June 13th will mark 9 years since Michael Jackson was acquitted on ten accounts of child molestation. Apart from family and fans, not many from the general public will pay much attention to this date. For most, it is just another day.
For some of us, though, it is our yearly reminder of a lot of things: of reflection, of redemption, of justice…but also of human nature, and the damage it can sometimes do when unleashed .
Few understand just how biased the media was in their reporting of the trial, and just how calculated and sensationalist they were throughout it. That negativity sells is something everyone already knows, but in the 2005 child molestation charges against the the world’s most famous person, there seemed to be something that ran far deeper. There was a malice and a bloodthirst there that seemed out of the ordinary even by tabloid measurements. And it brings up the very interesting question of what it is that can make thousands of people gang up so completely on one individual. What primal instinct, what fear…can cause us, as a race, to turn into a pitch-fork mob, salivating and orgasming at the thought of lynching someone and literally destroying them?
In 1993, the European Council approved Resolution 1003 on the Ethics of Journalism; which recommends journalists to respect the”presumption of innocence”: in other words; you are innocent until proven guilty. In the case against Michael Jackson, however, this, apparently, was no longer relevant. Although the accuracy of the term ”journalism” in association with tabloids can be debated, The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics mentions that good journalistic practice includes for a journalist to do the following:
* Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
* Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
* Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
* Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
* Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
* Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
* Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
* Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
It seems in the Michael Jackson case – and tabloid journalism in general – these rules did not apply. Statements were taken out of context, facts were twisted, and more focus was put on Michael Jackson’s appearance, than on the proceedings of the ongoing trial.
The question in all of this is not how people became so caught up in preferring fiction over truth, the question is why. Why was it that someone had apparently decided that Michael Jackson did not deserve to be treated like a human being? What was it that made people so provoked by him, and when was it decided that he did not deserve privacy, respect, or compassion? Was it when his face started changing? When he became too androgynous for people to apply the set-in-stone rules of gender roles to him that we worship and follow so religiously? Was it when he became the biggest selling artist in history, or when he gained wealth and financial freedom, while the rest of us went to our day jobs that we hated? Was it when he shunned the public eye because of the chaos that would rear its ugly head whenever he stepped foot outside? Was it his creativity, and his passionate and intense outbursts on stage? Or, was it simply, that he mirrored our own mistakes back to us?
Most of us have, upon one time or another in our lives, come across a person that we have felt an immediate aversion to. More often than not, that aversion springs from how we feel about ourselves while in their presence. Michael Jackson was an avid spokesperson for children’s rights. His charity work spanned the globe, and he donated millions on a yearly basis. He spoke frequently about love and respect as the healers of our broken planet – and most of all, he believed in it. He pointed out the suffering and the wrongdoings on the planet, wrongdoings that largely exist because of our own indifference to them. Having someone mirroring our mistakes and idleness back to us is frightening , and by looking at his generosity and childlike nature, we were reminded that we had lost our own.
This was something that was incredibly provoking to many, and when proveked and insecure, we are designed to reject. By rejecting the thing that makes us uncomfortable, we hope for the feelings it creates to go away. So Michael Jackson was rejected. Again and again, he was rejected and mocked and and crucified by people that were too insecure in their own skin to be able to accept anyone that stood out, and that didn’t fit the mold.
Michael Jackson danced with an injured back, he toured until he fainted, and he stayed up entire nights at a time, for one reason, and one reason only: the hope that we would finally love and accept him the way he so desperately yearned for. But we would not, and we kept pushing him away.
Jackson was born with an extraordinary sense of musicality. In her book ”My Family, The Jacksons”, Katherine Jackson writes:
”It dawned on me that Michael was no run-of-the-mill kid one day in 1960. I was standing in front of my washing machine, checking the load, when I happened to turn around and see my one-and-a-half-year-old son practically under my dress tail. He was holding a bottle and dancing … dancing to the rhythmic squeak of my washing machine.”
While musicality can be trained to a certain extent, it cannot be taught. It is either there, or it is not. In Michael Jackson’s two year-old mind, and in his body…it was very much present, and his parents quickly noticed
Michael Jackson often spoke of how he felt he could not take credit for his songs, as they ”would just come to him”, and all he did was write them down. He cited God, and felt that the music was simply breing channeled through him by a higher power. To anyone that has ever watched him on stage, his presence is undeniable. In many ways, he may well be considered a creative and musical genius. Those are few and far between, but instead of being fascinated or in awe…we were provoked. We didn’t understand it, didn’t understand his animated way of behaving or his childlike nature, we didn’t understand his visions or his appreciation for the simple things…so we rejected him. Fear is born out of ignorance, and the world was ignorant. And because he already seemed so different from most of us – again, geniuses are few and far between – it made sense to most people that he was very likely ”strange” in the ways that the tabloids reported, too. He was a thirty-something man that loved water balloon fights; a forty-something that enjoyed climbing trees. Seemed plausible he would also sleep in a hyperbarbaric chamber and try to bleach his skin.
As a society, we worship our social norms so much, that anything that strays for them by definition becomes wrong and undesirable. Michael Jackson did not fit into any of the molds set by society. He was born with dark skin, which whitened with time. He was born with a large, wide nose, that he had altered to a small and narrow one. He had long hair, a high-pitched voice, and a soft, compassionate side. He was the antithesis of what society defines as ”male”, and expects a man to be.
We raise our sons wth toy guns, scrubbed knees and the notion that boys don’t cry. Michael Jackson was not afraid to show his emotions in every aspect of his life, and he was not an image of the macho culture that we so seem to love. His shyness and softer side was cute when he was little, and possibly also in his early teens, but in a fifty year old man? No, that can’t possobly be right. TV told us that’s not how men are supposed to behave. Reject.
Although the child molestation trial became the final blow to Michael Jackson’s heart, there had been a steady stream of atrocities being written about his private persona for decades, one more vicious than the next. During the twenty years that Michael Jackson was persecuted by the media, no one ever stopped to question the likelihood of what they were reading. Somewhere along the way, we put logics and critical thinking aside and decided that if it’s in print, it must be true. It must be true, because why would anyone lie? What people should be asking themselves is, why would they not? The media is a profit business. It is naive to think that we live in a world devoid of corruption and greed, and the days where the media was a direct reflection of the truth are long gone. What we are left with, are innuendos and cleverly fabricated stories that speak to the morbid fascination and pack animal in all of us, and that are just basic enough to not require reflection
In retrospect, a vast majority of what was written on Jackson seems laughable and bizarre. According to the press, this is someone that was born a black man but really wants to be a white woman, sleeps in a hyperbarbaric chamber to be able to reach the age of two hundred, rides the roller coaster in his backyard alone in the middle of the night, bought the remains of Joseph Merrick (also known as ”The Elephant man”), and takes female homones to maintain his high-pitched voice. Yet no one ever reacted. No one ever for a second thought ”hang on a minute, this can’t possibly be true.” The reason? They wanted it to be true. They needed it to be true, so they could feel collectively part of something. Asking your colleagues or friends if they’ve heard what that Michael Jackson has done now, makes you the center of attention, and it makes you feel part of a group. We are pack animals, we thrive off of others and do not well on our own. We want to belong, to be accepted, to feel appreciated. That was all Michael Jackson ever wanted, too. The only difference is he was never let into the pack.
So why, then, did an entire planet decide it was okay to throw another fellow human being to the wolves and enjoy watching his demise? As a human race, we are not all good. We can be vindictive, manipulative, greedy and selfish, and all of us WILL put ourselves first if we are put into a life or death situation. We’d just like to believe differently. Michael Jackson… believed differently. It is funny how the one man that for so many years experienced nothing but the absolute worst of other people, was also the one that, unlike the rest of us, never became jaded. For someone to be subjected to so much hatred, prejudice, greed and malice, and still not lose faith in humanity…is astonishing. It would have been so easy for him, as it is for all of us, when hurt, to withdraw from the world and grow bitter and cold. The fact that he not only refrained from that, but kept loving this world and everyone in it even more, says everything about the person that he was. And lying about him, judging, hounding and persecuting him and standing by, doing nothing, as he perished….says everything about us.
Martin Luther King once said:
”History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
We must never be silent. Blind obedience and sheep mentality is the reason why bullying exists. It is, when taken to the extreme, the reason the Holocaust happened, and it is the reason Michael Jackson is dead. There is a predator in all of us, and we are all capable of giving in to the urge of preying on the weak for our own self-gratification – some of just must make the effort to try to control it. To quote the well-known Michael Jackson song: “If they say “why, why?” …. Tell them that it’s human nature.”
Never be silent.
by Sandra Sasvari