Friday, June 26, 2009

On the Death of Michael Jackson

The first video I showed my son then. The title seems appropos to how I'm feeling.

(A cleaned-up version of a comment I made here)

As a feminist, as a rape survivor, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, as someone who once adored the "King of Pop," how do I process Michael Jackson's death?

I grew up in a little southern, rural town where racism was alive and well. Seeing a black person as glamorous and famous as Michael Jackson meant the world to me. Seeing that his popularity crossed color lines--I mean, I remember distinctly thinking, "White girls scream and pass out over him?" They'd have been ostracized in my town.

It's not that I idolized him as some sort of post-racial icon--I don't believe in that shit, not for this country, in our lifetimes--but that here was a symbol that, my God, it wasn't so bad for us everywhere.

Then there were the other, simpler things. I loved his music. I had a crush on him. I thought he was cool without being "hard."

When the allegations came, I was angry at him, because I believed them. I knew what it was like not to be believed as a survivor, and I didn't want to do that to those children.

And I was angry at me, because I believed them.

Thanks to exposes and the nonstop media fascination, I had given Michael my own, hardly professional diagnosis. I thought he was profoundly hurt and always searching for his childhood, trying to live it vicariously through children. I thought he didn't know how to set appropriate boundaries--he really thought of himself as children's "friend." I thought somewhere along the way, he may have crossed the line in a hurtful, heinous way.

So, yes, I was mad at him.

And felt sorry for him.

And cared about him.

And identified with those children and worried about them.

In short, I was confused, felt guilty for caring for him.

I still am confused. But I know news of his death shook me, saddened me unbelievably. I don't know how to deal with it. I can't pretend that I didn't care, that part of me didn't still care a whole lot about an imperfect, sad man who may have done some unforgivable things.

Sometimes, I realize that I'm human, that how I feel won't always be logical or rational or even, to some, defensible.

But I'm not getting on the defense on this one.

I sincerely hope Michael is happy and at peace now.


ben said...

"I knew what it was like not to be believed as a survivor, and I didn't want to do that to those children."

Yes. There are a whole lot of people who are normally capable of noting that the criminal justice system is not the be all end all of determining the truth concerning rape and abuse...

Who nonetheless, are missing this part when talking about Jackson's death, and claiming that the acquittal means that the allegations were false. I just watched a video of the gathering at the Apollo, and I can't help but be touched by the outpouring of love and support. It's bittersweet.

The Venerable Vegan Empress said...

Thank you, Elle. You perfectly summed up what I've been thinking and feeling -- I, too, am a rape survivor and although I wasn't sexually abused as a child, my dad was physically abusive and I often saw the same qualities in Michael's father as in my own father (except my dad was never as bad as Joe, I now realize). Hearing the times when he would talk about his childhood was the first time I heard that other children were abused, and there were so many times when his music (and Janet's, too) made me feel so much less alone in the world. Since the 2003 allegations, I've pretty much avoided intentionally listening to his music, though I could never deny the happiness it brought me when I heard it at parties or clubs. So I, too, can only wish him happiness and peace wherever he is now.

Thank you again for writing this.

elle said...

@sly civilian bittersweet is the perfect word, i think

@The Venerable Vegan Empress Thank you for coming here and sharing that

Giftie Etcetera said...

A respected Louisiana child psychiatrist recently gave lecture that I attended. It was for lawyers, like me, who work with physically and sexually abused children.

He was explaining the wife of the abuser and how she might respond when the allegations of abuse arise. He said that you love your husband. You go to bed. You wake up, to find out your husband is accused of abusing a child. Even if the evidence seems to fit and you believe the allegations are true, even if the husband confesses, you don't not love him when you wake up.

Love doesn't go away that easily. Respect might go away. Trust is broken. But how can you love someone at night and hate them in the morning? You can't. Maybe, in time, you'll hate him. Or, maybe, you'll love him and eternally be disappointed by him. But humans cannot switch love on and off.

Again, though I don't remember the doctor's name, I want to credit him - and not me - with this bit of wisdom.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...