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.
Sensationalism sells. Truth is often boring.
Boring, yes. But also, real.