Thanks For The Thrill(er)s!
I don't have the snark in me today.
I had a nice eulogy planned for Farrah, about a young boy who through a combination of hormones and later, an appreciation of her character, loved a woman who never knew he existed. And then...well, now I have to write about two cultural signposts in America.
First, let me write about Farrah Fawcett. Farrah was the embodiment of what became known as T&A-BC television. Her single season on Charlie's Angels (the first crime drama to feature next to zero violence, we should point out) catapulted a nearly unknown Texas blonde from obscurity (absent the occasional shave commercial) to superstardom. If indeed the 70s could have a single pin-up girl, Fawcett more than lays claim to the title with her iconic poster.
She followed in the footsteps of actresses before her like Marilyn Monroe, turning her body into art and art into her body. Not nearly as talented as Monroe, she nevertheless managed to find roles later in her career that defined her craft to show she could act, and not just jiggle for the camera.
Fawcett paved the way for actresses to follow, from Suzanne Sommers to Lydia Cornell (a regular reader of this blog) to Christina Applegate to...well, whoever the blonde-du-jour of this decade is, probably Tara Reid.
By all accounts and like Monroe, she started out with trouble dogging her footsteps: a difficult marriage, paparazzi following her, and some antics better left unsaid. How many television stars and movie stars could have followed that script?
Fortunately, through love, she quieted and settled her life, and she lived a full and rich life, and died happy. What small comfort Ryan O'Neal can take from that, I hope it helps. she certainly changed his life, as well.
She became proud of who she was and she touched the world. We can only hope the same for all of us.
And now, to MJ.
It's difficult to write a eulogic piece for Michael Jackson. You can't ignore the musical genius or the fact that, well, like Astaire, the man could dance a bit. His artistic vision is legendary and the only thing we really need to note is Thriller is the best selling original album in history.
And you can't ignore the creepy side of him, the little boys, the outrageous behavior, the tragic attempts to be accepted as normal. It's very very hard to reconcile those.
I'll take a stab at it, being the observer of the human condition that any blogger should be.
People have variously claimed it was his childhood, the brutality of his father and the almost icicle-like passivity of his mother (after all, she didn't step up to protect her kids), that made him who he is. There is truth to this, but there's more, and no one really wants to look at the evidence.
When I think of Michael Jackson, I see a boy frozen in time in his adolescence, let's say thirteen or fourteen. He is, or was, exploring the world, and his boundaries.
And that's going to include seeing what he can get away with, and also coming to terms with his sexuality, without appreciating the extent of the consequences and that actions cause reactions. Too, his infantile (used without judgement) expressions of hope for peace and love and harmony in the world speak to me of someone who didn't really understand the world around him, who had a very naive view that, if we could each just ask ourselves to change our ways, we could feed the hungry, stop nuclear wars, unbreak hearts.
As he said in his signature song "Man In The Mirror." Curiously, that song also displays one shining moment of self-knowledge:
I've Been A Victim Of A SelfishKind Of LoveIt's Time That I RealizeThat There Are Some With NoHome, Not A Nickel To LoanCould It Be Really Me,Pretending That They're NotAlone?
And here, I think, we have to take a closer look at his life. Michael Jackson was literally the Boy In The Bubble, and it is here that I believe his life froze. Enormous success at a tender age, and he never really had to deal with the real world outside. He maintained the naive world view that all pre-teens have. Ironically, he saw things in "Black Or White."
Indeed, in that song, we see the strange dichotomy of MJ's life:
I Took My Baby
On A Saturday Bang
Boy Is That Girl With You
Yes We're One And The Same
[...]And I Told About EqualityAn It's TrueEither You're WrongOr You're Right
You're not black or white, but you are right or wrong. The strange collision of divergent ideas is the hallmark of adolescent thinking, and being unable to reconcile two opposite ideas defines the frustration that teens feel. You feel an urge, but must fight it because the world tells you its wrong, but you feel the urge strongly, but the world tells you its really wrong, but you really want to do it, but you can't.
Coddled and protected (except from his father), Jackson viewed the world around him from behind a clear wall. Unable to touch and unable to be touched by the world, he relied wholly on his handlers.
It's clear that some of these handlers had other agendas and those agendas did not put the needs of this child first. When he did badly, as all children do, he was not punished but protected from the consequences. When he was punished, it was violently, abusively, and painfully, but it was not punishment for what he did, but what he was: a freak of nature, a boy with a man's soul and a woman's voice. He was an emotional hermaphrodite growing in a forcedly androgynous body.
That he ended up touching growing boys inappropriately was inevitable. It's not an excuse, but a description, for Jackson certainly had the resources to find the help he so desperately needed. For that, we can be angry at him.
But we cannot hate him and I suspect this is the problem the US media is having with his death. Because the mainstream media had such great sport with this tragic car crash of a life, making cruel jokes at his expense and tut-tutting the obvious pain he felt, they never took a really close look at him. They never looked at the man in the mirror.
At his death, we see this discontinuity in the coverage. If instead of mocking his weakness and urging him to find the help he needed, to break out from behind his handlers and let the world just love him, we could have focused on his genius.
Instinctively, his audience knew the pain. We may have all made fun at his expense, and in that we all bear a measure of responsibility, but we knew the jokes rang hollow.
That hollowness was chalked up to the subject matter: pedophilia, which should be shunned. As a victim of sexual abuse myself, I can tell you that I would want my attacker sent to prison for the rest of his life. To me, that would be justice, but I also know that I speak from my anger and my fear, and the greater part of me, the better angel, begs that my attacker be studied and understood, so that in some small way his story can help us find treatment for and more important, prevention of, future attacks on defenseless children.
In truth, the hollowness we felt in telling those jokes about MJ was more fundamental than that: he was sick and we knew it, and we watched in horror as he swirled down the toilet that was his personality.
MJ, I pray that you find the forgiveness in death that your home could not give you. For my part, I've spent the last half day contemplating your music and your genius, and your pain.
One final note on the death of Michael Jackson: it is possible in death he will have accomplished the rehabilitation he was unable to find in life. If my suspicions regarding the circumstances of his life bear out to be true, his death will focus a spotlight strongly on the abuse of not only prescription medicines, but steroids. Based on the fact he was training with Lou Ferrigno to strengthen his fragile body for his upcoming farewell concert grind, I have few doubts that in some form, steroids were used to enhance his muscles, and give him more stamina.
If his death can make kids realize it's not just professional athletes who die after their careers are over who are affected by steroids, but even superstars who look nothing like the bloated giants of the NFL.
In this, he may touch millions of kids. The right way.