A Tribute to Michael Jackson
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A Tribute to Michael Jackson
“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)
In the days immediately following his tragic death, almost all commentators chose to focus on the ostensible polarity of Michael Jackson’s legacy: “a genius in his art, but a disturbed human being.” If mainstream gurus are good at anything, it is turning truth on its head and, in the process, eviscerating all that is pure. It is not in Michael Jackson’s musical artistry that his foremost greatness consists, but it is in fact in his beautiful humanity. His music is only just one manifestation and expression of that humanity. Most eulogies have had it all backwards. Michael’s legacy is not limited to an artistry that is somehow soiled by a troubled or troubling life. Michael’s greatest legacy is his loving character and the lessons it teaches us, through his ultimately tragic life, about the true face of an often brutal and ugly world.
In Michael Jackson, we see innocence and purity rarely seen in an adult. Jackson’s “childlikeness” is perplexing to many people, but it is precisely this trait that sets him apart from an adult world that has learned so effectively to be cold and calculated, smart and shrewd, proper and professional. Adults seeking to improve themselves would need only to emulate Michael and become more childlike.
If Michael was guilty, his sin (borrowing Dylan’s prophetic words) was that he knew and felt too much within. People who feel deeply often seem odd or insane, but, like Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, their superficial lunacy usually conceals a deep understanding of the human heart. Michael’s intense capacity to feel allowed him to be a loving, caring and responsive human being. He was far more capable of love than are most adults. Unfortunately, this acute sensitivity also made Michael extremely vulnerable and susceptible.
Michael’s bizarre appearance and eccentric behavior were, paradoxically, far more sensible than the “normal” behavior of most “normal” people within the confounding context of a world that is itself upside down. All of Michael’s strange gestures and attitudes make perfect sense given one profound premise – that the world is pure, innocent and harmless. Of course those of us who have “grown up” have learned that the world is not pure, innocent or harmless. Hence the tragedy of Michael Jackson. His actions seem irresponsible and disturbing when interpreted through the categories of a deranged world, but they were almost always selfless and innocuous.
The truth is, Michael had the eyes and heart of a child who saw in one dimension – that of pure love. When he saw that someone desired something from him, he gave selflessly, paying no heed to logical consequences or reasonable caution. The dictates of propriety and convention were, as they ought to be, totally subordinated to the dictates of love. It made perfect sense to him to give joy to others, even if this exposed him and his own actions to spiteful, selfish manipulation and ridicule by others.
Michael was not willing to assume, as most adults are conditioned to do, that someone he approached could have a tarnished nature. He gave others the benefit of the doubt, approaching them as if approaching angels and children. When he met demons, thus, he was utterly exposed and likely devastated. This (i.e., the sudden realization that the person he had hoped was an angel could in fact be so malevolent), no doubt, brought him much suffering. Michael never allowed himself, it seems, to draw the seemingly rational and sensible conclusion that most adults have drawn from repeated experience: that the world is generally malicious. In other words, Michael’s purity was such that if he met nine people, all of whom turned out to be vile, he would still greet the tenth as an angel. This defies reasonable human logic, but remains steadfast in its adherence to the greater logic of divine love.
Michael surrounded himself with children not because he was perverted, but because he saw in them the hope for a world which had grown to be far too mature. What he loved in children was the “purity of heart” of the Beatitudes. He tried desperately – in only seemingly irrational ways – to protect this adolescent purity from a world whose hideous cruelty he felt in his very own flesh. If the fact that he saw nothing wrong in expressing love toward children in emotionally intimate ways attests only to his purity, our inclination to assume that he was a pedophile and our willingness to assume that love is a pathological deviation can only attest to our essential impurity. In a world that has fallen to pieces, it only makes sense that (to quote Dylan once again) what’s bad is good, what’s good is bad. Thus, love is a pathological disturbance, whereas cold, rational remoteness defines the new “humanity.”
Michael created and surrounded himself with a world fit for a child because he felt that this is the ideal we should aspire to – an ideal that we so woefully fail to live up to. It was also, incidentally, a way for him to compensate for the pain that was so ever-present to him – the pain of his past and present, the pain of his visceral, personal experience. Michael was sensitive – perhaps hyper-sensitive – and in so being, he felt far more directly and deeply than most others do. Agony led Michael to an absolute moral response. However unrealistic and idealistic it might seem to a practically minded adult, this response – this Neverland world that eradicated the pain of reality through one sweeping contradiction – was totally reasonable for Michael. Michael was the perfect mixture of a child’s innocence and an old-man’s sagacity. He saw both much less and much more than the average person does. Quincy Jones was therefore profoundly astute when he famously described Michael as both the oldest and youngest man he knew.
The Bashir Interviews: Casting Pearls before Swine
When I first watched Martin Bashir’s notorious “Living with Michael Jackson” special, first aired in 2003, I could not help but cry. I felt as though I was witnessing the public humiliation, flogging and crucifixion of a helpless child. My first thought was, “why did Michael agree to do this? He should have refused!” Upon some reflection, however, I realized that Michael was willing to expose himself (repeatedly) to Bashir’s sadistic onslaught precisely because of who he was. Michael assumed Bashir’s intentions were pure. He wanted to believe that Bashir would not manipulate what had been said, and that the journalist’s wish was simply to share the truth with the world. Why not believe this to be the case? Why assume that the interviewer’s instincts could be self-interested or impure? Would that not be admitting that the world is ugly – that the world is not and will never be Neverland?
The contrast between Bashir and Michael really could not be greater. Bashir went out of his way to appear reasonable and measured. Michael, on the other hand, had little regard for how he appeared. His main concern was the truth of how he felt. To many people he appeared “crazy.” The truth, of course, was just the opposite. Bashir was consistently cynical, sardonic, judgmental, and seemed to exhibit a pathological indifference when, again and again, he picked at Michael’s raw, open wounds. He showed no regard for the human heart and its anguish. If he had any concern for Michael’s torment, perhaps he was too proud to show it. Bashir concealed his cruelty behind a façade of intelligent, reasonable and intellectual professionalism, as if he were merely a skilled journalist in the disinterested pursuit of truth. But it is when things sound perfectly civilized and appear so prim and proper that we should be most wary and suspicious. If we pay close attention, we see that Michael possesses the genuine and good heart and is quite reasonable in all he stands for, whereas Bashir is the true sociopath.
Bashir conducts his hurtful interviews all the meanwhile adhering to the highest professional protocol and journalistic etiquette. At one point in the broadcast, Bashir reflects: “Confronting Michael wasn’t going to be easy, but now it had to happen,” as if this shift to difficult personal subject matter were the result of some inescapable logic, which dictates that truth must be unearthed, whatever the human toll. It is not relevant or important to Bashir how personal the truth may be, whether it has any important humane or useful significance to anyone, or what the human consequences of the pursuit of that truth might be. The single thing that matters is the successful exposure of facts, which will presumably secure for Bashir great pride among his peers. The value of supreme objectivity in the persistent pursuit of truth evidently outweighs the value of a real human being.
In yet another disingenuous attempt to establish his superior ethical and professional credentials, Bashir explains that his questioning is inspired by a “worry” for Michael’s children. Meanwhile, Michael sits and writhes in obvious discomfort. Seeing this, Bashir, ever the objective scientist in hot pursuit, does not desist but rather intensifies his inquest. Michael, the victim, is increasingly desperate and begins to crack. His humanity is bared for all to see. Michael’s legs tremble with anxiety. Under duress, Michael opens up and his emotions spill over. He laments a crazy world in which children are given guns and computers even as they are deprived of human contact and compassion. Defenseless in his innocence, and so pure that he cannot fathom the foul logic of mature reason, Michael describes the act of sharing one bed with a child as an expression of care and love. How fair-minded propriety dictates that care and love are in fact deviant behavior is rightly incomprehensible to him.
“Why does it mean so much to you?” asks Bashir, seemingly concerned. But there is a just barely palpable accusatory tone: “Wouldn’t a normal, rational person care less…? Perhaps you care so much because you are demented or perverted…?” The proper question, of course, is how anyone could ever be indifferent to the plight of children in an alienating world? How could anyone care less? Bashir’s rationality has itself become a pathological deviation. Bashir stands in judgment over a phenomenon he cannot understand, because he has grown up beyond where he could ever comprehend the simplicity of a pure heart. His logic is far too sophisticated and proud. When we have grown up to the point where we are actually capable of dispassionately analyzing a tragedy without breaking down and crying about it, we have then truly lost our humanity. Erecting ideals like Neverland in an effort to cope with dismal reality is not a moral failure. Properly seen, it is just a symptom of or testament to the pathological state of the world. The moral failure is the dismal reality itself.
Bashir is the sort of person who could stab a person and, with cool and calm demeanor, go on to ask why the victim is in pain. He is “disturbed” by Jackson’s ostensibly eccentric behavior and “concerned” for the children, all the meanwhile inflicting psychological torture on the father. The manipulative journalist exploits Michael’s sensitivity. He throws Michael off balance and then points to his angst as evidence of character flaws. At times his interrogation borders on sadism. Knowing it will open painful wounds, he nevertheless pries into Michael’s demons. Perhaps what Bashir was really looking for in his ideal subject was a cold hard rock rather than a human being. What he found instead was a saint.
By Filip Panusz