Sunday, June 28, 2009

Reflections: Did Michael Jackson Die for Your Sins?

I will state at the outset that I am not a fan of pop music; my tastes run much more to rock, blues, jazz, and R&B. I have never purchased a Michael Jackson recording, and can't recall ever having voluntarily listened to a whole Michael Jackson song. Involuntary exposure has, however, inevitably, been considerable.

All disclaimers out of the way, having watched several hours of MJ coverage last night, I've become convinced of the high intelligence beneath the surface weirdness of the guy. What is not clear to me is to what degree that intelligence was in contact with reality. If, for instance, the Jackson family father was truly the brutal monster that Michael portrays, why wasn't he stopped? If Michael is the biological father of "his" children, why do none of them show any physical evidence of being mixed-race children? Does he believe that he is the father? How can he believe that his behavior with young boys was appropriate even if there truly was no sex involved? Earth to Michael!

Michael Jackson has many high profile protectors and defenders and I have to respect their obvious love for Michael as being based on very real positive qualities which transcend his musical genius. That said, why did they enable his unacceptable conduct and his debilitating drug use? Did they all need him more than he needed them? Were they afraid to lose him if they confronted him with it? Liza, for one, knows all about drug dependency, from both first- and second-hand experience in her own life. Where was she in all of this?

It would seem that Michael Jackson most resembles Elvis in having been surrounded by enablers: every important person in his life can be reduced to the status of a hanger-on by his/her inability to manifest and enact any life-saving tough love for the poor man.

Finally then, the question becomes: would Michael (Off the Wall) have been Michael (Thriller) without that tragic element? Did he have to live as he lived (Bad) in order to satisfy our cultural jones (Dangerous) for the sensational? Did Michael Jackson need to die for our collective sins?
Update (h/t Madscribe: Madonna's take on it.


Mad said...

Ultimately, Rodak, I have to say, who gives a fuck about celebrity deaths? I'm sorry to see any human being go, and I liked MJ's music as much as anyone in my generation. But so fucking WHAT?!?!?!?

I am SOOOO disgusted with the Mainstream Media (including your friend at that OTHER blog) and its fucking infantile repetitious bleating about NOTHING.

Isn't it a shame that the struggle of people in Iran, and other REAL news about the human condition, gets booted from mainstream consciousness because one fucking pop singer kicks the bucket? Thankfully, the revolution doesn't have to be televised, it can be twittered and we can shut the fucking useless Western media out of it.

America's goddamned newspapers and news networks aren't dying fast enough for my tastes, and that includes the bullshit "fair and balanced" News Corps and its various tentacles.

"I know that this is vitriol/No solution/spleen venting/
But I feel better having screamed/ Don't you?" ---Michael Stipe

Mad said...

"If Chaplin was inspired by the two world wars and the Depression, Michael had the Gulf War and the post-Woodstock yuppie punks to cater to. The gizmos he used onstage were those in-your-face things that appealed to the me-too generation of pretender beatniks." --- Farzana Versey

William R. Barker said...

Well... I hate to see needless tragedy and Jackson's later life was certainly filled with that.

I don't think the guy was a pedophile. Weird...? Yeah. Duh! But a pedophile...??? Perhaps it's just that I don't want to believe it - which I don't - but whatever the truth is, the guy was found not guilty at trial.

(Yeah, yeah... so was OJ... I know...) (*SHRUG*)

Yep. Like Elvis, Jackson's downward spiral was enabled.

Here's the thing... at 47 I'm pretty much a Jackson contemporary. I mean... I remember the Jackson 5 Saturday morning cartoon! I used to watch it!

Mad... you know I'm broadly with you when it comes to focus, but on this one... yeah... it "matters" that Jackson basically killed himself in the same way it "mattered" that Elvis did the same and Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe...

Some folks are just "bigger than life" and Jackson was one of those folks.


Rodak said...

Thanks for the comments guys. I've been away for four days, while my 90-year-old mother was having cancer surgery. But I'm semi-back now. My daughter is burning some Michael Jackson tunes for me even as I type. I'm going to give the music a chance.

Mad said...

Instructions for your daughter:

Any singles from 1969 up to Thriller (including albums with his brothers, particularly Triumph and Destiny).

Absolutely NOTHING from the Victory album except Jackson's duet with Mick Jagger.

Half of the "Bad" album, half of "Dangerous," 1/4 of "History" and practically none of his last from 2001.

Mad said...

Oh, and God speed to your mother's recovery ...

William R. Barker said...

Yep. Best wishes for a full recovery for your mom.


Rodak said...

Thanks, guys.

Anonymous said...

the head and closing line of this piece match and raises a provocative question.

however, nothing else relates to the 'teaser copy'.

it would seem MJ died by a kind of assisted suicide. there was certainly a passel of enablers about that one can point fingers at. ultimately, Jackson was responsible for his own destiny.

the screaming fainting fawning public came out of the woodwork because people like to flock to the scene of an accident and be filmed while they're at it.

and the media will find any excuse to shirk their responsibility.

the height of his fame was 20 years ago. so how does one postulate that today's mourners and said sins of said mourners CAUSED MJs death in 2009?

your piece speaks more to childhood abuse suffered at the hands of his father than how he may have suffered at the hands of his fans.

Rodak said...

While it has become increasingly obvious, even since I posted this piece, exactly how MJ died, why he died and how much pressure he felt from the public to push certain behavioral limits, remains a cloudy area. I feel that that pressure did exist, and that his videos, album titles, stage costumes, and certain song lyrics, are indicative of it. I would have made my closing paragraph longer, and more anecdotally rich, if I had known more about MJ; I did not.
My header asks a question, and the question remains to be answered.

Anonymous said...

MJ was definitely pressured by his upcoming 50-concert schedule. As a perfectionist (meaning the impetus to succeed and perform well comes from within), he would no doubt have wished dearly to do his gosh darn best to meet his own expectations as well as that of his audience.
From the looks of his rehearsal clips I believe he would have met the mark. His mark. Albeit in a more subtle nuanced performance tailored to his 50 years.
It remains tenuous at best to cast the "blame" on his fans as - for my money - they were nascent until very recently when his comeback tour was announced.
We may never know the inter-related psychological aspects of Fan to Idol in MJs case. I'm sure it will be explored in time.
As a thesis set in the here and now - it doesn't hold water IMHO and it would seem you've copped to same:-)

Rodak said...

I fully agree that we will never know the why of MJ's self-destruction. We can only regret it.

Anonymous said...

Why blame his fans, then?

Rodak said...

His fans were undeniably, I think, part of the mix; as were his friends; as was his family; as was the zeitgeist...

The fact that he apparently told Lisa Marie Presley that he was destined to die young, like her father, is telling.

Anonymous said...

It's all telling - and yet not as it is with anyone.

("The fact that apparently he told Lisa Marie" -- what's up w/ your confusion? If you don't accept the middleman's message, then go to the source or don't cite it. Bec. as it is, "the fact that apparently" is not a rebut.)

You've based your piece - rather, the head and close - on the premise that:

MJ Died for Your Sins.

Your being the fans + Sins being causal ergo Fans + Sins = MJs death.

Now you've pulled in his friends, family, doctors, employees and other hangers on to round out the picture. (Oh, sorry I forgot to include the nebulously defined "zeitgeist"!)

Micheal died. Not much about that breaking news headline has changed.

I guess what I'm really poking holes at here is that as the author of this piece you seem to have a need to blame someone. And, not just the fans, and not just for MJs death.

IOW, without building a good case, you make yourself look like one instead.

Oh, I know -- You'll have a very well thought out zeitgeisty reply off your pen in no time:-)

Rodak said...

Now you've pulled in his friends, family, doctors, employees and other hangers on to round out the picture.

"Now" I've pulled them in? The whole post was about them and their role from the git-go.
And you keep using the word "blame." The blame is on Michael himself, ultimately. My post is asking how much MJ's self-destruction was enabled by the combination of factors contributing to it, and how much it was actually encouraged by those factors. His death did not occur in a vacuum, nor did he die of "natural causes."
As for the zeitgeist, if you can fit an operational and inclusive description of it into a comment box, be my guest: [this space reserved]
To paraphrase Louis Armstrong on the subject of jazz: "If you have to ask what the zeitgeist is, you will never understand it."

Anonymous said...

Zeit⋅geist  [tsahyt-gahyst] Show IPA
–noun German.
the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

Anonymous did not ask for a definition of zeitgeist. And, used it properly (in context) in my last reply.

Perhaps you were looking for an excuse to try out one of your studied and all to handy quotes from your heroes?

Your piece did mention the hangers on...and yes, he didn't die in a vacuum. That goes without saying.

Obviously, some one in his circle of friends and family might have reached out to Michael and helped him deal with his issues. It would seem Michael's particular problems were too deep and entrenched for this to happen if indeed people tried.

I'll just go back to my earlier point - albeit rephrased:

Michael suffered deeply in his lifetime. Much of it was self-imposed. Much of it came from without. He did not survive bec. of some combination of factors which we as onlookers are left to speculate about.

The "fans" are certainly 'in the mix' - still, I think you've weighted your piece in a way that suggests it is the fault of the fans. And, yes you pose the same insistent question we all do: Why didn't he get help?

It's nice to see at least that you would cast ultimate responsibility for his life on Michael.

I know you will want the last word. Amen:-)

Rodak said...

I know you will want the last word.

Not at all; you've plumbed the subject to its furthest depths.

If you would like to give it more thought, there is this: my header suggests that some might be making a claim that there was something redemptive in Michael Jackson's death. Was there?

Anyway, good luck to you when you resume your studies in the Fall.

Anonymous said...

Oh grasshopper,
Thanks for the invite tho once again I'm at left to the work of parsing your oblique refs.

Good luck w/ studies in the fall?

Awfully professorial, no?

If you feel "redemption" vis the MJ story is a meaty enough theme to warrant another go, have at it.

I could care less on any score.

Anonymous said...

As I was saying, Michael was Michael's own worst enemy:

Rodak said...

Michael was Michael's own worst enemy:

Good article. Thanks for the link.
Yes, any addict--or other type of self-destructive personality--is, by definition, his own worst enemy. If he is to be saved, then, it must be by intervention from without. Michael didn't get it. They let him push them away when intervention was attempted in order not to be exiled completely or permanently.
As for the hideous physical changes Michael put himself through, those were done for the benefit of an audience (real or imagined). There again, he was enabled where he should have been stopped.
If you see somebody in the act of committing suicide--no matter how symbolic it seems to be at any given time--your responsibility to your common humanity is to stop that person. To say that a person is self-destructive is not to say that his tragedy takes place in a vacuum.

Anonymous said...

those were done for the benefit of an audience (real or imagined)...

The above is not supported by you nor has it been mentioned recently as a contributing factor in MJs demise. This is IMO a false, unsubstantiated claim.

What has been posited recently and during the period of the Beshir interviews is that MJ may have suffered from BDD, body dysmorphic disorder.
Link to Wikipedia entry here:

Sufferers of BDD are the only ones who believe they need to change their looks and frequently undergo serial plastic surgery to fix themselves.

There IS evidence in the body of research to suggest that BDD sufferers for whatever reason "see" themselves differently which leads them to conclude they look like monsters - eventually they become shut-ins like MJ. (But, yes they can be treated.)

Because people w/ BDD are NOT deformed they are of course not subjected to ridicule by the external world.

MJ of course was a cute kid. And, he was a good looking grown man until he started tinkering.

His fans and the press accepted MJs increasingly bizarre behavior until he just got too creepy for most to "follow". As this article suggests, people left him alone which further suggests there was no enabling involved. His fan base withered away out of attrition. He wasn't making records, not on tour for most of the last 20 years. That's hardly a symbiotic relationship bet. fan and idol.

Again, as the article suggests, MJ was eerily out of step with today's pop stars and celebrities.

...They let him push them away when intervention was attempted in order not to be exiled completely or permanently...

Re the above quote and the idea of "intervention" - Again, you don't know this. And, again, this is not something that has been talked about. You hear the Jackson's doing some cover-your-ass -- you hear accusations that he was murdered as opposed to committing suicide.

You don't hear: We tried and tried and tried and came real close but...Michael was XXX - too far gone, too strong for us, etc.

I don't think the Jackson family tried to intervene. I think MJ was alone for many years before his death and lived in drug addiction and hypochondria - estranged from the real world.

Latoya and Janet are very rich women with their own careers and entourages and planetary circles.

They're also grown ups with their own lives - If Michael continually resisted contact, then after a few decades one gets the message and stays away.

So - back to square one - Michael did this to Michael. The supporting cast while not perfect is not to blame.

Anonymous said...

Um, except for the role the Doctors played in this drama.

They should and may well be held accountable for a string of medical practice infringements.

As mentioned earlier, I see their role with Michael as destructively co-dependent - beyond enabling - which veered into the criminal.

MJ was essentially suicidal; and the doctors may well have assisted him in his quest to end his life.

Rodak said...

Okay. Whatever you say.

Starwynde_ryder said...

In the past few months, I have been asking myself why the death of Michael Jackson had come to mean so much to me.. In truth, I hadn't bought a Michael Jackson cd or really listened to one of his songs since the early nineties. I'd never attended one of his concerts or knew about the countless fan clubs. But then he died and I was shocked, saddened and really, really pissed.Why?
Then it dawned on me---Michael had a death wish. Whatever demons haunted him, he simply grew tired of trying to deal with them and wanted out. When he reportedly told his then-wife, Lisa Marie Presley that he believed that"he would die early, like her father, Elvis", I knew he had reached the point of no return.

To that end, the question of fault of blame becomes moot. The fans, the family, the abuse,the media, the pressures, the accusations--the list is endless.I suppose that one could make an arguments for any or all of these things being factors.
His family staged interventions, his friends committed him to rehab, yet bags of prescriptions were found in his home, staggering bills were owed to pharmacies and bevies of doctors were treating him. Michael was rich enough, stubborn enough and placated enough to have any and everything he wanted.

It just gets my goat that, someone with the ambition, the drive and the talent to get as far as Michael did, would carve himself up mercilessly, looking for some non-existent ideal of perfection,and gather fawning toadies and yes- men to himself,including doctors who would rather push drugs then tell him that they wouldn't be party to his systematic suicide. Ultimately,
Michael was responsible for his life and a catalyst for his death.
Yet, I miss him. And I'm angry.

Rodak said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
It now seems obvious that Michael Jackson's death was not an event so much as it was a process. This process took place, in part, in public; in part in deep seclusion. Michael Jackson was full of contradictions which just cannot be reconciled so as to make sense.
My original post was not intended so much to lay blame on "his public" for Michael Jackson's pathological behavior, as it was to suggest that each member of his public should reflect upon his or her own conduct as it may have contributed to the phenomenon that was the self-destructive rise and fall of Michael Jackson.
What do we do when we create a "super-star?" And why do we do it?

Starwynde_ryder said...

Well said, Rodak. We humans have an insatiable need, it seems, to create demi-gods for our pleasure and gratification and ultimate worship. But, when they prove to be no more divine or omnipotent than we are, we begin to tear them down. I never understood why celebrities had to fear being ripped apart or crushed by people who, supposedly, adored them. Then, reading about one of the Jacksons early tours in London, I learned that they had clumps of hair snatched from their heads, one of the brothers was badly bruised by his "fans", and Michael, himself, lost a shoe, and was nearly strangled, when fans took hold of his scarf from both ends and began pulling. If he hadn't put his hand under it and screamed, he might have died right there in the airport. What were they seeking---souvenirs, or talismans? Madness!

Despite episodes like that, Michael craved stardom and recognition. His brothers married, divorced, raised children and fell into relative obscurity.But Michael was a moth-to-a-flame in his quest. He talked about "loving" his fans, but complained about his lack of privacy when he toured. What did he expect?

In the final analysis, none of this really matters, I suppose, There are no more banner headlines about him. The memorial and funeral are both history. Michael was buried as he had lived; sequestered, inaccessible,away from prying eyes and curiosity seekers. Perhaps we may have to stomach his resurgence, if Dr. Conrad Murray is ever brought to trial, though I sincerely hope not. Michael Jackson is dead. Let him remain so. It's way past time to let him go.

BTW, Rodak, forgive me for making this a post script, but I offer my prayers for your mother for a full recovery. Some things are worth praying for.

Rodak said...

You express your thoughts very clearly and make a lot of sense. I would like to read more of your writing.
I thank you for your prayers, they are most appreciated.

Rodak said...

May I ask, btw, how you knew about my mother's condition?

Starwynde_ryder said...

There was mention of your ninety year old mother undergoing cancer surgery, in one of the blogs. I sincerely hope that wasn't private information that someone thoughtlessly leaked. I have no wish to intrude, though I offer prayers to any who will except them,in my belief that they will be heard. I do apologize if I overstepped by bounds. And I thank you for your comments. I have a questionable need to speak my mind, but often have to "curb" my enthusiasm, as it were. As of late, I seem to be everywhere with my observations and comments about Michael, but, I should heed my own advice and let him go. I WILL try.

Rodak said...

No, no, you haven't overstepped your bounds at all. I had forgotten that I mentioned her surgery in one of the comment exchanges. I just now went back and found it. Obviously, everything published on my blog is for anybody's eyes. Otherwise, I would restrict access.
I thank you again. Your caring is a blessing.