By not modifying his behavior after the last accusation, Jackson has squandered every bit of good will and benefit of the doubt we had to offer him. By continuing to have sleepovers with prepubescent boys, Michael has repaid our trust and our support by betraying us, by making us look utterly ridiculous, blacks rallying behind anybody black, no matter how obviously guilty. Jackson plays the race card only when it benefits him. Meanwhile, we have absolutely no idea where this guy is spiritually or how we as a spiritual people are to respond to him, to his art, and to the chaos that swirls around a man who is certainly a victim of his own success, but for whom we as a black people and we as a Christian people can no longer write blank checks. Our support must now come at a price.
marks the kickoff of Michael Jackson's latest comeback effort,
Jackson forced back to his roots, releasing a reworked and
remixed version of his greatest effort, a defining moment in pop
history which, despite Jackson's odd choices of the
tone-challenged Akon, the generic-sounding Fergie and the
eclectic Will I Am—choices which prove Jackson still exists well
outside the creative mainstream—still sounds dated. Thriller 25
is a nostalgia trip, one which may please old guys like me, but
Jackson himself is now known more for his eccentricities and
criminal accusations than he is for his music. What Jackson
desperately needs is not a nostalgia record but a
career-redefining movement: a fresh anointing of Jackson's power
to seize the popular zeitgeist and enthrall the world. However,
Jackson's isolation from the world he means to entertain
continues to undermine his efforts to get us to forget how weird
the man is, Jackson's Thriller anniversary coming right at the
zenith of an unprecedented U.S. presidential contest and the
official start of what may be the worst recession the nation has
seen in years speaks directly to how disconnected from reality
the guy is. Additionally, if you buy into the various conspiracy
theories—and to some extent, I do—you can all but mark your
calendars: some terrible scandal will undoubtedly break just as
Jackson gets his 2008 wagon rolling.
There is a great deal of denial going on where our black heroes are concerned. A generation of G-Rated good times and fond memories makes it difficult for us to see heroic figures like O.J. Simpson or Michael Jackson in anything but the familial glow of yesterday. And, while it is correct to hold out hope for the innocence and integrity of our pop icons, we should nonetheless keep a scorecard handy, making note of how often these people have, in fact, embraced us as a community, as a family. How often have they exhibited the values of a Christian community or, at least, of a moral one. Without pointing fingers or assessing guilt or innocence, I think it is reasonable to observe that both Michael and OJ have distanced themselves, substantially, from the black community, and neither man makes any effort at all to lay claim to a Christian community (or, to my knowledge, any other religion).
Absent any clear moral center, and any evident connection to our culture beyond taking our money, I then have to wonder why we continue extending lines of credit to people who have absolutely no use for us—as blacks or as Christians—until they're about to be sent to jail. Then, suddenly, these are not only black men, proud of their African American heritage, but they are now men of profound and enduring religious faith, counting on the African American church, first and foremost, to rally the faithful to their defense. And we fall for it every time. I mean, even now, as you read this, someone is thinking, “C'mon, give the man a chance.” And I agree. As Christians, especially as black Christians, we should give everyone every benefit of the doubt. But, seriously, folks, what's wrong with this picture? Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, but God doesn't want us to be fools, either. By any reasonably objective standard, Michael Jackson is, at best, disturbingly out of touch with reality. At worst, he is a dangerous predator. And we, the people of God, have to stop giving MJ a pass by default, but rather begin to ask ourselves the hard questions about the man and his truly bizarre world.
As jury selection began on five counts of child molestation and two counts of administrating an intoxicating agent to a minor, crowds of adoring fans continued to swarm around the Santa Monica Superior Court. Jackson himself seemed upbeat and largely unconcerned with the entire matter, still wearing Show Biz Clothes rather than retire to a nice, simple Armani and tie. Manifests from a private plane chartered by Jackson seem to confirm allegations that Jackson plied young boys with wine served inside Diet Coke and 7-Up cans, which Jackson allegedly called “Jesus Blood” and “Jesus Juice.” Leaked details of evidence seized from Jackson's Neverland Ranch include a great deal of pornographic magazines (including images of nude boys) to which authorities hope to match both Jackson's and his young accuser's fingerprints, underwear allegedly belonging to the accuser to which authorities hope to match DNA evidence, and a great many other seemingly incriminating items, including the singer's mattress.
Could Michael Jackson be innocent? Of course. Jackson's legal team's basic move is to repeat their 1993 effort: to make the accuser the villain: a greedy mom out for Jackson's money. Which, of course, is possible. But it's also possible that we've been turning a blind eye and deaf ear to terrible, heinous sin. To a powerful and devious ma n who allegedly held his accuser's family members against their will at his California ranch. And that we are continuing to rely on our fond memories of yesteryear, of I Want You Back and ABC, to cloud our judgment. He is our own, He is one of us. Or, is he?
Regardless of what side of the issue you are on, one thing remains true: this is a tragically sad event. A squandered greatness from a man who is easily as troubled as he is gifted. How should we, as spiritual people, respond to him, to his art, and to the chaos that swirls around a man who is certainly a victim of his own success, but for whom we as a black people and we as a Christian people can no longer write blank checks for? Our support must now come at a price, or we will only be enabling this bizarre fame addict.
Jackson's mug shot, now the grist of jokes worldwide, is more shocking, to me at least, in terms of the decibel level of this cry for help from this very sad and very, very disturbed individual. A guy we all want to cut slack and make excuses for, but someone who is clearly and obviously not normal in any sense of the word. Someone who seems isolated within his own impenetrable cloud of celebrity and whose emasculating mutilation of his own Adonis-like image makes him seem, at pasty face value, sad and self-loathing.
If this were anybody other than Michael Jackson, all clowned up and sleeping with little boys, nobody would be conflicted about any of this. Law enforcement would not allow such a disturbed individual to go jetting around the country and to be photographed in full super-villain make-up. If this were anybody but Michael Jackson, he'd have been dragged from his hotel in his BVD's in leg irons and handcuffs, dressed in an orange jump suit and photographed without the makeup or hair weave, and we all would have seen this man for who he is and not for who we want him to be because he's allegedly black and because he used to be the cute kid we all admired dancing with his four bothers.
This time, even Jackson's most ardent supporters are running for cover. Even his newest friends, who clowned around with him on his 2002 CBS Special, and who sat for interviews for the now-cancelled upcoming sequel— most everyone in is orbit is taking a wait and see stance (except his brother Jermaine, whose family loyalty seems to be tempered by opportunistic talk show stumping as both Jermaine and black sheep sis La Toya both end up behind microphones the second Michael gets in trouble).
Rather than convulsing in shock and rallying behind Michael the way many of us did in 1993, even Michael's biggest fans (many of us) are exhaling in a kind of, “Well, it's about time” attitude. Los Angeles County prosecutors and Sheriff's Department's smug joke-fest of a news conference seemed to have an air of Cheshire Cat, of knowing this time they've got the guy. This time, he can't buy his way out.
By not modifying his behavior after the last accusation, Jackson has squandered every bit of good will and benefit of the doubt many of us had to offer him. By continuing to have sleepovers with prepubescent boys, Michael has repaid our trust and our support by betraying us, by making us look utterly ridiculous, blacks rallying behind anybody black, no matter how obviously guilty. Jackson plays the race card only when it benefits him, while otherwise distancing himself both physically and creatively from us as a people or a culture.
Meanwhile, we have absolutely no idea where this guy is spiritually or how we as a spiritual people are to respond to him, to his art, and to the chaos that swirls around a man who is certainly a victim of his own success, but for whom we as a black people and we as a Christian people can no longer write blank checks. Our support must now come at a price, or we are just enabling this bizarre fame addict. We are just closing our eyes to the obvious. In fact, close your eyes now. Imagine that mug shot. And imagine if that was anyone else but Michael Jackson: would you even be reading this?
Following is an excerpt of an essay I wrote about Michael after the documentary Living With Michael Jackson aired early this year. The British documentary seemed to be the touchstone and impetus for this latest action against him. And Jermaine can holla “Modern Day Lynching” all day and all night. The fact is, if Michael would just stop sleeping with 12 year-olds in the first place, he'd make it much easier for us to rally behind him.
As is, Jackson's recording career is most assuredly over, at least here in the states. 2001's Invincible, his last studio album, stalled at two million copies domestic— an auspicious toppling from grace for a man who was once furious that Bad, his 1987 follow-up to Thriller, sold “only” thirteen million copies. with Invincible, Jackson apparently tied producer Rodney Jerkins' hands to the point where the album led off with several clanky, loud, robot-dance numbers, overrun with cartoonish sound effects and 80's hooks. The album succeeds on its more mature material, including Jerkin's You Rock My World, which, from all other evidence, Michael let Jerkins have his way with. But the good stuff was relegated to later releases, and, by that time, Jackson's Invincible had been steamrolled by people like Usher and Brandy and (gasp) Britney Spears. The strengths of Invincible showcase Michael's obvious gifts. The album's weaknesses— the cartoon crap he led with— showcase Michael at his most self-indulgent; as man totally out of touch with those he would entertain.
Perhaps the saddest part of all of this is the profundity of the loss of innocence millions if not billions of children, worldwide, continue to suffer because of people like Jackson and because of cases like this. American kids, certainly, are more aware of the concept of sexual molestation than they were whe4n I was a child. And, perhaps that's a good thing, but it certainly constitutes a loss of innocence and an intense sadness. At a time when life should be at its fullest and most hopeful, Michael Jackson has focused young minds on issues of sexual perversion. And, for my money, Jackson should be locked up for that if for nothing else.