothing is permanent; nothing guaranteed-except death. A world where we begin to lose touch with bliss.
Using his own, earlier poem “The Child is Father of the Man” almost as a kind of echo from a tale long past, the narrator in “Ode” writes almost wearily:
Let’s return to that last line: “The things which I have seen I can now see no more.” This is what lies in store for us once we have lost touch with our inner child; this is what the loss of bliss entails!
You can also read a very excellent analysis of Wordsworth’s poem here in Robin Bates’s “Coping With The Loss of Childhood”:
Which brings us back to Michael. Was he, in a sense, not only trying to hang onto bliss, but also to immortality? This is going-out-on-a-limb stuff, but perhaps not as far fetched as it sounds. When we look at all of the humanitarian work he did for terminally ill children (Ryan White comes to mind as I was reading Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven”) we realize this is someone who’s heart was literally bleeding for all of the world’s children who were losing their innocence to the greatest thief of all.
Generally speaking, “Man In The Mirror” (the VH-1 TV movie, not the song) was an abomination-a movie so horribly bad that even Michael himself broke his usual reticence to publicly condemn it. However, there is one scene that always haunted me, in which the fictional Michael reacts to the death of a terminally ill child who has visited Neverland (I suspect the boy in the film may have been a fictionalized representation of Ryan White). Just look over the bad acting and horrifically corny dialog; the power is in the visual of the scene, which perfectly captures the horrific juxtaposition of childhood joy and innocence with death and is probably the only scene in the whole movie that actually worked (and to save you the nausea of watching the whole clip, I’ll just tell you that the scene in question begins at 2:34):
Now let’s have a look at the real Michael, saving the life of a dying child in Budapest (I know this will be familiar to most fans, but I’m posting this for the benefit of anyone who isn’t familiar with the story of Bela Farkas):
But the stories of Michael’s legendary generosity and humanitarian efforts to help dying children don’t stop there. There are far too many stories to even begin to post them all here. Although equating Michael with Peter Pan was, I think, largely a media exaggeration, there’s no denying that he was attracted to the idea of Neverland-a magical place where innocence is never lost, where no on grows old, but more importantly, perhaps, where no one ever has to die.
Michael wasn’t naive enough to believe he could actually create such a reality. But I think that he was definitely attuned to Wordsworth’s belief that we have to remain as a child in order to be “Father of the Man” and to maintain our Eternal Bliss.
In Part Two of this series, I will take a closer look at the parallels between Wordsworth and Michael as fathers themselves, and will also examine another Wordsworth poem aptly entitled…”Michael!”
Of all Michael’s “message” songs, “Man In The Mirror” remains the most commercially succesful and in many ways, most enduring. There is good reason for that. Unlike the overly saccaharine “Heal The World” or more darkly angry political songs such as “Earth Song” and “They Don’t Care About Us,” “Man In The Mirror” derives its popularity due to a very simplistic yet universal message: That change has to start within. We can’t change the world until we have changed the reflection that is looking back at us.
Michael didn’t write “Man In The Mirror,” but along with “Human Nature” and “Thriller” it’s become one of those iconic songs so indelibly identified as “his” that it’s almost hard to believe that he had no hand in its creation.
But hold on…not so fast. According to those who attended last year’s Columbia Chicago Symposium, “Man In The Mirror” songwriter Siedah Garrett revealed that Michael actually had quite a significant hand in shaping the song’s final outcome. According to Garrett, Michael initially refused the song because he felt the bridge was too weak. He then collaborated with Garrett to build the song’s bridge, making suggestions and giving creative ideas, until finally “Man In The Mirror” took shape into the powerhouse gospel arrangement that eventually made it onto the “Bad” album and the top of the charts.
But how did Michael himself really feel about the man who stared back at him from his own mirror? The answer may be best revealed by something Michael did undisputably write-a piece that made it into his book Dancing the Dream, Michael’s 1992 collection of poems and reflections.
In a piece entitled “That One In The Mirror” Michael reveals something interesting-and very honest-about his own feelings of disconnect from his public image/persona as opposed to the person he really felt himself to be. Looking at this piece, it’s easy to see how and why Michael identified so powerfully with the speaker in “Man In The Mirror.”
But first, let’s look at the familiar lyrics from the song. I’ve boldfaced those lyrics that will be especially pertinent to this discussion:
I’m Gonna Make A Change, For Once In My Life
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good, Gonna Make A Difference Gonna Make It Right. . .As I, Turn Up The Collar On My
Favourite Winter Coat
This Wind Is Blowin’ My Mind
I See The Kids In The Street,
With Not Enough To Eat
Who Am I, To Be Blind?
Pretending Not To See
A Summer’s Disregard,
A Broken Bottle Top
And A One Man’s Soul
They Follow Each Other On
The Wind Ya’ Know
‘Cause They Got Nowhere
That’s Why I Want You To
KnowI’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place (If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place) Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change)
(Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na,
Na Nah)I’ve Been A Victim Of A Selfish Kind Of Love
It’s Time That I Realize
That There Are Some With No
Home, Not A Nickel To Loan Could It Be Really Me, Pretending That They’re Not Alone?A Willow Deeply Scarred,
Somebody’s Broken Heart
And A Washed-Out Dream
They Follow The Pattern Of
The Wind, Ya’ See
Cause They Got No Place
That’s Why I’m Starting With
(Starting With Me!)I’m Starting With The Man In
I’m Asking Him To Change
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The
World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make A Change)-Man In The Mirror, Lyrics By Siedah Garrett, Performed By Michael Jackson
Now let’s look at what Michael wrote about himself and the man in his own mirror. The boldfaced passages are my own emphasis:
“I wanted to change the world, so I got up one morning and looked in the mirror. That one looking back said, ‘There is not much time left. The earth is wracked with pain. Children are starving. Nations remain divided by mistrust and hatred. Everywhere the air and water have been fouled almost beyond help. Do something!’
That one in the mirror felt very angry and desperate. Everything looked like a mess, a tragedy, a disaster. I decided he must be right. Didn’t I feel terrible about these things too, just like him? The planet was being used up and thrown away. Imagining earthly life just one generation from now made me feel panicky.
It was not hard to find the good people who wanted to solve the earth’s problems. As I listened to their solutions, I thought, ‘There is so much good will here, so much concern.’ At night before going to bed, that one in the mirror looked back at me seriously. ‘Now we’ll get somewhere,’ he declared. ‘If everybody does their part.’
But everybody didn’t do their part. Some did, but were they stopping the tide? Were pain, starvation, hatred, and pollution about to be solved? Wishing wouldn’t make it so-I knew that. When I woke up the next morning, that one in the mirror looked confused. ‘Maybe it’s hopeless,’ he whispered. Then a sly look came into his eyes, and he shrugged. ‘But you and I will survive. At least we are doing all right.’
I felt strange when he said that. There was something very wrong here. A faint suspicion came to me, one that had never dawned so clearly before. What if that one in the mirror isn’t me? He feels separate. He ‘sees’ problems out there to be solved. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. He’ll get along. But I don’t feel that way-those problems aren’t ‘out there,’ not really. I feel them inside me. A child crying in Ethiopia, a sea gull struggling pathetically in an oil spill, a mountain gorilla being mercilessly hunted, a teenage soldier trembling with terror when he hears the planes fly over: Aren’t these things happening in me when I see and hear about them?
The next time I looked in the mirror, that one looking back had started to fade. It was only an image after all. It showed me a solitary person enclosed in a neat package of skin and bones. ‘Did I once think you were me?’ I began to wonder. I am not so separate and afraid. The pain of life touches me, but the joy of life is so much stronger. And it alone will heal. Life is the healer of life, and the most I can do for the earth is to be its loving child.
That one in the mirror winced and squirmed. He hadn’t thought so much about love. Seeing ‘problems’ was much easier, because love means complete self-honesty. Ouch!
‘Oh, friend,’ I whispered to him, ‘do you think anything can solve problems without love?’ That one in the mirror wasn’t sure. Being alone for so long, not trusting others and being trusted by others, it tended to detach itself from the reality of life. ‘Is love more real than pain?’ he asked.
‘I can’t promise that it is. But it might be. Let’s discover,’ I said. I touched the mirror with a grin. ‘Let’s not be alone again. Will you be my partner? I hear a dance starting up. Come.’ That one in the mirror smiled shyly. He was realizing that we could be best friends. We could be more peaceful, more loving, more honest with each other every day.
Would that change the world? I think it will, because Mother Earth wants us to be happy and to love her as we tend her needs. She needs fearless people on her side, whose courage comes from being part of her, like a baby who is brave enough to walk because Mother is holding out her arms to catch him. When that one in the mirror is full of love for me and for him, there is no room for fear. When we were afraid and panicky, we stopped loving this life of ours and this earth. We disconnected. Yet how can anybody rush to help the earth if they feel disconnected? Perhaps the earth is telling us what she wants, and by not listening, we fall back on our own fear and panic.
One thing I know: I never feel alone when I am earth’s child. I do not have to cling to my personal survival as long as I realize, day by day, that all of life is in me. The children and their pain; the children and their joy. The ocean swelling under the sun; the ocean weeping with black oil. The animals hunted in fear; the animals bursting with the sheer joy of being alive.
This sense of ‘the world in me’ is how I always want to feel. That one in the mirror has his doubts sometimes. So I am tender with him. Every morning I touch the mirror and whisper, ‘Oh, friend, I hear a dance. Will you be my partner? Come.'”-Michael Jackson, “That One In The Mirror.”
Something I find very interesting about this piece is how he speaks of the disconnect and separateness between himself and his mirror image. The mirror image is the outside self, the flesh and blood shell that the world sees. I think that here, he is referencing the image he sees in the mirror as his public, outward self. The “man in the mirror” is aware of the earth’s problems, and makes a great show of standing up for these causes and uniting people all over the world to fight them. But when push comes to shove, he is only giving lip service to the idea of change. Inwardly, he feels afraid and powerless.
Did Michael feel afraid and powerless, even as he strove to tell us to “make that change” and to unite and “heal the world?” Did he have his moments of doubt and selfish weakness?
In this piece, he is very candidly giving us those answers. His outer self tells him, “It doesn’t really matter what happens to the world. You and I-(here the image is pointing outward, as if to say, “You and I, Michael”)-will be all right.” What did Michael Jackson, world famous celebrity and mega rich entertainer, have to be worried about? His position in life was secure. In fact, this was someone who had wanted for very little in the way of material riches since childhood. His “outer image” tells him that no matter what happens to the world or to the people and animals in it, his own life isn’t going to be affected. How many times have we seen stories of war and destruction in the news, or the commercials of starving children in Africa, only to turn away in numb indifference? Because the petty concerns of our own lives are so much more urgent, and pressing? In this piece, as Michael honestly looks upon his own reflection, his “friend” in the mirror, he makes a disturbing discovery-he realizes he doesn’t really know this person at all! The outer man he sees has become smug, complacent; numb and unfeeling-a hypocrite, even.
But the inner man knows better. He becomes somewhat repulsed by the selfish image in the mirror. Is this the person he has allowed himself to become-selfish, indifferent; someone who gives lip service to the suffering of the world only because it’s the “fashionable” thing to do? Or who gives up too easily just because the fight seems so hopeless?
He comes to dislike the man in the mirror. But the realization only serves to intensify his sense of helplessness.
As long as there is disconnect within the self, there can be no true happiness and no true inner peace. Here Michael seems to be taking a very deep and honest look at his self-reflection and coming to the realization that this is not someone who can heal the world-not yet. Because he can’t even heal himself. And that is both a scary and disconcerting realization. “A faint suspicion came to me, one that had never dawned so clearly before. What if that one in the mirror isn’t me? He feels separate. He ‘sees’ problems out there to be solved. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. He’ll get along. But I don’t feel that way-those problems aren’t ‘out there,’ not really. I feel them inside me.”
In this very candid self-realization, he admits that it’s much easier to “see problems” than to actually give love, especially if one has no love to give! And what would keep one from being able to give love selflessly? “He hadn’t thought so much about love…because love means complete self-honesty. Ouch!”
The interjection of the word “ouch” here is very telling. He’s admitting that it hurts to really look at one’s self; the self-honesty of reflection is a painful process, forcing us to face not only the truths we keep hidden from the world, but even from our own selves. If most of us really took the time to look at our own reflections, we probably wouldn’t like what we see! But forcing ourselves to look is the first painful, crucial step to embracing ourselves fully. We can’t begin to love others until we can love ourselves.
The next paragraph is perhaps one of the most revealing and honest glimpses into his soul that Michael has ever allowed us. This is coming straight from the heart of that little boy who had to learn a very hard lesson far too early in life: You can’t trust anyone. “Being alone for so long, not trusting others and being trusted by others, it tended to detach itself from the reality of life. ‘Is love more real than pain?’ he asked.”
That the image who speaks to Michael from the mirror even has to ask this question is very telling. He speaks of his mirror image as being something “detached” from “the reality of life.” Yet, coming from within himself, he knows this is not the real man. He realizes there is a disconnect between what he is capable of feeling-the love he is capable of giving-and that empty, lonely man in the mirror. But how to bridge them? He seems to arrive at his own answer.
“The pain of life touches me, but the joy of life is so much stronger. And it alone will heal. Life is the healer of life, and the most I can do for the earth is to be its loving child.”
Part of becoming “that loving child” is reaching out to that pained, lonely, and fearful man in the mirror, making him realize the true power that comes from the abilility to love. This is Michael looking at himself-the scarred and abused child; the megastar who had learned craftily how to hide his true emotions; even the philanthropist who was telling us “We Are The World.” This is all of that completely stripped away, and what is left? Nothing but a naked man and frightened child, too scared to love; too indifferent to care. “When that one in the mirror is full of love for me and for him, there is no room for fear. When we were afraid and panicky, we stopped loving this life of ours and this earth. We disconnected. Yet how can anybody rush to help the earth if they feel disconnected?Perhaps the earth is telling us what she wants, and by not listening, we fall back on our own fear and panic.”
But the next paragraph is very telling. He says that the “man in the mirror” is just an image-and one that is ‘starting to fade.” Perhaps this is a double play on the word “image,” meaning in the one sense, his literal mirror reflection, and in the other sense, “image” as when we speak of a celebrity’s public persona and how we perceive them. He says it was “only an image, after all,” a solitary person ‘enclosed in a neat package of skin and bones.” The self-serving image, along with all of its fears, doubts, and shallow insecurities, fades as he learns to fully embrace and love himself. “That one in the mirror smiled shyly. He was realizing that we could be best friends.We could be more peaceful, more loving, more honest with each other every day.”
The word “honest” is key here. Michael is attempting, finally, to bridge his inner and outer self in order to achieve true peace and happiness. He is finally learning how to love himself so that he can be a good steward in the way that God and Mother Earth intends. Or at the very least, he is arriving at the self realization of this need, which is the crucial first step to healing and becoming whole. In doing so, he can even give himself permission to stumble; to be weak; to embrace his imperfections as part of the human dance.I do not have to cling to my personal survival as long as I realize, day by day, that all of life is in me…
Life is a force much bigger than ourselves; we are but a part of the dance. This was a theme that Michael’s work returns to over and over again. But as children of God and of Mother Earth, we cannot partake fully in life if we remain divided from our own self-or if we insist on loathing the man or woman in the mirror. After all, that image is only ourself as we are, encased in “a neat package of skin and bones.”
The last paragraph seems to reflect a newfound inner peace and self-acceptance,and perhaps we can take this as indicative of the place Michael finally arrived at, at least for a little while.
“This sense of ‘the world in me’ is how I always want to feel. That one in the mirror has his doubts sometimes. So I am tender with him…”
In this piece, Michael seems to be telling us that he has come to an important crossroads; an important realization. This “man in the mirror” isn’t perfect. This “man in the mirror” is no Pollyanna. He knows the world is a dark, scary and sometimes lonely place. He knows it’s a dirty, screwed up world and humanity in general sucks. He knows it because he sees it in himself.
But he also sees something else. He sees love and the eternal hope that keeps us all hanging on, in hopes of a brighter day tomorrow. He sees the light within himself. He sees the possibilities.
He’s not afraid to ask for change; to demand it even. Not from the world, and not from us, but from where it matters most. From deep within the heart of that man staring back in the mirror.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been seeing a lot of social media posts from MJ fans protesting the SOPA bill. The rallying cry has been that if the SOPA bill is passed, you can get up to five years for downloading or uploading a Michael Jackson song-one more year than the doctor who killed him!
Well, the irony hasn’t been lost on ThePirateBay.org, one of the biggest websites dedicated to free downloading, who have now taken up the rallying cry of MJ fans by…yep, you guessed it, making Michael Jackson their new, official poster boy for the cause! So now, on a website that gets millions of hits per day, the first thing that now greets every visitor to the site is a reminder that in the eyes of corporate America, downloading a Michael Jackson song is apparently a worse crime than killing him!
Initially, I was excited about this and kind of proud, as an MJ fan, to see that even beyond the grave, Michael Jackson could still be used as an example against the kind of corporate greed that he stood against all of his life. After all, there is good reason for us to be very concerned about SOPA. If the bill were to pass, it would definitely impact the rights of small website owners such as myself from being able to upload videos of MJ music from places like Youtube. It would impinge on the current freedom we now have to share music and videos; it would mean, ultimately, that the sort of multi-media articles that bloggers like myself are able to do could be adversely impacted; in fact, websites could be permanently shut down and their owners imprisoned for so much as a reported violation! (And yes, just for uploading an MJ song, you could get more prison time than Conrad Murray is facing for killing him!).
But that was before I learned of disgusting comments made about Michael Jackson by a Pirate Bay administrator back in 2008, when apparently they were sued for $100 million by Websheriff for publishing content belonging to Michael as well as several other artists.
I had no sooner posted my previous version of this blog (Michael Jackson Becomes The Official Poster Boy For The Ant-SOPA Campaign) than I was notified by someone on Facebook of the disgusting comments made by Pirate Bay.org in 2008 in reaction to this lawsuit. My initial reaction was to delete this post. But then on cooler reasoning, I thought: Why not instead use this as an example to illustrate how Michael Jackson has been used, and continues to be used, for profit and/or exploitation?
The 2008 case aside, Michael himnself wasn’t particularly adverse to fans downloading his songs or concerts. In fact, in the wake of his very public falling out with Sony in 2002, he actually encouraged it. He was also well aware of how many of his concerts were available on Youtube and was reportedly quite wowed and flattered. I suspect the 2008 lawsuit was most likely the result of advisers encouraging him to jump on board the Websheriff bandwagon. Even now, many fans rely on downloading as a convenient means around a very difficult ethical conundrum-for example, if they want his music, but don’t wish to support Sony and/or Branca in the process.
However, my concern isn’t so much the impact on free downloads but rather, the potential impact on sites like Youtube and the ability to share/embed videos of Michael’s songs and performances via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter-a privilege and a freedom we’ve all come to take for granted.
But as for sites like Pirate Bay.org making Michael their new “poster boy” for the cause, take it with a heaping grain of salt. Sure, PB can use him as a poster boy NOW…now that it’s “cool” to be an MJ fan again and his music is selling in the millions (and thus, interest in uploading MJ music, whether legally or not, is also at an all-time high).
I guess we can simply add PirateBay.org to the long list of hypocrites using the name Michael Jackson for nothing but their own benefit. They are making a good show now by playing on the emotions of fans. But what they said in 2008 shouldn’t be forgotten-or forgiven.
Shortly after I posted my last piece debunking the media myth of Michael Jackson as a dysfunctional adult, one of my readers, shelley, sent me the link to this November 2003 ABC News article written by Joanna Schaffhausen. This article, published on the heels of Michael’s 2003 arrest on the Arvizo charges, very much reflects the typical sort of biased news articles that were written about Michael in the wake of the Bashir interview which had aired earlier, in Februray of that year, and then the November arrest. It seemed everyone was asking the question: Is this man simply living out some sort of regressed childhood that he never had, or is there something more sinister at stake?
Of course, Michael himself had been perpetuating the quasi-image of himself as a kind of Peter Pan, an eternal man-child, since at least the early 90’s. It’s interesting that we really started to see the emergence of this side of Michael about the time that he moved out of his family home at Hayvenhurst and into Neverland. It wasn’t that anything about his personality had drastically changed. Michael had always been very much like a big kid, loving amusement park rides, Super soaker fights, and with a penchant for the sort of juvenile humor that made him so endearing to those who knew that side of him. But once Michael was on his own, it seemed that he was finally, as a man entering his 30’s, truly giving himself permission to have the childhood he’d never had. What with the combination of his own natural childlike qualities, coupled with a sort of quirky Buster Keaton-ish persona, and topped off with the ever present fedora and long-sleeved corduroy shirts (both the hats and long-sleeved shirts became a necessity for protecting his delicate skin as his vitiligo had advanced, but in typical Michael Jackson style, he managed to transform a medical necessity into a true fashion statement!) and the picture was complete: This was the real beginning of Michael’s transformation into a sort of almost ethereal, Peter Pan figure.
This video from Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies showcase Michael’s childlike persona at its most loveable and endearing:
But what had seemed like just another eccentricity took an unfortunately sinister twist after the first allegations were brought against him by the Chandlers in 1993. And from that point on, scarred and humiliated by the accusations, it seemed that Michael’s whole “Lost Boy” image only intensified as if it had now become a kind of rallying cry for him, a way of justifying to the world, “This is who I am.” Admittedly, the image also set him up as a convenient punching bag, especially by those who thought he was simply playing the whiny victim. By the time of “Childhood”-a song perceived even by many fans as excessively maudlin-Michael seemed to be firmly entrenched in the role of misunderstood martyr.
This rocked along a few years until the fiasco that was the Bashir interview and his association with the Arvizos blew things wide open, and once again Michael found himself, his home, and his entire lifestyle once again under intense public scrutiny-and along with it, his personality profile.
In the wake of this second round of allegations, suddenly everyone was an “expert.” Pseudo “psychologists”-people who had never even met Michael Jackson-were offering up their “expert” opinions on whether he fit the profile of a typical pedophile. What’s worse, even journalists with no psychiatric credentials whatsoever were jumping the bandwagon, firing off articles like this monstrocity that made ABC News headlines.
The danger in such poorly researched and biased articles as the Schaffhausen piece is that, once written and published on the internet, they are forever “out there,” turning up in Google searches and endlessly perpetuating a misleading and false image of who Michael Jackson was. What’s worse is that the Schafhausen article is one that haters have often latched onto as “proof” that Michael fit the steretypical profile of a pedophile, while ignoring the fact that the article actually quotes Richard Lawlor, chief of Outpatient Forensic Child Pschiatry Services at the Indiana School of Medicine, as saying Michael does not fit the stereotypical pedophile profile, and retired FBI special agent Ken Lanning who cautioned that even though Michael may fit some of the profile characteristics of an “Acquaintance Molestor” it is not sufficient evidence to draw an automatic assumption of guilt.
However, you can see how Schafhausen conveniently-and ignorantly-spins Lanning’s cautionary statement.
Let’s just look at Schaufhausen’s article in its entirety. Then, I’m going to go through, point by point, with my own rebuttals.
Is Michael Jackson Stuck in Childhood?
By Joanna Schaffhausen
For years, Michael Jackson’s eccentric behavior has fascinated the world. Now, some medical experts are wondering whether the King of Pop suffers from some “psycho-emotional” retardation that causes him to live in a kind of permanent childhood.
With an amusement park for a back yard and penchant for entertaining young friends, is Jackson just a big kid himself, or could his actions signal something more troubling?
Jackson, 45, surrendered Thursday to police in Santa Barbara County, Calif., after authorities obtained an arrest warrant accusing him of multiple counts of child molestation. Jackson has denied the allegations and says he will be vindicated in court.
The singer spends a great deal of his time associating with children, but he himself maintains many childlike qualities. He speaks in a childlike voice and pursues childish activities such as scooter riding (even when children are not present). Like Peter Pan, he even lives in a place called Neverland.
Many people love children, and there is nothing necessarily sinister about Jackson’s affinity for youngsters. None of the experts in forensic psychiatry and child development who were interviewed had any direct knowledge of the case, and none made any judgment on Jackson’s possible guilt or innocence.
It is the seemingly extreme childishness that Jackson himself exhibits that experts find unique.
Television interviews with Jackson make it appear as if he wants to “hang onto and preserve his childlike demeanor,” said Dr. Fred Berlin, a psychiatric expert in pedophilia at Johns Hopkins University. “He seems proud of it.”
“He seems stuck in childhood himself,” said forensic psychiatrist Ryan Finkenbine of West Virginia University Medical School. “It’s one of the more interesting aspects of the case.”
Michael Borack, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of Cincinnati Medical School, has evaluated many pedophiles, and says Jackson does not fit the usual profile.
“[His eccentric behavior] is not typical of most offenders,” Borack said. “Most offenders are ‘normal’ people who could be your neighbors, not freaky or weird.”
Most pedophiles will keep toys or other such appealing items around to lure children, but they do not usually play with the items much themselves.
Richard Lawlor, chief of Outpatient Forensic Child Psychiatry Services at the Indiana School of Medicine, notes that many pedophiles do display some form of arrested development in that they choose to focus their attention on young children over other adults. “They become ‘fixated’ during development,” Lawlor said. “We don’t know why.”
However, Lawlor says Jackson’s childish demeanor would be rare among pedophiles. “I don’t think that kind of behavior is very common,” he said.
Some experts feel that pedophiles display a kind of Peter Pan syndrome and use children to hang onto their youth. Berlin cautions that this explanation is perhaps too hasty. “That’s getting into a theory of cause, which I think is difficult,” he said.
Berlin maintains there is no “typical” pedophile. “That’s like saying, ‘What is the typical heterosexual?'”
However, Ken Lanning, a retired FBI special agent who specialized in child sex crimes, says Jackson may fit some of the characteristics of an “acquaintance molester.” Acquaintance molesters choose victims outside the family and seduce children with affection and attention.
But, he cautioned, “Just because you have some of the characteristics, it does not mean you are guilty.”
Not an Excuse
Jackson raised eyebrows when he told British journalist Martin Bashir in a documentary that he has allowed children to sleep in his bed at the Neverland Ranch. He said there was nothing sexual about it.
If Jackson does suffer from some form of psycho-emotional retardation, it’s possible he thought innocent snuggling in bed would be OK, experts say. However, Borack pointed out, “Jackson is an adult with an adult’s sex drive.”
Experts agree that, regardless of what may or may not have happened with Jackson, children should not be sleeping with unrelated adults of the opposite gender. “It just opens the door for misunderstandings at best,” said Borack.
Borack speculates that Jackson’s tumultuous upbringing may have left lasting emotional scars that help explain his odd behavior as an adult. “From what I’ve observed in TV interviews, Jackson had a violent, dictatorial father and an isolated upbringing. He never really had a childhood.”
In any event, Jackson’s eccentricities have increased the attention surrounding the scandal.
“[Jackson] is such an unusual person,” Berlin said. “It makes the case that much more difficult.”
Oooh boy, where to begin! First of all, look at the loaded language used in this piece. In the very first paragraph, we have the phrase “psycho-emotional” retardation, a phrase she repeats in Paragraph 20. Granted, we know she’s referring to psychological/emotional retardation, rather than mental retardation (an important distinction) but the word “retardation” in and of itself carries the negative connotation of its more common usage, as a term describing those who are mentally regressed. Its a loaded word that also connotates in the mind of the average reader one who is mentally deficient.
Unfortunately, this sort of derogatory characterization of Michael as being somehow regressed (regardless of whether the writer meant emotionally or mentally) played right into the whole “Wacko Jacko” myth and the media misconception that helped lead to exactly what I wrote about a few days ago here:
She next mentions that Michael had “an amusement park for a backyard.” That’s another common misconception, since the amusement park area actually only comprised a very small area of Michael’s vast, sprawling 2700 acres of Neverland. To say the amusement park comprised his enire backyard is a bit of an exaggeration, to say the least.
It also ignores the fact that having his own amusement park “for the children of the world” had been a dream of Michael’s since as far back as his teenage years. Here is a very interesting article about Robert E. Swinson, the man who was Michael’s personal ride consultant and developer for Neverland Valley Amusement Park. (By the way, Swinson states at the end of the article that the whereabouts of the Ferris Wheel are unknown. That mystery has since been solved. Michael’s Ferris wheel was purchased by Archway Amusements of Missouri, who now rents it out to various state and county fairs. I got to take a few spins on it myself, back in October of 2010!).
While Michael did publicly exhibit many of the childlike traits that Schaffhausen attributes to him, she exaggerates many of these qualities and at the same time fails to acknowledge such troublesome contradictions as his adult business savvy, artistic genius, and (often very overt) sexual stage persona. At the time that Schaffhausen wrote this hit piece, a decade had passed since the Chandler allegations. Within that decade, Michael had married twice, divorced twice, had released an album of some of the darkest and and most political songs of his career, had single-handedly taken on the record industry, and had become a father himself, none of which exactly fits the definition of being “childlike.” Perhaps most disturbing is how she underplays Michael’s philanthrophy as nothing more than having “an affinity for kids.” Typically, journalists like Schaffhausen tended to attribute Michael’s love for children as either being indicative of fitting the pedophile profile (at worst) or, at best, as nothing more than his own selfish desire to hang onto childhood. Seldom do they truly acknowledge his genuine desire to help the terminally ill, sick, and disadvantaged children of the world. It’s not that making the philanthropic arguement in any way “proves” his innocence, as my friend sanemjfan from Vindicating Michael has pointed out in many of his own excellent rebuttal articles (in fact, here’s a very good article that I highly recommend on this very topic; it’s a 5-part series, but well worth the read):
However, I do think it’s very important that Michael’s philanthrophy is recognized as a huge factor in his motivation, and that it’s recognized that his “affinity for children” didn’t just spring from some self-serving purpose, regardless of how innocent or sinister the media may wish to portray that purpose.
As noted, the experts Schaffhausen quotes appear to be relatively unbiased. At the time, they were simply looking at the known facts of the 2003 case and Michael’s public image/persona as a means of measuring the likelihood that Michael could fit the profile of a pedophile. But again, it presents a danger when you have “experts”-with no personal or firsthand knowledge of the individual in question-offering up a public diagnosis (or even a hypothetical diagnosis) of that individual’s case. Regardless of the use of qualifying phrases such as “most” or “many” or “tends” the general reader is apt to draw their conclusions based on the general assumptions. However, it’s important to note that none of these individuals had ever known, or had any personal contact with Michael. They had never sat down with him face to face, never spoken to him on the phone, never talked to anyone who knew him, and had no access to any of his medical records or history. They were basing their assessments solely on what they knew secondhand from the media!
Well, as we all know, many so-called “experts” have presumed to “diagnose” Michael based on nothing more than what they know from the media, some even going to quite ridiculous lengths like this beauty here:
Seriously, if one were to believe everything that’s been written by so-called “experts” then one would have to believe that Michael had everything from Asperger’s Syndrome to “Erotic Identity Disorder.” (Yes, that little beauty is out there, too, and will be next on my rebuttal agenda!).
We have a plethora of internet experts diagnosing him as a pedophile, a hebophile, an autohebophile, as obsessive-compulsive, as having body dysmorphic disorder, as an anorexic, a bulimic, and, well, just about every brand of neurosis or disorder underneath the sun (curiously, for all that, they still remain mostly silent or curiously ambiguous when it comes to discussing his real ailments, such as vitiligo). We have cosmetic surgeons who never worked on Michael nevertheless offering up their own “expert analysis” of his procedures (which, again, are usually ridiculously exaggerated). It never ends.
So here we have a forensic psyhiatrist, a chief of forensic child psychiatry, and a retired FBI investigator-all experts in their field; all experts at pinpointing what “may” be the warning signs of pedophile behavior. But admittedly they can only draw conjectures based on what they knew at the time of Michael’s public behavior and media image-at least they are honest in admitting they are only drawing conjectures (all of Schaffhausen’s spinning aside).
What is interesting here is that all three experts seem to reach the same unanimous conclusion, which is that if Michael is/was indeed actually regressed and “stuck in childhood” then this would actually serve to exonerate him. It would mean that at the very least, there would have been no consciousness of guilt on his part. (Of course, Schaffhausen then proceeds to totally ignore their conclusions. “NO EXCUSE” she screams in all caps, proceeding from there to put her own spin on their conclusions).
The notion of Michael as simply a regressed, innocent child himself came back time and again throughout the trial. Even Thomas Mesereau played that card somewhat, in interviews always stressing Michael’s very innocent and childlike nature. Many fans, also, often fall back on it as the ultimate defense of his innocence. But the problem is that it’s a weak defense (after all, nice guys can still be pedophiles; sweet, humble, and meek guys can still be pedophiles!). Falling back on the “Michael was just a big kid and pure as the driven snow” arguement actually does more harm than good; in the long run, it does an injustice to his legacy because the downside of that arguement is that it creates a lasting impression that is just as damaging: That of a naive simpleton.
Too often, this has come down on the side of both haters and fans as one of those either/or, black or white questions. It’s as if there can only be two choices: Either Michael Jackson was a fool and an innocent, naive simpleton who had no idea how his actions-and specifically his interactions with children- appeared to the outside world, or an Evil Genius and manipulator who knew exactly and intuitively how the world worked-and how to get around it. I think the truth is much closer to meeting in the middle. Michael was neither an evil manipulator nor an innocent simpleton. I think he realized perfectly well how the world operates, but his heart was answering to a higher calling. Unfortunately, Michael wasn’t the most articulate person in the world when it came to explaining his actions. Just as many of his well-intentioned defenders sadly miss the mark when attemptiing to answer the tough questions, Michael himself seemed at times to be his own worst PR enemy. The Martin Bashir interview, of course, is the classic example, and Schaffhausen doesn’t hesitate to fall back on it.
It’s true that Bashir manipulated the interview and engaged in a lot of devious, underhanded tactics to get the results he wanted, including sneaky editing and by purposely baiting Michael with many of the questions. All the same, what we have is Michael at least appearing to confess that he has allowed children to share his bed. He denies that it’s sexual, but at this point in the interview, the damage has been done. He says he would “slit his wrists” before he would hurt a child, but the savvy will say, “Well, there’s more than one way to hurt a child, and besides, pedophiles never believe they are harming a child, anyway.” Do I personally believe Michael was sincere in that statement? Yes, I absolutely do. It’s just that there is a problematic disconnect between what he said, what he meant, and how it was perceived by the majority of viewers, especially when that is put up against Bashir’s sinister voice-overs and Michael’s own “admission” of sharing his bed with children.
Then, of course, when Michael insists that it’s all very sweet and innocent…”I give them cookies, sing them songs…” it only serves to take on an even more sinister quality-not his intent, but at this point he’s fallen into a trap that he can’t escape from unscathed. Then, in a response even more ineffectual than “I’d slit my wrists” he asks defensively, “Who’s Jack the Ripper in the room?”
Again, Michael is mistakenly equating the idea of hurting a child with that of physical violence, as if that could be the only possible means of hurting a child. I am only pointing this out because this is the sort of thing that intuitive viewers picked up on, myself included. I remember thinking at the time, “But Michael, no one is asking if you would kill a child!” Needless to say, none of these responses did much in helping viewers either to understand why he had children in his bed to start with, or if he was actually guilty of any wrongdoing. If anything, it only added to the confusion and made the waters murkier than ever-and, of course, eventually led to a criminal investigation. The sad irony is that Michael had hoped that doing the documentary would clear up the confusion and misunderstanding about his life!
But perhaps what’s more interesting than what Michael said during the interview is what he did not say. Let’s have a refresher look at that portion of the interview:
There has arisen a general misconception that Michael Jackson routinely called up random kids (specifically boys) to come over to Neverland for “sleepovers.” What isn’t understood-and isn’t explained here-is the fact that these were cases in which entire families, families Michael knew well, were staying over. It was not unusual for many of these families to travel great distances. And although most of these families were put up in guest houses, Michael’s two-storey bedroom suite became a sort of informal gathering point, a place where kids and their parents would hang out, watch TV, talk and play games until often exhaustion overtook everyone. Both Macaulay Culkin and Frank Cascio have discussed what those “sleepovers” were like and it was nothing like the sinister picture the media tried to portray. In his book, Frank Cascio describes his favorite spot during those sleepovers-on the floor, beside the fireplace! (Not in Michael’s bed!). This space was shared by all his siblings, including his sister. You can also catch that Michael never at any time claims to have allowed Gavin to share his bed (and this seems to be true as evidenced by Frank Cascio’s claims in his new book, as well). In fact, Michael had been extremely cautious ever since the Chandler allegations, usually only allowing children into his bedroom if their parents were present. What he’s actually describing here to Bashir is a time that was already long past at the time the interview aired, going all the way back to the time when Macauley Culkin and his sister were little and staying over.
You can also hear how slyly Bashir manipulates Michael into a “confession” that he paid off the Chandlers to avoid a jail sentence. At least, haters and doubters often latch onto this brief segment as if it serves as irrefutable proof that Michael felt he had something to fear from the Chandler accusations. They also like to use it as evidence that Michael willingly settled the case, therefore refuting the arguement fans often use that it was Michael’s insurance company that actually settled the case. In fairness, this is again a situation where Michael unfortunately does a poor job in his own defense. It didn’t help that Michael was under a legal gag order and could not discuss the details of the case-but Bashir was aware of this when he brought it up! Without the benefit of being able to explain the specific details of the case, it left Michael in the awkward position of being able only to discuss his reactions to the case-minus the justifications for those reactions. But rather than answering that he just wanted it to “go away”-even if that was the truth-he should have used that platform to let the world know that he actually wanted to fight the case, and was advised otherwise. (Now whether Bashir would have allowed his answer to stand, or cleverly edited and/or manipulated it, we can’t say. But I do wish Michael would have made a better case for himself than what he did).
He should have said what he told John Branca, when Branca reportedly told Michael that people thought he was trying to delay the criminal trial by six years and Michael’s reply was: “Six years, what are talking about, Branca? I don’t want to delay the trial not even a day!”
The following is excerpted from the article HIStory vs. EVANstory:
Michael agreed to be deposed for the civil case on January 18, 1994 The Los Angeles Times wrote on December 4, 1993:
Michael Jackson has agreed to be deposed January 18 about allegations that he sexually molested a 13-year-old boy, lawyers on both sides of the case said Friday.
Jackson’s attorneys have said he is eager to tell his side of the story under oath, but they also have warned that they may oppose efforts to take Jackson’s deposition [in a civil suit] if criminal charges are filed against the entertainer or are still under consideration when the date for his deposition arrives.
In a hearing last month, Superior Court Judge David Rothman ordered Jackson’s deposition [in a civil suit] scheduled before the end of January. But Rothman also noted that he might reconsider that order if Jackson is indicted on criminal charges.
Bertram Fields, one of Jackson’s lawyers, said Friday that the entertainer might request a change in the deposition date if there are significant changes in the status of the criminal investigation before the end of January [indictment]. “If things change in the criminal case, we would reconsider the whole question of the civil case. We want the criminal case to go first.” http://vindicatemj.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/history-vs-evanstory-the-1993-allegations-part-2/
Since the settlement is seen by many doubters as an admission of guilt, it’s vitally important that people understand that Michael did want to fight this case. But in the Bashir interview, I think Michael found himself with his back to the wall. He was obviously aware by this point in the interview that he was being manipulated; his “fight or flee” instincts had kicked into high gear; his limbic system would have been working rapidly to process his defense. At such times, we’re often not at our sharpest; we’ve been caught off guard. It’s a tactic that defense attorneys know well. The problem that often arises in this situation, however, is that even if the person is 100% honest and sincere, their brain is not working at full capacity to be able to adequately filter the kind of precise responses the situation calls for. In such cases, where the person may be feeling cornered and manipulated, their responses often become defensive and emotion-based, rather than reasoned out in a rational manner (because what the person is thinking/feeling deep down is, Why are you asking me this? Where are you trying to drive me with this information?). The brain and limbic system kicks into survival mode-not the most conducive for rational thinking, and certainly not the most conducive for articulating “the right answers.”
So I don’t entirely fault Michael for being his own worst PR enemy in this interview. The manipulation and line of questioning by Bashir left him with little defense. The unfortunate consequence is that what’s been done cannot be undone. Michael’s own words in this crockumentary-albeit even if taken somewhat out of context and twisted by Bashir to look more sinister than they actually were-have come back to haunt him ever since. They continue to haunt him, even from the grave. They also provide many yellow journlaists like Schaffhausen a convenient excuse to avoid delving any further into the issue. After all, with such catchy soundbytes from Michael’s own mouth to fall back on-“What’s wrong with sharing your bed?”- why bother researching any further?
But one doesn’t have to look too closely between the lines of this article to see that Schaffhausen is simply drawing on the conjectures of a handful of randomly selected “experts” to justify her own bias.
In fact, it’s a bias that becomes very clear immediatly after having used the Bashir interview example. Note what she says:
Experts agree that, regardless of what may or may not have happened with Jackson, children should not be sleeping with unrelated adults of the opposite gender.
Okay, but…I thought the whole issue here was supposed to be that Michael was sleeping with kids of the same gender-boys! So is she trying to sell us on the idea that it’s only a problem if the children in question are of the opposite gender? Or did she even realize the slip she made here!
It’s probably not even a point worth quibbling, except what we do know is that throughout the years, many children of both sexes often ended up sleeping overnight in Michael’s bedroom suite. They included among them Dakota Culkin (Macauley’s sister), Marie Nicole Cascio, Chantal Robson (sister of Wade Robson), and Karlee Barnes (sister of Brett Barnes) among many others.
This is an excerpt from the direct testimony of Joy Robson (mother of both Wade and Chantel) from the 2005 trial. In this excerpt, she claims that it wasn’t just her son who had slept in Michael’s bedroom, but her daughter Chantel (then 10) as well:
A. Well, the first — the first night they had
9 been out doing the usual thing at Neverland,
10 playing. And later that night, they all came back
11 to the suite where my husband and I were staying,
And here is a summary of both Chantal Robson’s and Karlee’s Barnes’s testimonies, taken from a website that was tracking the trial on a daily basis in 2005 (but please try to not be confused, as the writer seems to have erroneously confused the names of the two girls):
Marie Lisbeth Barnes stayed in a Neverland guest unitfor three weeks in 1992 while her son and daughter both slept in Jackson’s bedroom. (my emphasis).Jackson took them to Disneyland and Las Vegas. “I still trust him,” she said of Jackson, “He’s a very nice person. You can feel when you trust someone.”
Marie Barnes, who phoned Neverland from her home in Melbourne and volunteered to testify, said letting her son Brett go on two world tours with Jackson that each lasted half a year was a learning experience for her son. He visited so many cities and countries she couldn’t remember them all.
Prosecutor Ron Zonen pressed hard, saying “Jackson took care of your travel, food and housing, gave you gifts, and by the fourth night he was sleeping with your son.” She said that Jackson told them he thought of them as family and that she is “proud of loving Michael Jackson.”
Barnes began to explain how she knew Jackson had not molested her son. She said that she’d told her boy to look her in the eyes and tell her whether Michael Jackson… Her story was stopped cold by Zonen, who’d started her down that path.
Guilt, shame and denial loomed
large in the prosecution’s questions
Prosecutors intimated all these family members may be in denial — pointing out that a family might be ridden with guilt and shame if a child had been molested.
Karlee Robson, Wade’s sister, replied “It would be a disgrace that it would happen — if it had happened.” But she said it hadn’t — her brother would have told her, adding that she loves Michael Jackson with all her heart. “He’s just a human being. Same organs, same blood…”
Karlee also provided the defense with a possible answer to why so many of the sisters of Jackson’s boy buddies left Jackson’s bed to the pop star and their brothers. “I was developing as a girl,” she said. “I wanted a little bit of privacy.” She said that her sleeping arrangements were her call.
What does she think of the child molestation charges against Jackson? “I think they’re liars,” she said.
Chantal Barnes said she’s been a Jackson friend since she was 10 years old in 1989 and considers Jackson a family member. She’d fallen asleep on Jackson’s bed with her brother Brett at least four times and was in and out of the room a lot. (my emphasis). Does she feel guilty? “I do not,” she insisted. “It’s a normal friendship.”
The prosecution asked whether she trusted Michael Jackson not to have figurines of nude women in bondage attire on display in view of children (such figurines were shown as evidence earlier in this trial). Chantal said she did.
“Would you trust Michael Jackson to not show erotic materials to a child he’d given alcohol to?” Chantal said she thought so, but added that she was only a guest in Jackson’s home and that sometimes people have such magazines in their houses.
At this point, I know what some of you may be thinking: Was it not just as improper (in fact, perhaps even moreso) for these parents to be allowing their female children to sleep in Michael’s bedroom? How does this exonerate him? Well, considering that both sets of accusations brought against him were by boys, it matters a great deal. For one thing, it effectively busts the myth that only boys slept in Michael’s bedroom. Most of those who believe Michael was a pedophile believe that he was a gay pedophile whose only interest was in boys (actually, the word “pedophile” in itself is probably a misnomer since in the case of both accusations, the boys were already adolescents; thus, even if Michael had been guilty as charged and/or accused, the correct term would be “hebophile.”). That children of both sexes routinely slept in his bedroom-regardless of whatever the arrangement might have been-certainly muddies the waters considerably. One has to ask: If he was a gay pedophile intent on molesting boys, wouldn’t he have wanted to keep the girls out? And conversely, if he had been a straight pedophile whose only interest was in the girls, why allow their brothers to stay? Unless one wants to argue that he was a bisexual pedophile (not that I have any doubts that someone is probably out there peddling that theory out there even as I write!) the facts simply don’t support that he was favoring boys over girls, or vice versa.
This brings us full circle back to Schaffhausen’s article and the potential hazards of profiling. While profiling does serve a useful function in enabling law enforcement and social workers to perhaps pinpoint potential problem cases (specifically dealing with pedophiles, and cases of persons with mental/anti-social instability who could prove a threat to society) it can also be dangerous in that it often impinges on a person’s civil rights, especially in those cases where the person may be innocent or poses no actual threat. It also becomes a dangerous practice when those who are not qualified to pass such judgements do so anyway, thereby damaging an individual’s reputation in the process. I know this from first-hand experience in the mental health field, where many who seem to fit the classic profiles of say, sociopathic disorder are often found to not be sociopaths at all once they have undergone full psychiatric evaluation. Diagnosis of any serious disorder-whether psychotic, personality, or sexual-is often difficult and tricky at best even for the most trained of professionals-people who are actually familiar with their subjects and have had first-hand dealings with them.
So you can imagine how it becomes even more of a slippery slope when we’re talking about yellow journalists attempting to profile a celebrity they’ve never even met! Yet unconscionable journalists and pseudo “experts”have been doing just that to Michael Jackson for decades.
Sadly, all it takes is a quick Google search to realize not much has changed since 2003. Dissecting Michael Jackson remains a media obsession.
I’m dipping a bit into the vault today. This was a piece that I originally wrote back during the trial, but since Allforloveblog was still offline at the time, I didn’t have a means to widely distribute it. I decided it was a topic still worthy of examination, so I’ve dusted it off and made a few tweaks. The article originally came about in response to a comment made one night on HLN by the ever brilliant and scholarly Dr. Drew (I am being sarcastic, of course!). For the record, I don’t classify Dr. Drew among the MJ haters. Throughout the trial, his position came across to me as one that was mostly sympthaetic towards Michael as the victim in the case-but nevertheless, his was a position steeped largely in ignorance, as evidenced by many of his comments regarding Michael’s life. Whether ignorance comes cloaked in malicious intent or not, it is still just that-ignorance. And when one is speaking to a potential audience of millions, ignorance is dangerous.
I fired this off the night I heard Dr. Drew comment that it was tragic how Michael Jackson’s artistry had been overshadowed by the “dysfunction of his life.” That one brought me up sharply. It reminded me that for almost two decades the media has been trying to sell us on the idea that Michael Jackson in his last years was a poster boy for the dysfunctional adult, one who was at best mentally regressed; at worst, a very unstable individual. They sold an entire generation on the idea of “Wacko Jacko” to the point that even one of my students-a very smart young man who simply hadn’t had the time or inclination in his short life to delve seriously into the subject of Michael Jackson -asked me, “Do you really think he was very intelligent?”
Oh boy, talk about a palm-slap-to-the-head moment! Where does one even begin to unravel the intricacies of such deeply entrenched and ingrained beliefs?
It’s especially troublesome when we realize that we’re talking about one of the most influential musical geniuses of our time. Of course, most people are aware that there is a difference in the way we quantitatively measure “genius” as opposed to “intelligence.” Throughout history, most geniuses have been considered eccentric and odd by the standards of so called “normal” people. It’s accepted that geniuses simply operate on a different level from most of us. But while most people will agree that Michael was eccentric, somewhere along the way the media began to deconstruct what had been considered his charming and mostly harmless eccentricities into that of an erratic, unstable and (after 1993) even sinister persona.
Even now, I still see debates where people will ask: Was this man an innocent simpleton, or an evil genius? As if there could be no room for anything in between! As if only the most extreme, polarizing ends of the spectrum could apply!
In truth, Michael was a genius, yes. But evil? Certainly not! An innocent simpleton? Well, only if one is so cyncical as to believe that innocence and being of a simple mind go hand in hand.
But let’s examine who was the real man behind this tabloid myth.
Yes, if we believe all of the tabloid stories, one would wonder how this man even had walking around sense, let alone the ability to raise children, conduct business, and still create music. But the problem is that the idea of a Michael Jackson so “dysfunctional” and strange that he was barely a functioning individual is just that-a tabloid myth. Sadly, I understand all too well how easy it is to become brainwashed by these myths-I was one of those people myself, for a long time. I remember once, several years ago, I was riding in the car when “Wanna Be Starting Something,” came on the radio. I remember gushing enthusiastically as I cranked it up, “Oh boy, Michael Jackson, back before he went crazy!”
Yes, I said that. An ignorant spurt from someone who hadn’t bothered to really learn what was going on in this man’s life, but only believed what I heard on TV and in tabloids. I am here right now to say ignorance is not an excuse. The “real” Michael Jackson is there, if you care to learn who he really was. I did. It took many dedicated hours, days and months-and now years. But I did it. Others can, too. There’s no excuse other than laziness or apathy-and maybe the driving need for a scapegoat, who knows?
For years, Michael Jackson had become such a convenient scapegoat that I think we simply took it for granted that he could always be our punching bag. The media pointed fingers and laughed at what seemed the wreck of a once talented artist’s life in ruins.
But what was Michael’s life REALLY like during his last decade or so? Was it really the definition of dysfunction? Consider this:
Michael Jackson spent his last twelve years as a single parent, raising a family. And not “just” raising a family, but raising three exceptionally mature, well adjusted children, as the world has now seen. We have heard testimony from his own children-as well as everyone who knew him-about what a wonderful father he was. Had he ever, in any way, been an abusive or dysfunctional parent, his kids certainly would not speak up for him now, nor would they be so determined to carry on his legacy. You can tell when his children speak about him that their words and emotions come from the heart. They are truly grieving a wonderful father who gave them unconditional love-but also strict discipline (had he not, they would have turned out as spoiled brats, not the very emotionally mature children they have turned out to be). Could a dysfunctionally operating parent achieve this? I think not.
In his last decade, Michael Jackson was still working on music-actively writing, recording, and producing. The world is just now catching on to the wealth of material he left behind-and not just from the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, the very day of the raid on Neverland, he was working on the music video for “One More Chance.” The legal battle of the resulting trial halted many of his artistic projects that were in the works at the time. It wasn’t that he had ever stopped working or recording; it was simply that the financial and personal strain of fighting a drawn out, two year legal battle would put a crimp in anyone’s artistic endeavors. But the truth was that Michael Jackson was a Working Artist right up to the very end-if nothing else, This Is It should have disspelled that myth. Of course, the success of This is It also brought about its own romantic legacy, of a sort- that Michael Jackson, after years of tragedy, “dysfunction” and scandal, had finally “jumped back into the saddle” and was ready to make this great comeback. Keep dreaming. The truth is that Michael had never left the saddle at all. If some things had to be put on hold to fight the money grubbing Arvizos, so be it.
In the 2000’s, Michael Jackson was extremely active, involved in many causes. He began the decade by forming the Heal the World foundation; in 2001, he gave a famous speech at Oxford where he advocated for children’s rights and urged us all to love another; in 2001, he released a #1 album (Invincible), performed at Madison Square Garden, and organized a benefit for the victims of 9/11. By 2002, he had become a staunch civil rights activist for Black artists in the recording industry. Listen to his speeches sometime. They are not the words of a raving madman-at least, not the raving madman the media would have had us believe he was. Rather, they are the words of a thoughtful, intelligent, sensitive man who had seen too much, and lived too much-and knew intuitively how the world operated. Most of all, they were the words of someone fighting to make a difference-for the planet, for our children, for music, and for us.
So all in all, it begs the question: Are we talking about the same person here? Is this really the person the media tried to tell us was so weird, so strange, so “dysfunctional?”
The answer is no. Yet the media still persists in trying to sell us the lie of this “dysfunctional” Michael Jackson. The truth is that this so called “dysfunctional” Michael Jackson is a myth that the media itself created, through tabloid stories, lies, and distorted exaggerations of the truth. Through this manipulation of our minds, they managed to create this fictional being whom we then, all too unfortunately, believed was real.
Here, in its entirety, is Michael Jackson’s speech at Oxford in 2001. Consider that this was at the height of when the media was trying to convince us that this man was so weird; so strange; so bizarre. Well I challenge you to listen and judge for yourself if these sound like the words of someone who was “wacko.” Then ask yourself if you can really in good conscience go on believing the myth that the media has fed you.
Have any of you ever seen that show on cable called “Monster Quest?” (I think it comes on The History Channel, or used to). I have watched that show a few times. It’s somewhat interesting, but after awhile, it gets boring because you catch on to the pattern very quickly. The show always starts off as a kind of teaser, in which we get a story and alleged eyewitness accounts of some mythical monster that is lurking about some specific locale. They then go to great lengths to “track down” this monster-teams will go hiking into the wilderness, set up camp, and have all of this special night vision equipment to try to capture this “thing”-whatever it is. But each episode ends exactly the same. They never actually find a thing. Instead, we are teased for almost an hour with innuendo, false alarms, and photos or something captured on camera that “might” be something, only it’s always conveniently too blurry to tell. Usually there is some tantalizing bit of evidence, but nothing that can ever be proven conclusively. Every show ends on a kind of anti-climactic note because the monster is never found.
Trying to find the tabloid Michael Jackson is a lot like that. One finds as they beging to research that the “monster” the media tried to create simply doesn’t exist. Michael himself sang of this very “Monster Quest” over and over. In songs like Threatened, Is It Scary, and the song entitled Monster he acknowledged that we were a society ever in search of the elusive beast.
Remember how Nancy Grace seemed to almost glorify in constantly reminding viewers that Michael Jackson had died “surrounded by his own urine?” While this seemed like a ploy to garner sympathy for the way he had to die as a victim, there was also a far more sinister undertone-she was also rubbing it in that, after all the fame and the glory and the adulation, this was how Michael’s life had ended. This was what it had all come down to. They still want us to believe the myth of a tragic, washed up, has-been great artist wallowing in the madness of his own dysfunctional life. When one finds that the reality is that of a hard working, still dedicated artist who was even considering going back to school to study art, who was quietly raising his three kids, still honing his craft, and still actively engaged in charities and the causes he believed in–suddenly, the myth doesn’t seem quite so glamorous or attractive anymore-if one is looking at it from a medialoid standpoint. After all, a washed up, dysfunctional superstar sells a lot more copy than a dedicated, hard working dad.
But I learned something when I began researching the life of Michael Jackson. I learned the difference between sensationalism and truth.
Warning: This review WILL contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet but plan to, consider yourself forewarned!
Well, as I mentioned here before, I did end up receiving Frank Cascio’s book “My Friend Michael: An Ordinary Friendship With An Extraordinary Man” for Christmas. I also promised a full review after I had finished reading it.
Back when I did my article on Christmas Shopping For The MJ Fan On Your List I mentioned how polarizing this book has been in the fan community. I haven’t seen much easing up in that regard, but I will note one thing I’ve observed for the most part-those fans who thoroughly trash the book, along with Frank Cascio, will usually admit they haven’t even read the book. Most of them will say they refuse to read it; a refusal based on their own personal feelings against the Cascio family and/or some of the more sensational publicity this book garnered on release. Typically, every media review of the book honed in on what is actually one very small and isolated portion of the book-Michael’s drug use, especially that of propofol. When the book came out, it was at the height of the Murray trial and of course, this was the one topic the media cared about the most-and the one aspect of the book that every reviewer seemed eager to pounce on.
I think based on these early reviews, many fans had an automatic, knee-jerk response to the book and its author. Of course, none of that has been helped by the controversy over the Cascio tracks on the “Michael” album. Ever since then, Frank has been lumped in with his brother Eddie to become-like many of Michael’s acquaintances-a somewhat controversial and polarizing figure.
But regardless of how one feels about Frank Cascio personally, one fact is undisputable: Michael Jackson was a very big part of this young man’s life, for many years. Frank was there when many of the darkest chapters of Michael’s life played out. He knew both Jordan Chandler and Gavin Arvizo, and as one of the many boys who formed that circle of friends in the early 90’s that included McCauley Culkin and others, Frank was in a unique position to tell that side of the story.
I said when I received the book that I would read it with an open mind. The bottom line is that, yes, there are some things that may be unsettling to some fans-if they are still clinging to some idealized version of who Michael was. Since that’s never been an issue with me, I frankly wasn’t shocked by some of the book’s “revelations.” But I think the bigger picture here is that the book does exonerate Michael on many bigger and more important issues.
However, that isn’t to say that I didn’t read between the lines and also find some fault with the book. But overall, I honestly think the worst thing Frank is guilty of is what I call the “Insider’s Syndrome.” It seems to be something that no aquaintance of Michael’s was immune to. Without fail, everyone who knew him seems to want to think of themselves as Michael’s closest friend and most intimate confidante. And along with that, often the idealized belief that they could have somehow “saved” him. Granted, in Frank’s case, he did know Michael in a way few people ever got to. And certainly it would be arrogant and presumprious of me-or anyone-to sit here and say I know better than Frank what Michael did or thought or said. That’s not my intent. However, I did sometimes catch myself reading between the lines and second guessing some of the assumptions he makes-for example, that Michael’s marriage to Lisa was a sham (even if they did have sex-according to Frank, the sex was just a by-product, not so much that they actually loved each other, but because Michael wanted kids…and well, frankly, she was there and available) or his assertion that Michael never had sex with Debbie (insisting that Prince and Paris were both conceived in vitro; so yes, according to Frank, Michael is indisputably the biological father of all his children, but he never touched Debbie). To be fair, he makes it very clear that his assumptions are based on what Michael told him; he wasn’t there in the room, of course. But by his own admission, he also admits several instances where Michael lied to him-so who’s to say? I’ve read some fan reviews of the book where people have said, “How would Frank know the details of Michael and Lisa’s marriage; he was just a kid?”
Yes, but…let’s not forget that Michael and Frank remained close friends well into Frank’s adulthood. I’m sure Michael probably talked to him about these things, if not at the time, maybe later.
But I did question, for instance, if he was really with Michael when Michael supposedly “chose” Blanket’s mother out of a donor catalog-or that it was actually he who made the final choice! I’m just very suspicious by nature when someone claims to have been right by Michael’s side through every major important move and decision of his life. I’m willing to give to Frank that he was there for a LOT of it-but to hear him tell it, he was practically Michael’s shadow! (Let’s just say, some of it I bought, and some I took with the proverbial grain of salt).
When I was reading the part about Michael and Lisa’s marriage, I couldn’t help but think back to what David Nordahl told me in our interview last year. David, who was another of Michael’s closest friends (for over 20 years) and very loyal, spent over two weeks living with Michael and Lisa at the Trump towers in 1994, and by his own account, Michael and Lisa were “very much in love.” I have no reason to doubt David’s sincerity, so for me, that casts an automatic cloud of suspicion over Frank’s claims that Michael told him he had married Lisa just to satisfy bin Talal (an Arabian businessman who Michael apparently had many dealings with, and who was also apparently insistent on Michael having an image as a family man-at any rate, according to Frank, this bin Talal seemed to be Michael’s magical explanation for a lot of things).
But there is also another possibility, which is that Michael may have told Frank this after having become bitter over the breakup with Lisa; perhaps as a way of salvaging his own pride. (Oh, well, I never loved her anyway; I just married her because bin Talal wanted me to).
Now see, this is where Frank’s book gets interesting for me. It’s not so much what he writes, but the little, subtle things one can pick up between the lines. Or as I call them, the gray areas. For it’s often in those gray areas that one really finds the truth, or the closest version to it. What a reader can take from this is that there is often some element of truth in all sides of a story-in this case, a marriage that may have indeed been a sham-or started out that way. But nevertheless, perhaps Michael and Lisa did have genuine love, of a sort-and certainly had sex. So in that regard, the marriage was absolutely real! Michael could be manipulative and at times, did stretch the truth-but he was 100% honest and up front about the things that really mattered in his life, and this is what all readers need to keep uppermost in mind. Michael apparently never lied about the things that were most important-his innocence of the allegations, his vitiligo, the paternity of his children, and that ever pesky little question of his true sexuality. It doesn’t bother me in the least if the truth of the matter is that he never really wanted to marry either Lisa or Debbie. Michael wanted children-not necessarily a wife and children. But regardless, he did have a very real bond with both Lisa and Debbie. And as Debbie herself has said, so what if theirs wasn’t a traditional family or traditional arrangement? It was their decision, and their life.
This is just the beginning. There are other very telling details that give a reader pause for thought, or that may make them question certain beliefs about Michael they have thought to be true. Just to give another example, one of the more controversial aspects of the book is that Frank writes candidly (but also, I should add, very sympathetically) about Michael’s struggles with painkiller dependency and the Demerol shots he was receiving from Klein. But he also reveals that Michael was undergoing a very excruciatingly painful treatment for vitiligo that involved regular treatments of over fifty facial injections per visit.
I haven’t had time yet to research this treatment as thoroughly as I would like, but I did have some very interesting links that were provided to me by shelley (thanks!):
The reason I find this interesting is because if this is true, it provides one more instance in which Michael is actually vindicated by the revelation of this information. Remember how the media had a field day with the Demerol story, and how they were speculating why anyone would receive that much Demerol just for botox injections? But could it be that the injections Michael was receiving were not for botox at all, but rather legit if albeit experiemental vitiligo treatments? I don’t know about you guys, but personally, the thought of having 50 needles injected in my face would certainly be enough to make me want a shot of Demerol! And remember, I had quoted before from Dr. Treacy who said that Michael did have hyersensitivity in the facial area due to past surgeries, and therefore always requested some form of sedation before any cosmetic or dermatological procedures:
There are other examples of what I call “gray area vindication” throughout the book, instances in which we can see how certain myths about Michael may have gotten their start, but also getting the whole story of the truth that often lay behind those stories.
Just for example, Michael did refer to wine as “Jesus juice” and often did drink wine in soda cans, just as was alleged by the Arvizos during the trial. But it was not for the sinister reason that the Arvizos and DA tried to insist in the trial; it was not for the purpose of enticing children to drink with him. Rather, it was something he did to protect the children around him, as he did not want to set an example of drinking alcohol to them. Also, because being the very private person that he was, he didn’t necessarily want everyone to know his business. However, sometimes it’s important to know the truth if it means the difference between exoneration and allowing false notions to stand. Personally, it doesn’t bother me to know Michael liked his wine, whether in soda cans or not; I would personally find it a lot more disturbing if he had gone around drinking openly in front of kids!
The important thing one has to keep in mind when reading a memoir-especially a memoir of one’s experience with a famous person-is that no matter how honest this person is, in the grander scheme of things, their story is simply their version of the reality they lived. The root word of “memoir” is “memory.” But by our very human nature, our memories are often selective; occasionally even distorted. Our versions of events are filtered by our own biases and whatever baggage we associate with those memories. Memoirs have to accepted as what they are-one individual’s reality and perception of events. Memoirs can be entertaining, engaging, and even thought-provoking. But they can’t-nor shouldn’t-always be taken as gospel. However, I think if a reader approaches this book with a fair and open mind, they can certainly learn about the man Michael Jackson that Frank Cascio knew. And I do think Frank is being honest and open in presenting us the man, Michael Jackson, who was his friend and mentor. Like I said, it may not necessarily jibe with the idealized version of Michael that many fans have. But we have to keep in mind, this was Frank’s experience and the Michael Jackson presented in this memoir is the man he knew. Ultimately, however, memoirs of this type always end up being as much about the person writing them as about the subject in question. We have to keep in mind this isn’t “just” Michael’s story. It’s also Frank’s story and what it was like to come of age as a young man living in the shadow of Michael Jackson. When you realize that your whole life has revolved around Michael Jackson since the age of four, how does one find their own identity and purpose in the world? How do they manage to forage their own path? For Frank Cascio, that question has probably been his biggest life challenge.
Frank also does a good job of debunking the whole false notion which emerged after the Bashir crock, which was that Michael routinely had kids over for sleepovers at Neverland. In simple truth, the infamous “sleepovers” never happened, at least not as they have come to be portrayed. The sleepovers involved entire families-families who often traveled over great distances to be at Neverland. Michael’s enormous bedroom suite became a kind of informal, focal gathering place for these families, where people watched TV, played games, or simply talked until everyone fell asleep, exhausted. With the candor of an insider’s persective, Frank tells the truth about what those nights spent at Michael’s house were…and more importantly, what they were not.
And contrary to what some cynics say, Michael did alter his behavior around children following the ’93 Chandler allegations. He never again allowed young children-especially boys-to be in his bedroom unchaperoned (the parents were always present) and in most cases, he was careful from then on to always make sure that any child he was around was accompanied by an adult. One of the small but significant details that my boyfriend and I have noticed is that throughout the HIStory tour, when he would do the Heal The World finale, he never held hands with the boys or picked them up; it was always the girls that he would single out. Obviously, the first allegations did their damage. He was scarred emotionally by the accusations-but he also learned from them. That he would come to be accused again would come about, not because of any undue carelessness or blatant disregard and arrogance on Michael’s part-as has often been erroneoulsy reported- but because he was too kind-hearted to turn down a child in need of help.
There are also a lot of interesrting but little known facts that I discovered from the book. For example, did you know that in the early 2000’s, before the debut of “American Idol”, that Michael was being slated to do his own weekly talent show, one in which he would have been the judge? Apparently the project, tentatively titled “Hollywood Ticket” fell through, mostly due to waning interest on Michael’s part (anyway, we all know Michael wasnt’t fond of being on TV; he probably got cold feet over the idea of being on national TV every week and the obligation of having to be a weekly judge and mentor) but I have to say, it certainly would have been interesting had the project gone through. Sadly, though, this seemed to be the story so often in Michael’s last decade, so many projects that never materialized, and the saddest of all, knowing that it was often his legal issues and the mismanagement within his own ranks that led to these aborted projects.
Frank Cascio’s experience with Michael Jackson was a unique one from the beginning. It wasn’t an aquaintance he sought out, or even one that he made on his own. Imagine, if you will, that you are a small child, and your parents just happen to be best friends with a world famonus superstar. This was how Michael Jackson came to be part of Frank Cascio’s life. Imagine said superstar becomes your mentor and greatest teacher; now flash forward many years, and you find yourself as a young adult not only working for him, but even at times having to reverse the father/son role, which is a sad reality that happens for many of us as we grow up and realize our parents or even our “parent figures” aren’t the perfect people we envisioned as children, but rather, imperfect human beings just like ourselves. I can see why some fans have concerns about the book. There were a few things that I questioned-even if it’s true, why the need to include it here if it serves no real purpose? Why not keep some things private? Just for example, I don’t know that the whole world necessarily needed to know that Michael experimented with marijuana. It’s not that I’m a prude and really, these days, smoking a little pot isn’t really frowned upon that much more than drinking beer. But as we know too well, the media has always been prone to judge Michael by a different standard than other celebrities. That’s really the whole issue when it comes to making these kinds of private details public-we all know how the media loves to sensationalize and run with any story on Michael Jackson. This knowledge is, in turn, I believe, why so many fans are prone to feel very over protective about what is written about Michael. It simply comes from long experience with knowing how the media has always loved to portray Michael Jackson. What is seen as harmless behavior for most celebrities somehow becomes damning when it’s Michael Jackson. (However, if you are curious about this, I’ll just say that you’re probably going to find it quite funnny when you discover just who it was that turned Michael on to pot…hint: It certainly wasn’t any of his heavy metal stoner friends!).
Again, some will fault Frank for this revelation, just as they have for some of the things he reveals about Michael’s private sex life (though nothing too graphic; however, he does say that Michael had quite a few, casual encounters through the years, even with some fans…well, lucky them, I guess). However, I’ll stress again that the importance of knowing this information is that, violation of privacy or not, it does help to exonerate Michael in perhaps a far more crucial way, which is the knowledge that his only sexual interests were in adult relationships with women-not children, and certainly not with boys.
I think for Michael there was always a sort of “disconnect” from the human being that he was, and this sort of idealized vision he had of himself, or rather, the person he wanted to be. Sometimes it’s easy to look at some of his words vs. his actions and call them hypocritical, but that’s oversimplifying a very complex issue. As far as Michael’s stance on drugs and casual sex, he wasn’t just making a public stance when he spoke against them; that was really how he felt. As Frank says, Michael detested the typical drug-seeking, groupie-chasing pop lifestyle. He didn’t want to “be” that or to “become that.” He wanted to be a decent role model for young people to look up to. He also didn’t want to be a cheap womanizer like his father and brothers, and the few times when he gave in to temptation, he wasn’t proud of it. And also, his very religious upbringing played a large role in shaping his adult character-both for better and worse. I think Michael’s biggest overall problem, perhaps, was that he seemed to have a hard time just letting go and giving himself permission to be human. And when he did, there always seemed to be a measure of guilt which only compounded matters for him. I’ve heard people say he was a hypocrite because he claimed to be a vegetarian, but loved KFC (well, how many of us have ever tried to stick to a healty diet with the best of intentions, only to fall off the wagon sometimes-or even to enjoy an occasional indulgence?). I’ve heard people say he was a hypocrite because he spoke against recreational drug use, yet look at how he died (forgetting that his death had nothing to do with a recreational high, but rather was the culmination of years of pain and seeking ways to numb it). I’ve heard people say a lot of ignorant things, but the truth is, nobody knew that the pressure he put on himself to be perfect was more damning than anything anyone else could do or say. Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that he never seemed to realize that he didn’t have to be perfect for us to love him.
Personally, I think the book does a great job of balancing the idealized Michael Jackson with the human one. Michael didn’t walk on water and he wasn’t God. His bled like everyone else. But there is a very poignant passage in the book which I’ll quote here, since the quoting of brief passages are allowed for review purposes:
Michael’s skin disease, along with his difficult childhood and the molesation allegations, were conditions or circumstances that he did his best to survive, and the plastic surgeries he had on his nose were, like so many of his eccentricities, attempts to exert some kind of control over his own destiny and happiness. Those surgeries didn’t make him normal. And, in many people’s eyes, they didn’t make him beautiful. What they did do was make him Michael.
I bolded that last sentence to make a point. We could say likewise that Michael’s very human flaws didn’t make him good or bad, beautiful or ugly. But they did make him Michael. What emerges from this book is a portrait of a very beautiful, generous, talented, and intelligent but vulnerable man who had been battering his wings against the iron bars of the gilded cage ever since he was five years old-he had learned how to fight, and how to survive, the only way he knew how. His way wasn’t always the best or most admirable way, but it was his way.
And it was the totality of this very complex humanity that made him who he was. If it achieves nothing else, I think “My Friend Michael” does a wonderful job of capturing that very complex humanity and allowing us all to get to know the man behind the myth a little better. There were many times while reading this book that I laughed out loud (you have to read all about the midnight excursion of the haunted hotel in Scotland; that part is hilarious); there were also many times that I cried. But most of all, I felt inspired. Through the pages of this book, one gets to know the great friend that Frank had in Michael-and when it’s over, we miss him all over again. We feel the ache of that emptiness; the void that has been left. We are reminded anew of how poorer we are for his loss; but also, how enriched we are for having had him among us for a little while.
ETA: (1/14/12): I thought this might be a cute addition to the review. In the book, Frank mentions that he was with Michael at the Virgin Megastore record signing in 2001. Like most fans, I’ve watched the videos of this very well-known event, but until now hadn’t paid much attention to Frank’s role in it. He was just one of the guys sitting to the side. But knowing what I do now, I was curious so I went back to this video series. Of course, the entire eight-part series is available on Youtube, but the one I chose to highlight here is Part 5. At 3:45, a fan is talking to Michael (they discuss a recent bout with larngytis, among other things) and then he asks, “Is that the famous angel? Angel Frankie?” Then, at both 6:51 and 9:29, you can see Frank and Michael cracking each other up as they exchange a couple of private jokes between them (I suspect they might have been joking around about some of the girls in line). It’s very funny and cute to watch, and you really get a feel for what their relationship was like when you watch them interacting here.
ETA: (4/26/12): A very good interview with Frank about the book:
It’s not often that I get inspired to post here just because of an issue someone brings up on a Michael Jackson discussion board, or because of my response to it. But every so often, it happens, and what starts as a routine response inspires me to come here and look into the question further.
Lately, it seems, there has been a lot of discussion about separating Michael Jackson’s music from Michael Jackson, the human being behind it. It’s a debate grounded in a very disturbing reality, but a reality that can’t be ignored. No matter how much sites like mine and the ones listed on the right strive to shed light on the truth of who Michael Jackson was, there will always be people who believe all the savory tabloid stories and, worse yet, believe he was a criminal. Yet they will still listen to his music, usually with some lame rationalization about separating the music from the man. By doing so, however, it’s obvious they are only contributing to their own sense of guilt, rather than allowing themselves to embrace what could be a truly rewarding and fulfilling experience.
There is even one disturbing faction of the hater community trying to encourage fans to embrace the idea of Michael as a pedophile, rather than fighting it. Again, their motto is based on the idea that one can “Love the Artist, Despise The Man.” You can read more about that particular group and their agenda exposed here:
For the moment, I don’t want to veer too off-topic in discussing that group or their agenda, except to say that their agenda is an obvious one. They think that if they can somehow discourage fans from seeking the truth about the allegations, and discourage them from researching, discovering, and spreading the evidence that supports his innocence, then the world will have no choice but to accept their version of history-which is a version they very desperately need to cling to, for whatever sinister reasons. They would like nothing more than for fans and truth seekers to lay down their arms and give up the fight to expose what was actually done to Michael Jackson-thus, their encouragement of saying on the one hand, “Yes, it’s okay to be a fan of his music ” out of one side of the mouth, while saying, “We condemn Michael Jackson, The Man” out the other.
But putting aside the most sinister aspect of Michael’s “human” side-the allegations-there still remains a man who has been the target of endless tabloid accusations. I sat back for a moment just today and realized that over the past week alone, I’ve debated and battled every topic from drug addiction to “skin bleaching” to his sexuality to the never ending arguement over his children’s paternity. And I’m still finishing up Frank Cascio’s book, which I will review here in a few days-a book that has certainly opened its own can of worms insofar as this very complex subject of who “Michael The Man” was-and was not.
Depending on how gullible one is, there are a lot of aspects of Michael The Man one may not agree with. There are a lot of critics, cynics, and even outright haters who question every aspect of his life and how he lived it, all while still insisting “But I love his music!”
This is my take on it: I think many use that as a sort of justification for continuing to like/enjoy Michael’s music even though they may not necessarily agree with all of the personal choices he made in his life, his lifestyle, or even if they think he committed unspeakable crimes.
I know for myself, there are many artists whose work I enjoy even though I may not necesarily agree with or endorse their personal lifestyles-heck, you could put just about every rock musician whose work I love into that category, not to mention almost every writer! I can, for instance, enjoy Van Gogh’s paintings even though Van Gogh probably wouldn’t have been someone I would have enjoyed hanging out with in real life.
As an English instructor, it’s the same sort of thing I deal with almost daily with the writers we cover in class. I have to deal with student debates about why we should study and revere Ernest Hemingway even though he was a drunk, or Samuel Taylor Coleridge even though he was a drug addict, or Oscar Wilde even though he was gay (yeah, I live in the Bible belt, just for the record!). Perhaps the best answer to that ongoing debate is a quote contained in one of our texts, and it’s one I often refer back to: “If we waited for great art to come from perfect human beings, we would wait a long time indeed. We would be a world devoid of great art.” Indeed, great art comes from imperfection, and often, from a place of darkness (as well as light). With the last few postings here, I realized I’ve been exploring Michael’s duality and oppositions a lot in the last few weeks. Maybe it’s something in the air, but the more I see discussions like this, the more I realize the importance of embracing that duality. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and all of the major Transcendentalists stressed that the divine within us is not a separate entity from our human flesh and blood. We cannot separate our divinity from our demons. Yet, every day we live in a world that seeks to do just that! And additionally, insists that our artists be mopped into corners where they are either demonized or lionized, and their wings clipped accordingly.
I was thinking of something that Frank Lisciandro, a very close friend of Jim Morrison’s, wrote in his book “An Hour For Magic,” of which I still have a very worn and battered copy. Frank Lisciandro wrote that people often think of Morrison as nothing but a drunk and an addict. But none of Jim’s greatest work was written while drunk. Instead, his best poems and lyrics were always written, according to Lisciandro, “in the clear, bright light of dawn, when the world was still and full of hope. In these quiet, intense hours he spilled his poems out on the pages of dozens of notebooks…” Art often reflects not just who we are, but what we aspire to be; whoever we are in that clear and “fresh light of dawn.” But perhaps in that state we are closest to who we really are. It is not only the moment when we are closest to God, but also most in touch with the light within ourselves.
While I have always been personally attracted to art that is born out of darkness, it’s not the darkness itself that attracts me, but rather, the search for that clear dawn in the midst of chaos. I hear this in so many of the songs from bands and artists I admire. Just for example, I’m also a huge Black Crowes fan (yes, I listen to a lot of music, from many genres!). What I’ve always loved about the work of Chris Robinson, whom I consider one of the most amazing and underrated songwriters of our time, is his ability to always find the redemption and salvation of Sunday morning even in what sometimes seems the blackest of nights, when all hope and love is gone.
Similarly to Morrison always writing “in the clear light of dawn”, it was during many of those nights when Michael Jackson couldn’t sleep, and would walk out to The Giving Tree to meditate by moonlight, that many of his most well known songs were inspired. What he gave to the world were the songs that often came to him in those moments of midnight clarity.
Michael would have understood perfectly the words of Arthur Rimbaud, words written over a hundred years earlier by a youthful poet struggling to deal with his own issues of inspiration and creation:
The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, vast and reasoned derangement of all the senses-every form of love, of suffering, of madness.-Arthur Rimbaud
Through the years, Rimbaud’s quote has often been misunderstood and misinterpreted as a justification for artistic excess and debauchery (i.e, drug use). But that’s not really what he’s saying at all. He is simply saying that the artist must embrace every aspect of himself; every atom and particle of his joy and suffering, in order to create. If he denies his art the full encompasse of his humanity, then he denies himself.
And if we as an audience deny it, we deny ourselves.
So while I can kind of see how some might feel it is POSSIBLE to separate Michael the Artist from Michael The Man, I think they are doing a disservice to both when they approach it that way. As was pointed out by the poster who initiated the discussion that fueled my inspiration this morning, Michael’s music was inseperable from the man. The qualities in his music that bring us joy; that make us want to get up and dance, come from that inner joy of spirit he brought to it, just as his darker music came from his pain and anguish. Yes, the songs were inseperable from the man who wrote them.
Michael said of his songs “We Are The World, “Will You be There, “Heal the World, “The Lost Children”-“These are the songs I write because I hurt.”
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius”-William Blake
One could also look at songs like “They Don’t care About Us,” “This Time Around,” “Money,” “DS,” etc and hear him say, “These are the songs I write because I’m pissed off and angry, and tired of being pushed around.”
Conversely, one can hear songs like “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” “Billie Jean” or “The Way You Make Me Feel” and hear him say, “These are the songs I write because, like you, I know the joy of falling in love, being happy, and wanting to dance!”
Maybe instead of thinking of it as seperation, people should look at embracing art as an extension of both the lighter and darker sides of ourselves; as it reflects the duality of our own humanity, for better or worse.
So yes, absolutely, those songs came from the soul of the man. And when we allow ourselves to enjoy them, we are partaking something of that individual’s soul and spirit, whether we like it or not. Enjoying a work of art is like being a desperately thirsty man or woman led to a drinking trough. When we sip that water, we are not only nourishing and replenishing our body, but also ingesting all that it contains. We cannot separate the bacteria from its nourishing qualities; we can only ingest it as it comes, impurities and all.
This is also true whether we are listening to a song, reading a poem, or gazing at a beautiful (or even a disturbing) painting. If it moves us, it’s because we are being moved by the spirit, the heart and the mind of its creator. In the end, instead of trying to separate The Art from The Human Being, it’s much easier and much more rewarding to simply accept that there is no separation. Rather, art is the bridge that connects us to another human being,more completely than we will ever be at any other time-yes, even during sex or childbirth! I challenge anyone reading this right now to go to your CD collection, or to Youtube or anywhere where you can take a few moments and listen to a Michael Jackson song. Any song at all, it doesn’t matter which one. Go ahead…five, six, seven minutes, however long it takes. If you do this exercise, then congratulations. You have just connected to Michael Jackson’s soul in a way you will never get from any book, magazine, or tabloid story. For those five minutes or so, he has allowed you, the listener, a deeper understanding of him than you will ever get from any other source, even though we still somehow insist that all of these sources can provide us with more understanding of him than than the music itself.
As for whether we choose to accept or reject that connection, that’s a choice only the individual can make. But to accept the idea that we can somehow do both is to spit in the very face of what art is. Art is a representation of our humanity. Without humanity, there is no art.
In Part 1 of this series, I looked at how Michael and Marilyn both had similar, childlike public personas. In part these personas were a naturally ingrained aspect of their natural personalities-and this, in turn, was part of their charm, both in terms of the people who were drawn to them in real life, and the millions of fans whose lives they touched through their art. But in both cases, their personas may have been as much about protecting the real Michael and Marilyn as anything else.
But perhaps a far more interesting parallel is the fact that both Michael and Marilyn, underneath those childlike exteriors, were both sharply intelligent, savvy individuals who knew how the business worked. Interestingly enough, when they decided to make a stand, they were similarly blacklisted by their respective companies and turned on-viciously-by the media. In both cases, making a stand for their artistic rights proved costly, as neither was ever able to quite overcome the irreperable damage done by Fox (in Marilyn’s case) and Sony (in Michael’s case). Painted by the companies and the media as spoiled brats biting the hands that fed them, what we saw in both cases were two superstars from different eras lashing out in ways that heretefore had been totally uncharacteristic of them. And in both cases, a confused public wasn’t quite sure what to make of their battles. In the eyes of both Fox and Sony, it seemed their goal was to keep the two biggest stars, respectively, as compliant children.
As I mentioned in Part 1, I enjoyed the recent film My Week With Marilyn but while the movie itself is entertaining, one of its downfalls is that it continues to perpetuate the myth of Marilyn Monroe as simply a hapless and naive victim of the corporate wheel of Hollywood. In real life, Marilyn not only knew how the wheel worked, but managed through her own smarts to put herself squarely in the driver’s seat!
By the end of 1954 Marilyn Monroe formed her own film production company – it was named Marilyn Monroe Productions.
Marilyn took the big step by publicly announcing the formation of Marilyn Monroe Productions. 20th Century Fox were livid as Marilyn still had a four year contract with them, and they threatened to sue Marilyn – even telling her she would never work in Hollywood again!! She also became the target of cruel jokes in the press and in the Hollywood community.
Marilyn Monroe Productions was established with one hundred and one shares of company stock. The president of the company, which was Marilyn, had control with fifty one shares. She was to star in films selected and produced by Marilyn Monroe Productions. Milton H Greene was the company’s vice president, and he had the remaining shares of stock. He was to deal with all of the business and pay all the bills.
When The Seven Year Itch was released it became a hit at the box office, and 20th Century Fox renegotiated a new contract due to public demand for MORE MARILYN!! By November 1955 Marilyn Monroe Productions was $20,000 in debt.
31st December 1955 Marilyn signed the new 20th Century Fox contract. This new contract gave Marilyn Monroe Productions story, director, cinematographer approval AND a salary increase to $100,000 per picture. Marilyn only needed to make four films over seven years under this new contract. When Marilyn signed this new contract she received a compensation payment of $142,500. Marilyn Monroe Productions received $200,000 for the rights to a screen play that it owned.
The Los Angeles Mirror News at the time stated “Veterans on the movie scene said it was one of the greatest single triumphs ever won by an actress”.
Marilyn’s personal fight for both artistic and financial independence from 20th Century Fox started the collapse of the Hollywood studio star system.
Marilyn signing this new contract was a huge victory which saw people stop laughing, and made everyone take Marilyn Monroe Productions seriously.
The first film made with Marilyn Monroe Productions was 20th Century Fox’s Bus Stop in 1956. The first film made totally by Marilyn Monroe Productions was The Prince and The Showgirl, and this was released in 1957.
In the wake of her production company’s formation and public announcement, 20th Century Fox began a deliberate and very humiliating public smear campaign against her. Some of the incidents described by Susan Doll in her well-written account of Marilyn’s later career on the HowStuffWorks website were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the dirty tricks 20th century Fox would pull on Marilyn over the next couple of years:
Marilyn fled Hollywood for New York after the partnership came together, leaving Twentieth Century-Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck behind. Once again, she refused to appear in a minor musical that Fox had assigned her. And once again, Fox tried to threaten Marilyn by touting Sheree North as her replacement.
The studio proceeded to make the film, titled How to Be Very, Very Popular, with North in Marilyn’s role and Betty Grable as her costar. Fox, eager to prove that the film could be successful without Marilyn Monroe, virtually flaunted the production in her face.
Nunnally Johnson, who had penned How to Marry a Millionaire, wrote the script, while one of Marilyn’s favorite cameramen, Milton Krasner, was assigned to be the film’s cinematographer. Charles Coburn and Tommy Noonan, two of her costars from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, were brought in to round out the cast.
But if Fox was convinced it could make a successful Marilyn Monroe film without the genuine article in the starring role, the studio was sadly mistaken. How to Be Very, Very Popular proved very, very unpopular at the box office and garnered only poor to mixed reviews. It remains notable mainly for a wildly exuberant dance number performed by North, and because it was the final film of Betty Grable.
Marilyn refused other offers by Fox at this time, in particular the part of showgirl Evelyn Nesbit in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing — a role that eventually went to Joan Collins. Marilyn disavowed her contract with Fox, leaving the legalities of her actions to her lawyers.
After the defection of its biggest star, Fox released the following statement: “No one can handle her. No one can give her advice. She has always decided everything for herself. We’re getting 200 letters a day demanding we get rid of her, but we have $2,000,000 tied up in this picture [The Seven Year Itch], and we’re trying to protect that.”
By generating bad publicity about her, Fox was making sure that if it couldn’t have Marilyn Monroe, then no other studio would want her.
Hollywood columnists delighted in such mudslinging and printed a number of statements released through the Fox publicity department, including one that must have hit a raw nerve with Marilyn. Hedda Hopper printed this statement, supposedly from an “unnamed” Fox stockholder: “It’s disgusting. She’s had four or five years’ training — enough to produce ten competent actresses — and she still can’t act.”
Marilyn moved in with the Greenes in their Weston, Connecticut, home, far away from the machinations of Twentieth Century-Fox. In January 1955, at the height of the bad publicity generated by Fox surrounding her defection, Marilyn held a press conference in New York to formally announce the formation of Marilyn Monroe Productions, Inc., and her plans to “broaden her scope.”
She complained about the dumb blonde roles she had been assigned at Fox and, after some prompting by reporters, announced she would like to tackle something as challenging as Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
The press seized on that comment to ridicule her ambitions, snidely inquiring which of the brothers she wanted to play. She patiently replied that she would like to play Grushenka, the leading female character.
Marilyn’s remarks about The Brothers Karamazov would be widely misquoted in print over the next few months, with the result (probably deliberate) of making Marilyn look quite foolish. Reporters questioned whether she could spell “Grushenka,” let alone play the role.
Over the years, the press had emphasized the sexual aspect of Marilyn’s image to such a degree that they would not allow her to escape her identity as a sex symbol. When she tried, they ridiculed her.
Think back now to every negative thing you’ve ever heard about Marilyn Monroe-continuously late on the set, flubbing lines, being a diva and generally unprofessional and inconsiderate to those working with her, etc. The press, spearheaded by the Fox smear campaign, continuously churned out these stories until they became accepted as “fact.” For awhile, Marilyn was able to successfully navigate the negative publicity with a series of film triumphs that made her the most financially succesful and powerful actress in Hollywood-Bus Stop, The Prince and the Showgirl, The Seven Year Itch, etc. But sadly, over time, her insecurities over the negative publicity led to a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in which she seemed to become the very thing Fox had portrayed her as-for example, debilitating insecurity that led to insomnia; severe insomnia that in turn led to increased drug use; drug use that in turn led to the sort of erratic behavior that then forever would be attached to her name. And so, one can start to see how the mechanism works its insidious evil, regardless of however much our society’s tendency to “blame the victim.”
Now let’s turn our attention to Michael. Since I have to assume that most of my readers who come here are MJ fans already well aware of Michael’s battle with Sony, I won’t spend too much time on the details of how the feud came about, but rather in analyzing what resulted in terms of Michael’s public image and reputation.
First, let’s look at the position Michael was in when he opted to renew his Sony contract in 1991. Michael Jackson was the biggest star in the world in 1991, but already, even then, the snarky fangs of the press were out in full force. In hindsight, reading between the lines of this New York Times piece, it seemed there was a real and genuine fear of certain performers becoming too powerful in the industry. To compensate, powerful performers like Michael Jackson, who were in a unique position to dictate their own terms, were labeled as spoiled egotists. But really, where does one draw the line between being a spoiled egotist and simply-as Michael himself would say in 2002-doing “good business?” Especially in our American culture, aren’t we normally encouraged to congratulate the idea of “getting ahead” and “coming out on top?” The disturbing reality seems to be, yes-except, perhaps, when it’s a black entertainer who “owns” the rights to the Beatles’ music and has already beaten records held by such white icons as Elvis Presley. Note in Rothenberg’s article how he (or at least, the various sources he is quoting) attempt(s) to downplay Michael Jackson as a star worthy of a potentially billion-dollar deal:
Michael Jackson Gets Thriller of Deal To Stay With Sony
By RANDALL ROTHENBERG
Published: March 21, 1991
In what may be the most lucrative arrangement ever for a recording artist, the Sony Corporation announced yesterday that Michael Jackson, the gyrating pop-music icon of the 1980’s, had entered into an agreement to create feature films, theatrical shorts, television programming and a new record label for the Japanese conglomerate’s American entertainment subsidiaries.
Mr. Jackson, whose albums “Thriller” and “Bad” were the two biggest-selling records of the past decade, also agreed to extend by six albums his existing contract with Epic Records, a Sony subsidiary.
Neither Sony executives nor representatives of Mr. Jackson would say how much the singer will receive under the agreement, which had been in negotiations for six months. However, Sony officials said the company could realize $1 billion from retail sales of the various Jackson products.
The deal could be a prototype of the multi-media arrangements star performers can now demand and receive from the giant information-and-entertainment conglomerates that have been created through mergers and acquisitions during the past several years. Entertainment industry executives and analysts said, in fact, that to keep the 32-year-old Mr. Jackson, who had reportedly made rumblings about leaving for another label, Sony had no choice but to allow him to produce his own records and films. Dealing With an Ego
“He doesn’t need the money; this is the guy who owns the Beatles’ music catalogue,” said Emanuel Gerard, a communications analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison in New York. “What we’re dealing with largely is his ego. And from Sony’s standpoint, no matter what, they could not afford to have Michael Jackson signed away from them.”
A senior executive of a rival entertainment company, who spoke only on condition that he not be identified, said: “My reading is that they were close to losing Michael Jackson. So you start by saying, ‘What do you have to do to keep him?’ He doesn’t need the money. So you say we have this fantastic company that has all these avenues for you. Give us your albums and you can do movies, TV shows.”
Neither Sony executives nor representatives of Mr. Jackson would comment on the negotiations, and a spokesman for Mr. Jackson said the singer would not talk. But Michael P. Schulhof, the president of Sony Software, the Sony division that includes its entertainment subsidiaries, said the deal was viable simply because of Mr. Jackson’s varied talents.
“This is the first example where we have been able to combine interests in both film and records,” said Mr. Schulhof, 48, who is directing Sony’s efforts in multi-media packaging. “Because Michael Jackson is a multifaceted entertainer, we felt this was the first time we could attempt it. If this transaction works as we anticipate, it might very well be the forerunner of a new kind of entertainment deal.”
Mr. Schulhof said the contract with Mr. Jackson was the first involving a performer with Sony Software, rather than with Columbia Pictures Entertainment, Sony Music Entertainment or one of the company’s other entertainment subsidiaries.
Industry executives who have followed the negotiations said the contract called for Mr. Jackson, who is already the highest-paid performer in the record business, to receive an advance higher than the $18 million he was reported to have received for the final record of his current contract. That would mean that Mr. Jackson would be paid more than $108 million for the six new albums alone, on top of whatever he might receive for the movies, television shows and records he might produce, write or star in.
Tommy Mottola, the president of Sony Music Entertainment, said the company based the estimate of $1 billion in retail revenues on the 40 million copies of “Thriller” and 25 million copies of “Bad” that have been sold, at an average of $10 per record, or $650 million.
Mr. Jackson’s entire family seems to have a strong hold on the public imagination and the entertainment industry’s wallets. Just last week, his 24-year-old sister Janet signed a contract with Virgin Records that the entertainment trade press said would pay her between $30 million and $50 million for three to five records. Star in First Feature Film
Under the terms of his deal with Sony Software, Mr. Jackson will star in his first full-length feature film, which will be produced by one such subsidiary, Columbia Pictures Entertainment. The company described the film as a “musical action adventure” based on an idea of Mr. Jackson’s.
Many features of the new contract appear to be speculative. For example, while Sony executives publicly said they expect the forthcoming movie to be the first of many with Mr. Jackson, one executive who would speak only on condition that his name not be used, said the current agreement only called for one film. Executives also said that the script for his forthcoming movie was not yet completed and that a director had not yet been signed.
Mr. Jackson will also establish a new company, the Jackson Entertainment Complex, in a 50-50 joint venture with Sony Software. The new company is producing Mr. Jackson’s new album, which Epic will release in June or July, said Mr. Mottola of Sony Music Entertainment, and will produce a series of short films for theatrical and music-video release based on songs from the album.
Mr. Jackson is currently negotiating with Sir Richard Attenborough, who made “Gandhi,” and Chris Columbus, the director of “Home Alone,” to direct two of the short films, Mr. Mottola said. He said other potential directors include David Lynch, the creator of “Twin Peaks,” and Tim Burton, the director of “Batman.” Creating New Record Label
The singer is also creating a new record label, called Nation Records, under the auspices of the Jackson Entertainment Complex. With it, “he will be developing new, young and budding talent, and he will be the magnet to attract superstars to leave their current recording company to come to Sony,” Mr. Mottola said.
Some analysts suggested that Sony might be taking a large risk in assuming that Mr. Jackson’s popularity will extend from records to other media. The only theatrical film in which Mr. Jackson appeared, “The Wiz,” was a flop, as were a line of Michael Jackson shoes produced by L.A. Gear and a toy series called Michael Jackson’s Pets.
“Michael Jackson is yesterday’s news,” said Stanley Lanzet, an analyst with Arnhold & S. Bleichroder in New York who tracked sales of the Jackson shoe line. “He’s not magic anymore.”
But Sony’s competitors in the entertainment industry were not so quick to criticize the deal. “I don’t think you’d ever bet against Michael Jackson,” said Joe Galante, the president of RCA Records.
Over the years, most of the publicized projects that were to have been a part of this deal never materialized. As to the various reasons why, that’s a complex issue that is really beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that Michael, who had been somewhat reluctant to re-sign with Sony to begin with, became an increasingly unhappy camper as the terms of his contract became more and more stifling. But as most of us know all too well, the hammer that really drove the final nail in the coffin was Sony’s lack of promotion for the Invincible album in 2001. By 2002, Michael Jackson was waging an all-out war with the label and president Tommy Mottola. The fallout from that feud would prove very difficult to overcome. The insider rumblings that had been festering at least as far back as 1991, when Michael signed the deal, came to a full head as Sony sought to convince the public (as well as many music industry insiders) that Michael was simply a spoiled star trying to take it out on his record company that his latest album had failed to sell (but again, the idea of Invincible as a “flop” was nothing more than a craftily executed, media myth that came to be accepted as truth via sheer repetition-tell the public the same lie enough times, and people will come to accept it as truth).
I remember quite well the way this story was handled by the media at the time. Every time there was any mention of it-whether it was on CNN, Entertainment Tonight, Hard Copy or any of those other pseudo “news/entertainment” shows, Michael was inavriably portrayed as a raving, paranoid lunatic. The interesting thing about this is that one could just as easily flip the coin and he becomes a hero and civil rights activist standing up for the rights of music artists-and especially black artists-against the corporate machine of the music industry. But the media’s refusal to portray him in that light had everything to do with the fact that the tabloid-inspired “Wacko Jacko” angle had already taken a firm hold, to the point that no medialoid outlet was willing to give him a fair shake-or even a fair benefit of the doubt.
Although a very long read, this article remains one of the best and most detailed in providing a complete breakdown of exactly what happened in 2001/2002 in regards to Sony’s sabotage of Invincible:
This was an article that originally appeared in The Mirror May on May 15th, 2002, and was reprinted on the website Michael Jackson’s House. What we clearly see here is the Sony and media spin on the feud in full swing (the excepts I’ve boldfaced) but despite this, some other, little-publicized facts of the time that the media wasn’t as keen to report, as it contradicted the myth they were trying to create (these passages I’ve boldfaced and italicized). While this article was one of the few to report the feud in a fair and balanced light, it was unfortunately part of a minority that was quickly drowned out by the negative propoganda machine being generated against Michael jackson in 2002:
MICHAEL Jackson and his record company boss Tommy Mottola are at war over the music legend’s fading career.
The self-styled “King of Pop” has sold more than 120million albums in a 24-year solo career with the giant Sony corporation but in an astonishing attack, Jackson, 42, accused the company’s chief Tommy Mottola of:
SABOTAGING his career by refusing to release any singles from his latest album Invincible, which would have helped world-wide sales of the struggling record, FAILING to advertise and promote the album during a record-breaking US television special about the superstar and WRECKING possible plans to sign a lucrative record contract with another label. Troubled Jacko has told close friends that he is disgusted with the treatment he has received.
A pal said: “Michael wants out of Sony, and he believes that some of the highest people in that company are hoping to make him pay the price for his disloyalty.
“The company has have stopped all promotion on the Invincible album, prevented him from releasing singles and basically sabotaged his career. “Jackson is furious at Mottola and any working relationship they had is now over”.
“They are the two most powerful men in music going head to head in an all out war.”
Poor sales of Invincible, the star’s seventh for Sony-owned Epic Records, has sparked the bitter row which has been kept a secret until now.
Mottola, 52, former husband of Mariah Carey, is probably the most powerful man in the music business.
Bob Dylan, Ricky Martin and Destiny’s Child are just some of the major stars on his Sony roster.
Jackson, however, has failed to recapture his 80’s popularity which saw his Thriller and Bad albums sell 52million and 25million copies to date.
Invincible, his first album in six years, went to No1 in the UK and US album charts, but sank without trace within weeks.
Now Jacko believes the feud has been triggered by his shrewd business ventures which will entitle him to 50 per cent of Sony’s revenue even if he leaves the record label.
In 1995 Jackson merged his music publishing catalogue, which contains more than 1,000 songs including 251 Beatles titles, with Sony’s publishing catalogue. Sony and Jackson share the cash in a 50-50 split of the catalogue earnings, which DOESN’T include his own albums.
Jackson fulfiled his contractual obligation to Sony by releasing Invincible – and a future greatest hits album – and wants to leave the company while still making a huge profit from them.
The source said: “Tommy Mottola is angered by all this to say the least. Michael believes that Tommy wants to make sure that all the time and money invested over the three-year Invincible project will be lost.
“Michael sees it as a punishment for him outsmarting the corporate minds of a record company that is already in financial difficulty.”
But music industry insiders say Jackson is merely the victim of his own bad career move.
One said: “Michael borrowed millions from Sony to make Invincible and the album has done so badly that he can’t raise enough money from sales to pay it back.
“Now Michael is blaming Sony for the poor sales, so he has a reason not to come up with the money.
“But Sony will have a cemented contract which will cover them. They are not even obliged to put up a billboard advertising his album if they don’t want to.”
Jackson appeared to be as popular as ever when he launched his album last October amid a blaze of publicity.
He staged two Jackson Five reunion concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden to mark his comeback. Both concerts sold out in FIVE hours grossing more than $12million.
The shows were then televised by CBS last November netting a record-breaking 26million viewers – the most watched TV speciality programme in that network’s history.
But sources claim that despite requests from the star his record company failed to place a television advert publicising his new album during the broadcast.
The insider said: “It was crazy. It was the perfect platform to sell the album to a massive TV audience.
“Sony claimed CBS had no airspace for the advert. Jackson again put in the request for a repeat airing of the show in January but they said there was no air space – this is bizarre when the show on TV is a Michael Jackson concert.”
Then Jackson recorded an all-star tribute to the Victims of September 11 which included stars such as Ricky Martin, Destiny’s Child, Shakira, Celine Dion and Gloria Estefan.
But despite the commercial power of such a line up Sony did not release the song, much to Jackson’s bewilderment.
The source added: “This song was to raise money for charity and there’s no doubt that it had so many stars involved that it could have been a success.
“Jackson offered to create a Sony Play- station game which would have attracted considerable interest.
“He also offered to participate in film ventures for Sony Pictures for no fee as a part of his own promotional effort.”
Neither offer was accepted, said the source.
Jackson’s sudden loss of popularity has baffled the music industry and fans alike.
His last major album, History, released in 1995, was the biggest selling double album of all time. He toured and sold out arenas around the world including the RDS in Dublin and Wembley Stadium for three nights.
Then in 1997 he released Blood On The Dance Floor as a re-mix album. Despite critics in the media branding it a failure, it was the biggest selling re-mix album of all time.
Yet by the end of March Sony had deleted Invincible from their international priority list of projects.
As a comparison, his last album History didn’t cease to be an international priority until more than TWO years after its release.
A source said: “Even if Michael walks out of Sony today he gets half the revenue that many of their artists are bringing in.
“That’s a bitter pull to swallow for bosses at the company who probably feel that Michael has outwitted them.
“In retaliation they are making it as difficult as possible for Michael to be appealing to any record company.
“Poor album sales, a lack of promotion and the frustration this will cause amongst fans will really hinder Michael’s ambitions.
“Lots of the fans have started to think that Michael is not interested in music any more and has given up.
“But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even when he launched Invincible late last year he was working around the clock to make it a success. He even staged a record signing in New York where thousands of fans got to meet him – he had never done that before.
“What has happened can not be put down to simple indifference.
“Only five years ago Michael was still on top of the pop world and selling millions of records. He is still regarded by people in the music industry as the most talented and gifted artist in the world.
“Record companies would still fall over themselves to sign him up and he has already received a number of high profile offers.
“It’s only a matter of time before Michael signs up with a new company and he’s determined to overcome this problem.
“Despite the rumours that have been created around him he is still determined to keep a high profile in the music business. Michael believes he is still a big player in the music business and all the facts to date would still suggest that.
“But because the album has dropped away so quickly many are presuming that Jackson has lost the old magic.
“It just doesn’t make sense that his new album has disappeared without trace.”
Despite the feud, Jackson has continued to command a high profile in the music world.
In January he was named the Artist of the Century at the prestigious American Music Awards.
In March he made an appearance as best man at childhood friend Liza Minelli’s wedding to David Gest.
Meanwhile, rumours have been circulating that he is in financial difficulty and struggling to pay off a number of loans.
It was recently revealed that he is so short of cash he had to pawn a pounds 1.4million watch to get a loan.
But Jackson, who owns a zoo and employs 120 staff at his Neverland ranch in California, insists that he has nothing to worry about. He added: “I’m comfortable and well looked after. I don’t have to worry about money.”
While I am sharing articles on this subject, I ran across something else very fascinating. On the blog Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner there is a posting aptly entitled How Michael Got Gangsta With Sony Music Over Black Music and Racism. Writing of Michael’s war against Sony, Davey D writes, “Call him weird, call him eccentric, but the man was no dummy…” However, what’s most interesting here is a 2002 article Davey D has reprinted from Ayana Soyini, who was in attendance at the music industry summit in Harlem at the National Action Network on July 9, 2002. The summit had been called by Rev. Al Sharpton, Michael Jackson, Johnnie Cochran, and several other “prominent people in the entertainment, legal,and political activist communities.” It was here that Michael delivered his very famous speech on racism and the music industry, the video of which is now universally recognized by its Youtube title “Michael Jackson, The Angry Black Man.” Aside from being a first-hand witness to this historical event, Soyini’s article is quite interesting as it also does a very thorough job of breaking down the “Lies” vs “the Truth” of how the media at the time was portraying the Jackson/Sony fued. Since I don’t have reprint rights to the article, I will simply provide the link where you can read it on Davey D’s blog (but please do check it out, as it’s a fascinating read!):
Without actually getting verbatim into what she wrote, Soyini’s article succesfully combats many of the “phantom myths” that Sony and the media were perpetuating and meets them head on with actual facts that succesfully rebut each and every one, including Myth #1: That Invincible was a commercial failure; Myth #2: That it was all just a “bizarre publicity stunt; Myth #3: That racism no longer exists in the entertainment industry; and Myth 4: That the Hollywood African-American community was not supporting Michael Jackson in this endeavor.
What emerges as we look at both Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson are two stars that the system fought very hard to keep “in their place.” Perhaps it’s arguable that in both cases, their childlike personas had set them up as easy potshots; certainly, it had created a situation where the media seemed to refuse to take them seriously. Whether it be their insistence on Marilyn as the eternal “dumb blonde” or Michael as “Wacko Jacko” they were in many similar ways entrapped by what had become their media images.
But in closing out this series, I’d like to return to the beginning. The movie My Week With Marilyn does have some flaws-if one is looking for a 100% accurate and factual portrayal of who Marilyn actually was. But as I think the movie makes clear, it isn’t intended as a 100% accurate depiction. What it does provide is a sense of why her appeal endures; it’s about the fantasy; the illusion. What draws us to certain celebrities? Why does the appeal of certain celebrities continue, sometimes even decades after their deaths? In the case of Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe, there is an Eternal Innocence that appeals to the child in all of us (for despite Marilyn’s very sexual image-and even Michael’s to a degree-it was always more about the playful innocence than the sex). But we do them both a grave disservice if we insist on pegging them as “childlike.” They were both highly intelligent business people who knew the in’s and out’s of the business, who knew instinctively how to negotiate their way to the top-and, unfortunately, had to learn how to fight the tough battles of industry retaliation. In both cases, their respective battles would leave them irreperably scarred.
And would leave us that much poorer for their innocence lost.