Michael Jackson: I Knew Him Because He Was My Mirror
I wrote this post about Michael Jackson in the early fall of '09, edited it a bit in October, and then let it languish in my drafts folder until now. Here it is, as it was originally written...
A bunch of us are going to see Michael Jackson's This Is It on October 28th. I started writing this blog post when I was listening to the Michael Jackson tapes on the Today Show and Dateline NBC a few weeks ago, but never posted it... As I'm getting ready to go watch his last official work, it seems like a good time to put these thoughts out there.
On these interviews they kept saying, "This is the Michael Jackson that no one knew." But why? I knew this Michael Jackson. Nothing that I have heard on these tapes has surprised me one bit. Yes, in 2005 with the second round of allegations, I was afraid that I had been lied to for years about who this man was. Absolutely. But anyone who was paying the smallest amount of attention would have had to know him in the way that he is portraying himself on these tapes, right? The world's eyes were always on him. How could they not know him?
These are the most obvious things to understand. That someone would seek fame because they want to be loved. That someone who had been abused and completely denied a childhood would have at least somewhat of an obsession with children and with those years before innocence is lost. How are these things at all shocking to people now? I don't understand it.
Something else that bothers me is that I still hear the interviewers asking whether or not he was gay with this hungry smirk in their voices. In 1987 this was a question that was filled with controversy, but twenty years later being gay isn't such a salacious thing. I hear them saying things like, "The world always wondered if he was even attracted to women." As if it would be such an awful thing if he wasn't? Come on. If you cling so desperately to the idea of him being straight, it's for your own selfish purposes, or so you can keep him in a certain perfectly labeled box in your mind. Everybody thinks they know. You don't. None of us know anything, and it's none of our business.
He never should have had to spend his life so lonely and alone. The entire world had the opportunity to know him, but it seems like everyone got so caught up in the tabloid-fueled slander and just let his flame flicker and die. All they cared about was tearing apart his eccentricities while they simultaneously consumed his art. I know that he does have millions of true fans, real fans, the kind who already know this guy who is captured on Rabbi Shmuley's tapes. I feel anger toward those who judged him so harshly. Again I'm not talking about the allegations, because the fear that this man may have harmed children is still real and justified. In life he may have been angry with those who accused him, but where he is now I'm sure he'd understand the public's fear. So no, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the other things that people get so caught up in. The wild animals, the plastic surgery, the marriages. We are allowed to live our lives, make our choices, have our addictions, get married, and get divorced. Why wasn't he allowed to without every little thing being attacked? Most of us would succumb to drug addiction too if we were subjected to such scrutiny. But even in death people are judging him for that.
Something I've learned from experience and from Michael Jackson is that if you are different, the world will treat you like dirt. They will say awful things to your face and behind your back. They will make you question who you are until you become so bitter and jaded that you lose yourself completely. The journey back from that is to learn to truly accept yourself, and to pretty much flip those haters off and move on with your life. If there was ever a part of me that cared what people thought, and there certainly was, it died on the day that Michael Jackson took his last breath. I have been rejected, I have been judged, I have been told that I am disgusting and ugly and that I don't deserve to live. And I am stronger for it. If you have something beautiful to share, the world will say it's ugly, and the challenge is for you to bring it to life anyway. To put it out there, champion it, and remember that God gave it to you and that the judgmental sections of your audience does not matter one bit.
I think ultimately, that's what the This Is It movie will end up being. Michael's final indulgence in his true calling, his final gift to the world, and the best of who he really was... an artist, a performer, and finally for the people to see and understand, a human being.
As I finished writing this, I had the thought that maybe the reason that I knew this Michael Jackson is because I saw myself in him. After he died, I saw very clearly that the reason I related to him was because I too felt like no one ever understood me. I was content with that, accepting of it... but as I grew up it changed from no one understanding me to people actually persecuting me for being the person that I am. I tried to change to make them happy; created a false self that still operates some of the time when I'm out in the world. It's the sweet me; the safe me. Michael Jackson gave the world that side much of the time, but he was constantly flirting with his darker side in his music and videos, and ultimately with the addictions that ended his life. I used to have a book that opened with a quote from him, something about all of us having deep dark secrets. This was early in his solo career. Late 70s I suppose. Sometimes I think the world would have understood him if only he had dared to share more of those deep dark secrets with us. Other times I think it's the world's fault for being so voraciously critical. The truth is always somewhere in between... But for me, all I can say is I knew him because he was my mirror.