It would be totally ok if I never developed or expressed an opinion about Michael Jackson. He stopped being appropriately interesting as a public figure twenty years ago (like everyone else I loved those two albums), and now that he’s returned to biomass (ashes and dust, in the old diction) he’s at one with all the other fertilizer. But this video at Crooked Timber triggered a thought to dump into the storm drain with all the other MJ ephemera. Here we have the Jackson 5, whose cartoon I used to watch religiously as a kid, doing their thing:
Of course it’s odd to have a kid his age at the time done up like a playa and singing these lyrics steeped in the narcissism and jealousy of bad relationships, but there’s nothing unique about that; precocious worldliness is page one of the child-star playbook. What struck me was the lip-syncing. Again, nothing unusual; but in the context of an abusive father and ruptured home life, this is a kid whose formative years were steeped in simulated reality and the disconnect between public and private worlds. His later unraveling just wasn’t much of a surprise, I’m afraid.
Some years ago I had the privilege of knowing a family of uncommonly intelligent and creative people. They were delightful and successful; the father was a respected professional and pillar of the local church, the mother was a nurse and educator, the kids had exceptional talents for engineering, law, sports and art. As it turned out, these appealing public faces were projected into the world from an arbitrarily judgmental and incredibly violent home. The imperative to hide this reality was explicit and brutally enforced. Over time three of the kids (that I know of, we’ve lost touch), the most sensitive and creative, cracked under the pressure and developed crippling reality disfunctions. The others were disabled to varying degrees by negative interpretation biases and the energy they had to expend to cope with their anger and anxiety.
Thinking about these friends and Michael Jackson confirms a common observation. Adding reality abuse to literal abuse is bad business. If the kid’s not very imaginative you may get lucky and just end up with a jerk, just another foot soldier of disappointing humanity. But the creative ones are going to take that lesson and create dark realities. It’s especially bad when they use light materials like children to do it, as MJ and my friends’ father did.