I’m a guy with a lot of opinions, and sometimes, I talk about them a lot before I decide to write them down. These words have their genesis in the moment when I heard the news of Michael Jackson’s passing. Michael Jackson was an incredible artist, a driven and gifted performer, and the kind of talent America produces but twice a century. His music was the unifying element in all of our lives–if you lived in North America and didn’t live in a commune somewhere in the Ozarcs (those are in North America, right), you not only heard his music, but you knew and respected the craft behind it. Mr. Jackson was, simply and frankly speaking, one of the most talented people to grace the face of this earth.
Which is why what happened to him and what made him into the person he was at the end of his life is all the more poignantly tragic. A brief word of warning: I can feel this article getting philosophical already, so you’ll really have to bear with me through these points. Another disclaimer: I neither know nor claim to have any knowledge of any criminal activity on Mr. Jackson’s part, but will instead examine events as can only be summarized by an outside observer. Simply, I’m just basing what I’m saying off of what was in public.
As I said when I started this article, Michael Jackson was truly a gift in the world of pop music. Even as a child, his talent and charisma were undeniable. Indeed, they were so undeniable that his father made his children into a band and made Michael–the youngest and most sensitive boy of the group–into the lead singer. And this isn’t an inherently malicious decision. This was seeing talent and wanting to share it with the world. If my son grows to be even a tenth as talented as Michael, you better believe I’m putting him on stage. But it was what happened offstage that made Michael Jackson, the young and gifted performer, into Michael Jackson, the reclusive and drugged up former star.
Michael Jackson was the victim of particularly awful negligence as a child. I can only speak to one thing I heard first hand testimony of: that when the band would tour, Michael would share a room with one or two of his brothers who would busy themselves by having sex fewer than ten feet away from a ten year old child. This alone speaks to the kind of cavalier attitude the Jackson family took toward its most talented member. It also says a number of things about what Michael must have been thinking later in life. I know that if I were the victim of neglect such as that, I would see that as the last time in my life when I was happy. In as few words as possible, I empathize with Michael Jackson. I see why he would crave to get back to his childhood in later years, trying to build new relationships with other child stars in Hollywood. The problem is that by the time he wanted to get back to his childhood, he was an adult and we expected him to act like one–even though that was something he’d never learned.
And the reason we expected him to act like an adult despite stealing the possibility of a normal life from him is simple: we’re assholes. We like it when people who are much higher than we are fall to their personal and inevitable doom. The day before he died, Michael Jackson was still a living punchline. If you started a joke and forgot how to end it, you could always just say “Michael Jackson” and count on a laugh. We mocked him senselessly, carelessly, every day of our lives. We did it casually. Why? What was so appealing about making a target out of someone that talented and driven? Now, I realize he was also seen in the public eye as a criminal, but we do this to other people too. Most recently, the Charlie Sheen craze swept the nation, proving that it doesn’t matter when the person became famous–as long as they’re famous and slowly descending into madness or depression, we’re entertained.
I feel so guilty to even be a part of a society that takes celebrity as some catch-all license to do whatever we want to a person. There are people online every day who take it as their purpose to belittle and trash celebrities with no other justification than “They’re famous, they should be used to it!” Why should any person be accustomed to regular abuse? We’ve seen what it does to people, we’ve seen what the constant excesses and abuses that come with fame do to people, time and again, and all we do is do more of it. All we do is keep publishing our gossip mags, keep exposing secrets and keep tearing these people down with no other reasoning than the fact that it’s amusing to see them fall.
Well, I want to say, right now, I don’t want to be a part of this. I don’t want to be a part of a society built entirely upon entertaining itself with the failures of others. And I know that a lot of my friends will take their time to say to me after reading this that they don’t really hurt people when they make fun of them to friends or traffic gossip columns or watch Jersey Shore. I understand that when you get home, you want to watch something stupid and funny–but why does it have to be something cheap and trashy, too? But why does it have to be something built upon our desire to see people fail? Maybe it’s because I’m an utter asshole, but I don’t like watching people spiral out of control, and I don’t like watching people be reduced to shut-ins and drug addicts. I don’t enjoy it when I see famous people fall.
Cos it just makes me feel like helping them up. Yeah–even Michael Jackson.