In Memoriam Michael Jackson
Two summaries from "Michael Jackson's Dangerous Liasons", by Carl Toms, Madator Publ., 2010
Crimes against rhyme
If Michael’s adult 'effeminate' behaviour were an indication of this long-term developmental pattern, one would expect to find that as a little boy he had been something of a 'sissy'. Yet this is not what we find.
As a boy Michael was a lively little rascal, not at all 'girlishly' coy or timid. He was a prankster, wickedly keen on practical jokes, and the only one, in a house full of older boys, with the nerve to stand up to his father.
Even in adult life he was 'boyish' in most ways – unlike the super-feminine La Toya, whose living space is so neat, tidy and utterly perfect that visitors are hardly allowed to walk on the carpets, Michael just slung his clothes on the floor and was happy to live in a casual dump of a bedroom. What could be more
blockish? Whereas she was always likely to have a fit of the vapours at the mere thought of feeding Michael’s smelly animals, he took a decidedly unsqueamish interest in brain surgery as a young man: he once went to the trouble of wangling invitations to highly unorthodox private attendance at operations, seeing at close quarters some nifty knife work and cortical convolutions that would make supposedly tougher guys turn to jelly.
It is no accident that it was in adolescence that Michael began to withdraw, developing the serious, shy, strange character which by his own admission came to set him apart from 'normal' folk.
It all began mundanely enough with a bad case of acne which revealed him as perhaps inherently a more sensitive type than his brother Marlon (not that 'sensitive' equates with feminine, but it is a teasing hint in that direction).
Add to this his inhibitions with girls arising from taking to heart a religious faith that opposes pre-marital sex, and we already have the makings not only of serious hang-ups, but also of problems for Michael in how to present himself to the public. If, to top all else, he was coming to find himself drawn exclusively towards young boys, the tensions would have been desperate. No
'solution' would have been apparent: there was none.
It was a scenario in which every Wacko Jacko story eventually became just such a gadget. Rick Sky spoke of hiding behind a “shield” of wackiness, which comes to much the same thing. One such device Michael hit upon was to hint at being gay, through an increasingly feminine appearance and manner.
This stood to achieve three things.
He started thinking about the beauty of nature, the innocence of children. His mind took him towards the magical and the mystical, towards Peter Pan and a fairy land of the imagination – a land which soon found him being associated with
'fairies' of a different kind. Yet how 'naturally' such thinking must have come to a young man who had lived in a fantasy world all his life, a showbiz world in which dressing up and wearing
make-up were second nature not an unacceptable oddity.
Just how 'all my own work' his 'nice' poetry is, for instance, can be judged by its quality. It is not just any old sentimental rubbish. It is plainly so dreadful it cannot possibly have been written for him by the talented ghost writers behind Hollywood stars’ 'autobiographies'.
Skilful scribes can be persuaded to do dubious things for the right money, but conning verse bad enough to ruin their reputation as writers is unlikely to be among them.
Take, for instance, “When babies smile”, a fairly typical piece from the collection of poems and reflections Michael published as "Dancing the Dream". The last verse runs as follows:
Kingdoms topple, lose their class, boy can he write a verse that’s crass! The point here is not to criticise Michael’s poetry, even though his crime against rhyme deserves a prison sentence more than anything he may have done with boys.
Not that most of us are in a position to cast the first stone. Our youthful mental couplings of William McGonagall and Patience Strong have begotten millions of equally ugly little bastards of verse. The difference in Michael’s case is that he was able to publish, so his work was not left in decent obscurity. Nor did anyone apparently dare advise him he is no Byron or Wordsworth, or have the temerity to interfere editorially in any way. As detectives in search of 'the real Michael', we should be delighted to stumble across such telling evidence for the existence of this illusive entity. Could it be that all is not necessarily chimerical and mere illusion?
One wonders if Ms Smith has ever heard of Elvis “the pelvis” Presley, and whether she would interpret his raunchy, crotch-focused movements as a case of arrested sexual development, and if not, why not. Or Mick Jagger’s, or those of a hundred other pop stars.
Her analysis, is unfortunately typical of those given to uncritical dependence on Freudian concepts: on inspection it turns out really to tell us nothing we cannot more reliably infer from other evidence. This is not to say she is wrong, only that the evidence from Freud is weak.
Reducing a life to one set of all-explanatory psychodynamics really will not do: if there is one buzz word of current psychological thinking that is more than just an empty slogan, it is the idea that life problems and situations tend to be 'multi-factorial'.
La Toya claims to have been phoned by Michael at the time of her first Playboy pictures. She reported that her brother said he liked the pictures, and then went on to offer an explanation as to why she would choose to do something so controversial, citing her need to “get back” at their parents and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Robin Hunt, in the Daily Telegraph had an appealingly simple and persuasive explanation of Michael’s crotch-rubbing which suggests market forces call the tune in the pop world.
The teen market, so important to Michael, has always been predicated on the notion that “your mother wouldn’t like it”, he wrote. Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are a traditional triple act. Youngsters want something “shocking”.
Michael’s crotch-grabbing was no odder than Madonna’s sexual antics or Take That’s on-stage trouser-dropping. The sting of this explanation, however, and the key to its linkage with a deeper one, was in the tail:
The raunchiness in fact began earlier, but why split pubic hairs? The important thing is that pre-pubertal pre-teens were indeed copying Michael, in a way that could only be highly gratifying to a paedophilic pop star.
In developing this particular “infantile” act, crotch-grabbing, Michael was not merely expressing his own
'arrested', masturbatory sexual development, but also encouraging and validating similar self-expression by children themselves. By the time children are five or six years old they have usually taken on board the socially required standards of modesty demanded by their parents and other adults. They are no longer the shameless exhibitionists of Freud’s observing. Instead their sexual feelings find more secret expression in the pre-pubertal years he (wrongly) thought were generally a time of sexual “latency”.
“Never give up your bliss” was the message Michael allegedly gave Jordan Chandler in private; it was a message he gave every child in public. It was, to be sure, a coded message, and its deciphering would not necessarily be straightforward. Children’s sexuality, like that of grown-ups, is a social construct, but unpredictably, chaotically emergent in any individual.
The inchoate 'meaning' of Michael’s gesture in terms of sexual activity and social significance was, so to speak, up for grabs. It was a truly seminal act, fertile in serving to generate a juvenile symbolic discourse of sexuality, through which children themselves might be enabled to recognise and acknowledge their desires. Freed to touch their bodies in naughty places, and to think about the implications, they would inevitably begin to negotiate the significance of it all, with themselves and others – including their peers, and perhaps a friendly grown-up or two. Possibly even, for a few lucky ones, with Michael himself.