Saturday, June 27, 2009

Never Had A Chance

This is the finest thing I've read about Michael Jackson's character and cultural significance, not just in the recent days since his death, but ever:

What Jackson made of himself must form part of any honest eulogy. Defendants wish to be found innocent of the charges. Jackson was no usual suspect. He wanted to be found innocent, through and through. Innocent of guile, of all bodily dross and urge. Innocent of adult experience. Instead he found himself, as he sequestered with the bones of the Elephant Man, merged physiognomy with Diana Ross, and bedded down with little boys, at some weird four corners of his own making, where the innocent and the sinister, the icon and the freak, all come together.

The falsetto speaking voice, the licorice eyes, hair steam ironed and Zambonied until it was straight. The skin—what? We still don’t know. Bleached? Blanched? Poached? The barely suppressed facial hair. Effacement, defacement, refacement, unfacement. What word could do justice to the creation, out of a perfectly normal human countenance, of the dilapidated faerie mask that MJ’s eventually became? It was as if the slightest concession to the normal human horizon would let in a besieging pain. To substitute for the childhood he never had, he picked, with uncanny accuracy, exactly those things that don’t substitute for an actual childhood. Amusement parks and toys—the placatory devices of the bad parent.

A genius; an angry dancer; a grotesque among grotesques. What to make of Jacksonian America, now that the King himself is dead? An immense and spectacular frenzy; an urgent celebration; the affect of triumph; at its center a derangement; beneath that, in all likelihood, nothing.

The adult MJ would have never been himself, good and bad, had his childhood not been stolen. His childhood was stolen by three things: his one-in-a-billion talent; his abusive, womanizing, and alcoholic father; his mother's church. That last thief, as it were, especially should not be underestimated.

It is hard for those not brought up as JWs to understand just how so totalitarian a religion fucks-up a child. Even those who convert as adults to JWism, then become recidivists back into "worldliness," can scarcely appreciate the degree to which the religion wreaks havoc on child's psyche:

When we were kids, we studied the Paradise book, which has such disgustingly frightening pictures of things like Jezebel being thrown to the dogs, or a Canaanite getting ready to toss a baby onto this fire in the lap of their idol. The worst was part of a big, panoramic picture of Armageddon: this little girl, her doll, her dog and her bicycle all falling down into this big chasm in the Earth. Gave me nightmares. It’s probably why I was afraid to learn how to ride a bike.

That's the one I was subjected to -- it was well out of date by my time, but my grandmother was old school JW -- and would have been the one the Jackson kids were tortured with as well.

Fear will fuck-up a childhood, which in turn will fuck-up -- everything else. Imagine being raised believing that the world will end any minute, and while you might or might not survive, definitely everyone you know or love who's not a member of your church will die horribly. Because Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Then remember the real, non-religious probability of Armageddon during MJ's childhood -- he would have been at about the age where memories begin to stick when JFK and Krushchev nearly blew up the world. Then, imagine, on top of that, being so scared of your father's beating that you feel like puking in his presence. Then, as icing on the cake, your Dad's not only violent but sadistic, doing things like sneaking into your room through an open window late at night, wearing a mask, terrorizing you into "learning a lesson" about the dangers of burglars. Imagine all that, then empathize: your pathology may not have been MJ's, the variety and degree of which wealth and celebrity afforded him (and sheltered him from the consequences of -- until the trials and then death). But you'd definitely be fucked-up somehow.

I pause my search for more percocet to note that Michael Jackson almost certainly died from drug abuse.