Pop Culture, Self-Image, Sweet Machine

They’ll kick you, then they beat you / Then they’ll tell you it’s fair

Whatever your thoughts on Michael Jackson, his fame, his music, and his troubled life, I think we can all agree that the songs from Thriller were pretty much the best thing to ever happen to music videos.

What I can’t help but think right now is that Jackson’s strange life demonstrates that it is possible to be one of the most talented, most loved people on the planet and still hate your own damn face. Embracing your body is an endless challenge in a culture that tells us certain bodies are more worthy, more valuable, more human than others.


90 thoughts on “They’ll kick you, then they beat you / Then they’ll tell you it’s fair”

  1. I was just thinking that very same thing. Tragic though he may have been, the man had fantastic taste in jackets.

  2. Beautifully said SM. I was happy to hear Sanjay Gupta say tonight that just because someone is thin does not mean they are healthy, just as someone who is not thin shouldn’t automatically be assumed to be unhealthy.

  3. You know, Michael Jackson was one of the first people who got me thinking about body image and self-hate. I remember seeing videos of him as a young man, before he began all the surgeries (well, he may have had one nosejob at that point, but his face hadn’t been altered much overall) and realizing that this was a man who really, really couldn’t accept the way he looked. And that made me very sad, because honestly? Before all the surgery, he was a really pretty young man.

    I was only about eleven or twelve when I was thinking about all this, and I really think it had a huge impact on my ability to accept myself the way I am. Plenty of times as a teenager I’d look at some part of my face and wonder if it was too big, or crooked, or something. And then I’d think about Michael Jackson, and how he (like most people) looked way the hell better with his natural face. That thought always stopped any thoughts of changing myself dead in their tracks. I’m sad that he struggled so much to accept himself, but I’m also really fucking grateful for that lesson.

  4. Gosh I remember watching the Jackson 5, when I was really little and he was just the cutest, most talented kid I had ever seen! He was amazing! Of course he was a beautiful young man, full of talent. I remember watching Thriller, it was groundbreaking. It was so sad to see his personal life, and his face, devolve over the years. I wish we could go back and freeze him in time, dressed in that red jacket with the sparkly glove.

  5. When I was young, I crushed out on him, but I also always had this belief that we’d really understand each other if we ever met. I felt like his music, especially from “Thriller,” had a sense of being misunderstood, an outsider, marginalized in a way that resonated with me.

    (OK, I was 9, I wanted him to come to my backwater city in concert real real bad, I was living a fantasy. But I still smelled the self-hatred from a long ways off, and this was years before the crazy transformation shit really started in earnest.)

  6. It goes to show, what a profound affect childhood abuse can have on a person. Michael Jackson had said that during the beatings from his father his dad would call him names usually “big nose”.

    What I find most interesting – and what I haven’t really seen talked about was Michael Jacksons’s diagnosis for Vitiligo. I can only imagine the tremendous challenge and difficulty that goes with being a talented child with rising fame who is part of a Motown band with his brothers – to an adult who looks white. Combined with the relentless battle with Lupus – I can’t imagine one person feeling more betrayed and less at home in their own body.

  7. Sweet Machine you said it all so well
    and yeah, that is the best Jacket ever
    and I’m going to play my Thriller vid and dance

  8. Just deleted a comment from an apparent regular trying to get shitty with me for having been momentarily callous about Heath Ledger’s death a few years ago (for those who weren’t here, it was about the media storm, not his death — I don’t follow movies and had no idea he was actually a beloved actor, so I thought there was just a ghoulish surge of interest in a celebrity demise), which is totally inappropriate on this thread and, frankly, is inside-job trolling anywhere. We’re leaving Sarah alone with the blog for the weekend so if you have a years-old problem with me let’s not hijack the thread with it and leave her a mess to clean up, okay? You can email me, and I won’t respond because I’m going to be offline all weekend.

  9. Went to a 70th birthday party last night; had had some unexplained weight gain lately, was not feeling fetching; wore a fitted sleeveless sundress anyway, because sometimes you just have to fake it; stood around outside with a seventyish friend afterward, who said, “I wish I had that body.” And she meant it; she’s a wonderful , self-affirming woman,who’s still dealing with being seventy while I’m dealing with being forty-two. No matter how strong and self-affirming you are, it’s no piece of cake. And I thought, “well, I could listen to the snarky perfectionist objectifying teenaged boy in my head, for whom nothing will ever be good enough, or I could listen to Flo, who wishes she had this body.” Then we came home and found out Michael Jackson had died, and looked the then-and-now pics on TV–all that beauty and talent gone to craziness and waste. I trust the universe would not kill off a pop star to make a point to me, but maybe the universe doesn’t mind if I feel like it’s trying to tell me something nonetheless. Thanks, Sweet Machine.

  10. I didn’t have MTV growing up so I had no idea, until I deliberately went and found them on TMF today, what the videos were like.

    SHIT. We lost a legend.

    But damn, even in the music he’s clearly miserable. And so constantly full of *hope*. How’d he do that?!

  11. Tim Russert, John Ritter, Michael Jackson…Middle aged men who died suddenly after not feeling well, despite having the best medical care and having just had a physical.
    Men, get to a doctor if you suddenly don’t feel well. Don’t assume it’s the flu or food poisoning.

  12. Thanks Sweet Machine for a great tribute post, and Carolyn for saying exactly what I was thinking.

    I remember rollerskating in my garage as a kid with “Man in the Mirror” and “Billie Jean” blasting in my headphones. I stopped actively listening to MJ as I got older, not because I liked his music less, but because I had such a hard time being reminded of how much he’d been through. I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and go “OMHFG how the hell has no one been able to help you get right? How does this even happen to a person?”

    Technically, I know the answers to those questions, but it doesn’t make it any harder to really understand.

  13. Carolyn, I’d not known Jackson had lupus. There are so few men with it … and I’ve heard it’s a bit different in men too, more likely to affect the lungs and cause discoid rash. No wonder he quacked himself; it must’ve struck deep.

    In 1970, the principal of my school allowed us to have a radio on in the cafeteria on Fridays. It was usually tuned to the local top-40 station and one day, as the Jackson 5 sang ‘ABC,’ an enormous food-fight, a truly epic food-fight, broke out. So whenever I think of Jackson, I also think of flying peas and fish-sticks. I had a little transistor radio back then too, and I used to listen to the local soul and r&b station under the covers at night … lots of good music, and whenever the Jackson 5 came on I’d think, ‘Mikey is almost my age!’

    Like Jen, I stopped paying attention after awhile, because it just became too painful. Now … if there’s any sort of afterlife, I hope he’s at peace.

  14. It’s funny, I find his life so very hard to relate to or understand. And yet his music is so much a part of my life’s soundtrack. I wasn’t even much of a fan, but I remember dancing around a grade school friend’s bathroom to “Beat It” and I remember a grade school birthday party at a roller rink where they played the “Thriller” video and I was SO SCARED when his eyes turn yellow.

    Oh, and I also remember that video where he’s screaming and no sound comes out and then he smashes the transparent wall thingie. I think that was when I was in high school or college, and it was precisely how I felt at the time.


  15. He was so beautiful when he was young and always so talented. What a sad life he had. He must have been so lonely. I hope he’s found peace. I know his music gave me a lot of joy as a child (the “Thriller” LP was my favorite 5th birthday gift) and for that I thank him.

    Think I’m gonna put “Billie Jean” on loop for a bit. One of my favorite pop songs ever.

  16. Loved him with the Jackson 5, never really a fan of his solo music (high pitched male voices don’t do much for me). Regardless, his pain has been so evident for so long. It must be a special hell to have your pain on display for all the world to see, all the time, as a celebrity. I hope he is at peace now.

  17. My mom bought me Thriller when it first came out, and she also had the Off the Wall album. Boy did I dance my butt off to those songs. “Rock With You” is on my iPod.

    I remember seeing the Billie Jean video for the first time and thinking how cool he was. Beat It was awesome (and they’re playing it now on the radio). I remember seeing Thriller for the first time and being scared as hell when his eyes turned yellow and he screamed “go away!” I remember seeing Bad and Smooth Criminal and being blown away by the dancing. And when Black and White came out, I bought the cassette that had the instrumental version and re-wrote the lyrics Weird Al style, about Jeffrey Dahmer going insane, and recorded myself singing the song. (Yep, I was weird).

    Anderson Cooper last night did a timeline of how he had changed his looks so dramatically. I can’t even begin to imagine how someone who had it all had so much self-loathing he literally tried to change what he didn’t want to be anymore. Now he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore and he can rest in peace.
    It makes me glad I’m not a celebrity and thankful for my boring life.

  18. Count me as another person who was totally scared by the “Thriller” video as a kid.

    Amanda at Pandagon has an interesting post up in which she goes into way more detail about Jackson’s legacy and the child molestation charges (which I am not particularly interested in getting into here), if anyone’s interested in a more meaty discussion. But the main reason I point it out is that she posted an incredible version of the Jackson 5 doing “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and Michael’s voice as a child is just STUNNING but also kind of terrifyingly too young for the song. It’s really worth a listen. (She also posted the famous Motown 25 performance of “Billie Jean” in which he debuted the moonwalk, which is also worth watching about a million times.)

  19. The first time I ever danced with a boy was to the Off the Wall album in elementary school. Last night I heard some of the music from that album and it made me want to dance again. I’d forgotten how great it was.

  20. Michael Jackson as a solo act held little interest for me, but I’ve had the Jackson 5’s I’ll Be There playing on an endless loop in my brain since I saw the news. I keep seeing that beautiful little boy with the sad, sad voice and wondering how fucked up he had to have been to have butchered that beautiful face with so much ‘cosmetic’ surgery.

    And the same channel in my brain keeps playing another loop. Decades ago, someone asked Barbra Streisand in an interview why she didn’t get a nose job. She said she didn’t want to take a chance of screwing up her voice. I liked the fact that she held her talent more important than her aesthetic qualities. I wish Michael Jackson could have had the same confidence.

    Like so many others, I hope he’s at peace now.

  21. I had such a crush on him when he was in the Jackson 5, and have mourned his increasing fucked-up-edness for decades.

  22. I insisted that the band play “The Way You Make Me Feel” at my wedding. Last year. Mostly because it’s a shuffle and I can (swing) dance to it, but I still love the song.

    Also, my husband was eating raisins the first (and only) time he saw the “Thriller” video, back when he was four or five or something, and to this day, he cannot eat raisins. At all. Even buried in something. That’s some deep-seated trauma, but . . . who let him watch it?!?

  23. Carolyn, I’ve also been surprised about the absence of Vitiligo from people’s discussions. I keep seeing references to how he ‘whitened’ his skin – obviously, there were deep self-image things going on, but it just seems like adding insult to injury to also pile on him for something he had no control over. Plus, it just annoys me to see sloppy journalism.

  24. Michael Jackson made me happy. I remember on many occasions dancing to his music, at weddings, in my mom’s living room, in the kitchen of my first apartment with my roomate. His videos were legendary and shaped the genre. I am so going to watch the Grammy Award performance. I was watching that show with my mom in her bedroom, sitting on the edge of her bed and when he did the moonwalk we looked at each other with our mouths hanging open.

    I did hear one thing yesterday in the media that enraged me though. Before he was even confirmed dead. My local (New York) newscaster Dari Alexander said to someone that it was strange that Jackson suffered cardiac arrest because HE WAS NEVER FAT! I swear. Even in a man who had obvious medical and psychological issues is not allowed to have a heart attack if he was never fat. I can’t understand the ignorance…

    RIP Michael Jackson.

  25. Over at the F-Word, Micaela posted a comment that linked to this performance from the “Free to Be… You and Me” TV special:

    Really kind of heartbreaking, the contrast between the self-acceptance message in that clip and how Jackson’s own life unfolded.

    (For my own sake, I’m also having a hard time with all the shock around MJ passing a physical 4 months ago. My Dad had a great physical just in March — he’s just as dead, too. Blecch.)

  26. One thought that came to mind after hearing about Michael’s death is “someone who got so much plastic surgery and altered his apprearance so much must have been so unhappy with themselves”. And with everything thing that’s gone on in his life during the past several years, I would’nt be surprised if he had some emotional or psychological problems.
    What’s weird is just the other night, I got on a little MJ kick so I went on YouTube and watched a bunch of his videos and saved them to my favorites. Today I’ve been walking around singing “There’s something about you baby that makes me want to give it to you…” (In The Closet is one of my fave MJ songs)
    He was one of the coolest, most talented musicians ever. This is really sudden and sad.

  27. lt, on June 26th, 2009 at 3:27 pm Said:

    Carolyn, I’ve also been surprised about the absence of Vitiligo from people’s discussions. I keep seeing references to how he ‘whitened’ his skin – obviously, there were deep self-image things going on, but it just seems like adding insult to injury to also pile on him for something he had no control over. Plus, it just annoys me to see sloppy journalism.

    To be fair, he may have had his skin lightened to cover up the vitiligo, which can be kind of patchy. I don’t have personal experience with it, but I knew a girl in college who used a “brightening” cream to try to make the patches blend in. I don’t know if there’s a way to restore color to the lightened spots, but he may have just decided it was better to have his skin a consistent shade, even if it wasn’t the original one.

  28. “Men, get to a doctor if you suddenly don’t feel well. Don’t assume it’s the flu or food poisoning.”

    Seconded. My father waited so long that his bowel burst from diverticulitis, and he died after surgery.

  29. This is the MJ I loved:

    I don’t care what other people say; dude was hot. Even after all his surgeries he could still bust a move that’d make me sweat. The fact that somebody so naturally gorgeous could hate his own looks really blows my mind. In spite of that, he gave us a lot.

  30. There’s something that rubs me the wrong way about all of the talk about his plastic surgery. It’s like he can’t even die without his body being held up to scrutiny.

    When I heard of his death I immediately thought about how his life is really a testament to shitty parenting. People should use Joe Jackson as an example of what every parent should avoid doing to their children.

  31. “To be fair, he may have had his skin lightened to cover up the vitiligo, which can be kind of patchy”

    It was documented that MJ did lighten his skin after years of suffering with Vitiligo. This is also a standard treatment for people with the disease, so I don’t think it’s fair to lump that in with “changing his looks”, the skin lightening was a treatment for a medical condition. Which the condition in it’s own right would probably have some pretty profound psychological effects.

    @ Valerie – EXACTLY! I was glad to have a reprieve from the other websites who are only attacking how “weird” and “crazy” MJ was. It makes me sad to see that people can not look at this person and have compassion for what was obviously and painful, lonely and sad HUMAN life.

  32. Bummer.

    I know people cared about him, and I feel really bad that they are hurting. I’ve been there, it sucks really hard. So if you’re upset, I offer lots of hugs. Free hugs, and even some cat-snuggles.

    (And FJ, for all that you may never see this, it’s been a year and a half. Not years. Yet. Some of us count days. :P Which is why I’m not actually saying anything bad about Michael or bringing my opinion of him into this, since I know how it feels to get suckerpunched like that. People you never met can mean a whole damn lot to you, especially if something they did helped you get through a bad part of your life without, you know, killing other people or yourself.)

  33. I was a teen in the 80s and loved Michael Jackson. Younger people who have only known the “sideshow” aspect of his life often don’t realize how iconic and talented he really was. I still remember when suddenly everyone was doing the moonwalk in high school. Or when we all gathered together at a friend’s house to watch the premiere of the Thriller video.

    Oh Sweet Machine, thanks for always having such a thoughtful take on these things. What an astute point about hating your body. I often think of body hate from my own female, fat perspective, and I forget that it is a phenomenon that reaches across gender, age, size, celebrity, everything.

    I found myself telling a friend recently, ‘why should I hate my body? It does so many amazing things like see, hear, walk, dance, kill off viruses, process food. I’m not going to cry because my hips are 20% bigger than someone else.’ I meant it. I don’t always have those moments, I still struggle, but the fact that I ever do is really a testament to how much all of you have inspired me. Thank you.

  34. What I can’t help but think right now is that Jackson’s strange life demonstrates that it is possible to be one of the most talented, most loved people on the planet and still hate your own damn face. Embracing your body is an endless challenge in a culture that tells us certain bodies are more worthy, more valuable, more human than others.

    This hit on something really important and interesting for me – it’s easy to forget that as such a foundational part of the whole that was Michael Jackson in all of his oddness.

    Thank you for this kind post. I’ve seen some pretty nasty shit around the internets in the last 24 hours.

  35. You know, this sounds really weird even to me, but thinking back on it I’m pretty sure Michael Jackson was a big factor in my figuring out I was queer. At certain points in his life he looked to me like a pretty girl, and as a kid I couldn’t figure out why that was so oddly appealing. I outgrew the MJ-crush, but as I’ve grown up it turns out that’s pretty much my orientation: I like women, but mostly I like men with feminine qualities. (Hence why I couldn’t ever get comfortable with any term more specific than “queer”, because there really isn’t any term for this. “Bishie fangirl” really doesn’t qualify as an orientation.)

    I feel like I’ve wanted to talk about that for years, and I’m pretty sure SP is the only place I could ever feel safe doing so. So thanks for being that sort of place, y’all.

  36. I loved Michael, and I’ll miss him very much. He was just a person that wanted to be understood and wanted to bring joy to people in the world. RIP

  37. *Sigh* I didn’t now MJ has lupus.

    And, what is sad is that once the media’s mourning period is over, they will focus on the plastic surgeries and his health and once again his body will be scruntized. To look at figures like Michael Jackson or the so-called Cat Lady, really is proof about how self-hatred can really affect you and it is more than just your parents saying “you’re pretty.”

  38. I might get jumped for this, but…

    Please don’t refer to it as his “troubled life”. We all know that that is a euphemism for the allegations of the sexual abuse of children. I’m honestly becoming really sick of all of the canonization of the man, and how even the communities that I thought were above it just erase the abuse with euphemisms.

  39. Jenn, I hope I’m not jumping on you (I don’t mean to), but FWIW I was hearing “troubled life” to include his having been abused by his father.

  40. I think it’s important to separate those things out. “Dark childhood” or “abusive family” are completely separate issues from abusing children yourself.

  41. Jenn, I really think any references to him being “troubled” here have been very much about his abusive childhood and how much he hated himself and his body, probably as a result of that abuse. References to allegations that he abused/assaulted children are called exactly that in a place like this. I don’t think people on this blog are euphemising, so no, we really don’t all know that. His life was VERY troubled. It’s not a euphemism to say that.

    His music was incredible and genre-changing. He had a huge and positive impact on many people’s lives. He lived through some really difficult shit and had both damaging body image problems and very serious health issues. He was alleged to have molested chidren. All of those things are true, all of those both very positive and very negative things, and so people have very mixed and confused feelings about his death. Trying to grapple with that isn’t canonization, and I really didn’t read anyone here as erasing the possibility that he molested children just because they also felt he had a positive impact on their lives.

  42. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that Jackson had a troubled life. He was beaten as a child, thrust into stardom at an early age, suffered from serious physical ailments and some pretty obvious severe psychological issues, abused drugs and was deeply in debt despite his obscene wealth. If that doesn’t qualify as a troubled life, I don’t know what does.

    He also may have been a child molester. I stress the ‘may’, because while I don’t want to dismiss allegations of abuse, he was acquitted and I’m really uncomfortable with the ‘trial by media’ trend.

    I don’t think there’s anyone who’s heard of Michael Jackson who hasn’t also heard about the abuse allegations, and I don’t think anyone here would hesitate to call abuse for what it is. That simply wasn’t the focus of this particular discussion.

    (I also tend to think that the so-called ‘canonization’ is just a manifestation of our cultural inclination not to speak ill of the dead, combined with the fact that even if he was as evil as the worst of the rumors paint him, the man was a fucking musical genius. But I might just be an optimist.)

  43. If I live to be 100, I will never understand the “cannonization of the dead.” (Not really about MJ, just a general observation)

    My father was an abusive SOB–physically, sexually, emotionally, you name it. While my sibs have never admitted out loud to things that may have been done to them in the dark, we all had the sh*t kicked out of us in public, including my mom. We are all massively farked up psychologically, and I at least tell the truth about what happened to me. They are not ready yet, and that’s ok.

    What amazes me, though, is that he has been dead for 5 years and in that time, he has gone from being seen as a crochety old man (around the time he died), to being a “troubled and misunderstood soul” (several years later, to being nearly a saint (now) in my family. They are rewriting history with a freaking vengence, and with every passing day, it is becoming more and more obvious that I will soon have no one to acknowledge or validate MY experience of growing up. He made me damaged goods in so many ways, but gods forbid that I even hint at that anymore. He was a saint and I am doggie dung for even hinting that wasn’t the case.

    Sorry for the rant. This hit a nerve for me, obviously. Thank you for giving me a safe space to vent.

  44. And, what is sad is that once the media’s mourning period is over, they will focus on the plastic surgeries and his health and once again his body will be scruntized.

    Yeah, they didn’t even really wait that long. . . I saw that sort of thing crop up almost immediately and often with a complete lack of journalistic integrity to the underlying facts (known medical conditions for example)

    @ Jazzy ((HUGS)) – Thank you for sharing and I am so glad you found a place you felt safe

  45. @ pocomommy–hugs! I’m an only kid, and for years mourned my lack of sibs, but recently I’ve realized that sibs can be a double-edged sword. My parents are still living and I only deal with their re-writing of our history, which is bad enough.
    Glad you found a safe space to vent.
    Even with MJ, the alleged molestation is being swept under the rug, because he wasn’t convicted. Just remember, being found “not guilty” isn’t the same as being declared “innocent”.

  46. Maybe it’s just the things I’ve been reading, but I haven’t noticed that the alleged molestation has been swept under the rug at all. And I’m not saying that being acquitted is the same thing as actually being innocent, especially in the case of a wealthy and popular defendant, but a lot of the blogs I’ve read are taking his guilt as a foregone conclusion when it’s anything but. I don’t think that in this particular case expressing doubts is the same thing as rewriting history.

    It’s kind of problematic either way in a situation like this, because what’s the appropriate response? I mean, he was a undeniably transformative force on modern music; his death is a big thing that the media has to acknowledge. But there are these accusations, and the fact that he’s pretty much been a media punchline for years, so I think a lot of it is backtracking. Child abuser or not, he was both a severely fucked up man and a brilliant artist. It’s a tough dichotomy to deal with.

  47. It’s funny, but this is the first place where I’ve seen people talking about his death that has not been full of cruel jokes. Most people that have mentioned it to me seem to have the image of him as a freak who did a lot of plastic surgery and molested children. I come here, and there’s a whole string of people talking about how they could sense he was in pain and had a terrible childhood. It’s two very different perspectives, and it’s kinda giving me whiplash.

    I’ve thought for a long time that Michael Jackson, and many other celebrities, would be a lot less screwed up if people would leave them the hell alone. What was part of his reward for Thiller? Being constantly followed by paparazzi. Having every eccentricity published in the National Enquirer. Having everyone with an opinion in North America (which is everyone) judging him and snooping in his business. I don’t like what the media did to him, or to Princess Diana, or Brittney Spears, or to just about everyone out there who does something that makes them famous.

    Because I feel this way, I make an active effort to not be a consumer of celebrity gossip. I didn’t know he had lupus, or that he had been abused by his father. On the one hand, that means I’ve misunderstood his reasons for some things, and probably judged him more harshly than he deserves. On the other hand, the understanding or judgement of some random chick from Boston doesn’t make any frikkin’ difference to the life or pain of Mr. Jackson, but not being able to walk down the street in peace does.

    Trying to bring it back on topic here, it’s bad enough for you and me to hear generalized messages from the media. It had to be worse for him to hear himself called out by name for what his face looked like. No wonder he took to wearing a veil for a while.

  48. I’m right there with you, pocomommy. I absolutely do not understand the canonisation of the dead. People deserve to be remembered for who they actually were, for worse or (especially) for better. Erasing everything that was real about a person’s memory is killing them twice.

    with every passing day, it is becoming more and more obvious that I will soon have no one to acknowledge or validate MY experience of growing up.

    And I’m so very sorry about this. I have two parents and one sibling rewriting our shared history every day so that me and my sane sib are the crazy/bad ones for keeping our distance and refusing to forgive 18+ years of hostility, violence and physical/emotional abuse. Without the sane sib to validate that what I know happened DID ACTUALLY HAPPEN I might have gone insane long ago. You know what happened. Hold on to it.

  49. I am a little surprised at the finger wagging about canonizing Michael Jackson. I completely understand and relate to the experience of people having their own PERSONAL family history being rewritten. In the case of Michael Jackson those like Jenn above who imply that any discussion beyond “DING DONG THE CHILD MOLESTER IS DEAD Ya’LL!!” is canonization – I think are running the complete opposite – and demonizing someone based on their own hunches.

    Frankly, I was happy to find a forum where I could suss out the complicated feelings around this event and possibly look at the humanity of the person being drawn and quartered in the media. Honestly my stomach would knot and squeem reading all the cruel jokes and vitriol at other sites.

    I think there is an important difference between discussing Michael Jackson’s history and those of our own family. The difference being – for those of us experiencing the rewriting of our family history we were there. We had first hand information and experience. We know beyond a doubt what happened, how, to who, when, where, why etc. In contrast all of the information we receive about Michael Jackson is 3rd, 4th, 5th handed sometimes more.

    I really hope when I’m dead and gone, and someone comes to mourn me – that strangers don’t burst into the service (fingers wagging) going “But she was fat! how can you mourn the death of someone so fat!?! that’s just disgusting, she obviously killed herself with her fat so don’t canonize the dead.”

  50. I guess I wasn’t clear, which is not unusual for me on this topic. I really wasn’t commenting on MJ or what people might be saying about him / speculating about him / what have you. I was reacting, perhaps in the wrong thread, to my family’s denial of what I know happened to me, and happened to them too. For some reason, the current run of celebrity deaths have coupled with some tough encounters with my siblings and melded in my mind over the past couple of weeks.

    I, too, hope when I die, people come to mourn me for who I was. I’ve spent too much time on this earth being told I could be ok “if only”–if only I were thinner, less emotional, smarter, more outgoing, less of a perfectionist., more feminine, less sensitive, you name it.

    I apologize if I offended anyone.

  51. @ Pocomommy

    I hope you didn’t feel jumped on by my post. I think what you were expressing was sincerely valid about your family. I really was more responding to Jenn up thread than anyone who was talking about their own personal experiences.

    I guess that was what I was trying to get across was the difference between processing things in our own life and then people who are trolling* the internet to make sure that everyone is in compliance with their personal hunches about Michael Jacksons.

    * yes trolling because the comments made here by Jenn are almost verbatim the same comments she made on an open thread about MJ over at Shakesville. Apparently it is just too nerve wracking to have 1 discussion happening somewhere on the internet that doesn’t focus solely on the alleged accusations.

  52. I’d also like to add Pocomommy – I don’t think you have anything to apologize for and I don’t think you were offensive in any way.

  53. @ pocomommy

    I’m not at all offended by anything you said–I think you make some good points and even that they are relevant to the discussion at hand.

    Like Carolyn, I was responding more to Jenn. Please don’t feel like you have to apologize for talking about your experiences.

  54. Since I identified so with pocomommy, I failed to say that I do feel sad that someone as talented as MJ still hated how he looked so much that he had his face cut repeatedly. And the news reports are also reporting that he weighed about 110 lbs. @ 5’10”, which doesn’t sound too healthy. He, too, was a victim of abuse, so we can all feel for him. Hope he can now RIP.

  55. Just for the record, I’m not denying that he had a skin condition that was probably unbelievably agonizing to live with, or that his childhood fostered emotional demons that dogged his step and made his life difficult. What I am saying is that I don’t “celebrate” the life of a man who was accused, twice, of molesting children. And of all places to equate “not guilty” with “innocent” and white-wash the entire thing, I really thought that it wasn’t going to be the feminist community and blogs that avow they are feminist.

    As someone who works with post-conflict sexual crimes (international law, if you must know), the willingness of the feminist community to euphemise it all away for the sake of a man’s music they liked is abhorrent. Just because Hitler is a total sap for puppies doesn’t mean that he was a good person, or that I’m going to wax philosophical about his contribution to the German economy and dog shelters after his death while pretending the Holocaust didn’t exist. Yeah, it’s a hyperbole. The point is the same. I have to struggle endlessly against communities that avow someone that just raped a five year old until she suffered from fistulas and prolapses is really an upstanding citizen that never failed to help a man in need. Yeah, but he was a rapist, and it’s my job to hold people accountable for their crimes.

    Sorry y’all, but I can’t compartmentalize crimes I’m don’t have much rational doubt that he did. It’s in the job description, as is endlessly toiling away against those that canonize criminals, as if their suffering and talent can just erase their crimes.

  56. Yeah, but he was a rapist, and it’s my job to hold people accountable for their crimes.

    You must be severely busy if your “job” description includes patrolling the internet for people who don’t live up to your feminist standards.

  57. I don’t know anything surrounding Jenn’s posts on other sites.

    I do think it is important for us to acknowledge this event can be triggering for survivors of sexual abuse.

  58. I think Jenn’s comments are important, because the allegations of sexual abuse of children are an undeniable part of Michael Jackson’s story. Yes, he was aquitted, but anyone who’s read some of the evidence given under oath during his trial might understandably feel that SOMETHING probably happened to those children at his hands. (And it’s not like the American justice system is fair to (i) victims of chidlhood sexual abuse or (ii) anyone accusing a celebrity of anything.) I’ve felt very uncomfortable during this whole thing for the same reason. However, as pointed out above, none of us knew the familes; none of us have any first-hand information about it at all.

    But given that, as was also pointed out above, pretty much ALL the information we have about him is 3rd/4th/5th-hand, I don’t think that’s enough reason to expect that EVERYONE completely discount that part of his life and carry on acting as if he was the best thing ever to happen to pop music (which arguably he was) and a wonderful person whose passing we must all mourn (which arguably he wasn’t).

    I definitely understand Jenn’s feelings of discomfort at seeing someone held up everywhere as an idol who was very possibly a molestor of children. As she mentions, survivors of sexual abuse have to contend again and again with people and communities who simply won’t believe that someone who was capable of XYZ good things was also capable of horrific abuse. To them this may seem like an example of that writ large across every media outlet. That Michael Jackson was a victim of abuse himself won’t make the whitewashing of his alleged past any less triggering to other survivors of abuse who’ve been silenced themselves (as Valerie said).

    So it’s important to acknowledge that people may have mixed feelings about this issue — especially, as Jenn mentions, on feminist blogs and places that are generally safe spaces for abuse survivors. And trying to shut down the comments of someone who’s pointing this out, even if you don’t agree with her, is another damaging way of silencing people.

  59. the willingness of the feminist community to euphemise it all away for the sake of a man’s music they liked is abhorrent.

    But I haven’t seen this done, at least not here or at Shakesville (not that I’m as good at keeping up with the comments there, so maybe it happened there, I don’t know). In fact, the discussions at both places that I’ve read have been really evenhanded, saying, “wow, we lost an amazing musician. He also was potentially, maybe even probably a child rapist, and that’s horrible. i don’t know how to feel.” In fact, some of the most thoughtful comments I have read online so far have come from people on feminist sites who were molested as children and who also loved MJ’s music. They were really thought-provoking words for me. How is that whitewashing anything?

    I wasn’t trying to shut down Jenn at all, fwiw, and I think she sounded legitimately angry but not like a troll. I was only disagreeing that anyone here was euphemising by discussing A (MJ’s own painful life) but not simultaneously discussing B (the likely possibility that he was a child molester) in every comment. I just thought it was misreading to assume that a term used to describe A (“troubled”) was actually about B and was therefore whitewashing.

    Jenn, I really think there is a really big difference between silencing victims by denying what they have experienced and pretending it didn’t happen on the one hand, and on the other, acknowledging that a likely assaulter’s life was more complex and had both good and bad impacts on the world.

  60. volcanista, I agree with what you’re saying, and I was responding more to the tone of Carolyn’s comments to Jenn than anything else. I should probably have directed my post to her rather than generally.

  61. I guess the thing that bugs me is the underlying attitude that accusation = guilt and to have any doubts at all is to dismiss child sexual abuse. It’s true that a HUGE percentage of sexual abuse cases are never reported, but it’s also true that not every defendant who goes to trial is actually guilty, even when the defendant is wealthy, eccentric, and obviously deeply disturbed. I think especially in the case of a huge media circus like this one, people form opinions (and this goes for both camps) that are not based at all on any of the actual evidence. And that’s fine, but it’s not fine for people from either camp to act as though they speak with the ultimate authority on what happened.

    It’s also aggravating to keep hearing that there’s no rational reason to think that MJ didn’t do it, therefore anyone who thinks he might have been innocent is just a deluded fan who doesn’t give a shit about survivors of abuse. I have my doubts about his guilt. I’m also not actually a huge fan of his music–although I acknowledge its quality and impact–nor am I old enough to remember when he was a household name for being anything other than a freakshow. I just don’t feel that the evidence against him was substantial enough for me to say that I know for a fact that he was guilty.

    FWIW, I’m not trying to silence people who think he probably was guilty. I’m just trying to point out that there are rational people on both sides of the fence.

  62. It’s also aggravating to keep hearing that there’s no rational reason to think that MJ didn’t do it, therefore anyone who thinks he might have been innocent is just a deluded fan who doesn’t give a shit about survivors of abuse.

    Yo yo, if my comments sounded like I was saying this, that absolutely wasn’t my intention. I think he probably did do it and other people think he probably didn’t; I have no problem with that. And I think we’re all (mostly) agreed that both sides of the coin need to be considered. My remarks were more about the overall reaction to Michael Jackson’s death that I’m seeing in the media, and specifically about Carolyn’s remarks to Jenn in this thread, which read a lot lilke shutting her down.

  63. Oh! To add, I think for me the tragedy of his life, at least pertaining to this particular issue, is that it’s a lose-lose situation either way. If he was guilty, then his victims were silenced and he went unpunished for a terrible crime. If he was innocent, then the media spent the past fifteen years cruelly skewering a man whose only crime was to be publicly bizarre.

  64. @ Caitlin

    I didn’t get that from your comments at all, but I did get a little of that from Jenn’s comments, which was more what I was referring to. Sorry if that was unclear.

  65. I think what’s helpful about Caitlin’s comments–and thank you so much Caitlin for saying many of the things I was thinking but probably couldn’t have expressed clearly–is that she’s identified this story as a potential *trigger* for survivor’s of sexual abuse. I think that’s a really important piece, here. In the same way that for many folks the death of MJ is about mourning the passing of an era or one’s youth, it triggers a completely different set of thoughts and feelings for a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

    That gets complicated because, as Jenn pointed out–at least I think it was Jenn–much of what can be said about MJ that is legitimate and true is the same sort of thing that can and has been said about abusers as a way to cover up or downplay their crimes. I’m not saying anybody is covering for MJ, just that the language sounds very much the same, which is part of why this discussion is such a trigger for me.

    Caveats, hedging. He wasn’t all bad, but what about X, you know he had a troubled life, too. It sounds too damn familiar to be comfortable for someone who has lived through sexual abuse, been disbelieved, been silenced in one way or another. And that has nothing whatsoever to do with whether MJ was guilty or not. It has nothing to do with the intention of the commenter–no, I don’t think anybody here “doesn’t give a shit” about sex abuse survivors just because they think MJ might be innocent. It really has very little to do with MJ at all, like I said, except inasmuch as it can trigger an emotional response.

    MJ has been a trigger for me ever since the first set of allegations–and for the record the acts are alleged; the accusations are real–because they sounded so familiar. What MJ is accused of doing is, in certain very specific and uncomfortable ways, quite similar to what happened to me. It does read to me like the behavior of an abused child acting out inappropriately with other children. That doesn’t make it less harmful. And even if the stories aren’t true, they trouble me greatly because I can’t help but hear them as potential truths, because I know what my own truth is.

    I used to be nostalgic about his music. I loved Thriller, just like everyone else. And there is no question that the man was phenomenally talented. I’ve actually been quite pleasantly surprised by how even-handed so much of the discussion has been around him. He was hugely complicated.

    And yet, I bristle when people become defensive about him or about those who state openly that they can’t think of him without thinking about possible abuse.

    Just to take the example of appealing to his troubled like as an explanation for whatever maybe might have happened. Frankly, the fact that my abusers were also abused doesn’t make it any less painful. It is a fact. They were absued. It does complicate the situation. And no, they are not monsters. I get that they were damaged individuals.

    But when that is presented as a mitigating factor? Something I ought to take into account when I consider how upset I really ought to be? With the implication that if I really understood I would be less pained, less damaged myself? Well, now we’re back into something that unfortunately resembles that rhetoric of could you please stop talking about it now that I get endlessly from family.

    For that reason, I’m much more comfortable with “we don’t know the facts of the case” than I am with “yeah, maybe he was a pedophile, but his music is great and you know he had a troubled life, too.” No one *here* is saying the latter, at least not on a quick read. That doesn’t mean no one is saying the latter, and that bothers me a great deal.

    I’m not saying the folks talking about MJ’s legitimately troubled life are wrong. I’m not saying he’s guilty. All I’m saying is that I hear this story through my own ears and that means the story and the language surround it raise a painful and difficult set of issues. And sometimes what seems totally innocuous–and maybe is completely correct in some sense or well-intentioned–is incredibly painful for me to hear.

  66. and I agree with aebhel…either he was guilty and went unpunished and there was no justice for his victims or he was innocent and he was skewered for being rich and eccentric. It really is lose-lose.

  67. My reaction on hearing that he’d died was disappointment, not because I’m a fan, or that I’ll miss him personally somehow, but because in the back of my mind was a small hope that he’d find a way to heal and really get his emotional shit together.

    I wasn’t actually aware of this hope, before, and I’m not sure where it comes from, but I’m thinking that some of it was the idea that if Michael Jackson could get some clarity and get over his overwhelming need to protect himself in increasingly weirdass ways, then just about anyone could.

    I’m sorry that we won’t have the image of him becoming happier in himself as an example of what’s possible, and I’m sorry there is no way to heal all the pain that’s surrounding his life, by his actions, by the media’s actions, by the actions of everyone in his life that ever made any of it worse.

    And I’m sorry to see astounding talent wasted and abused because of greed and insecurity on all sides.

    I guess the best we can hope for at this point is people talking about all the issues as honestly as we can, and seeing what we can learn from it all.

    Cause there are a hundred lessons in how not to treat your children and your artists and your families in all this mess.

  68. Perhaps my snark got the better of me and if it came across as dismissive, for that you have my appologies.

    Here is where I was coming from post snark:

    the comment made was: “And of all places to equate “not guilty” with “innocent” and white-wash the entire thing, I really thought that it wasn’t going to be the feminist community and blogs that avow they are feminist.

    I appreciate Volcanists comments and it helped me to go back and look at what could be triggering for me about this conversation. I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. I had no evidence and no one believed me and I am shunned by my family because of my accusations. I am a staunch supporter of victims rights and I felt angry with having someone wag a finger at me and say I’m a bad feminist who is complacent in silencing victims.

  69. Oops got post happy there – I also wanted to add

    @ Aebhel –

    What you posted above – was what I would have LIKED to say had I been feeling more articulate and less touchy. I think you expressed that very well and I agree with it whole heartedly.

  70. You guys are being really thoughtful and smart here, which is why I love blogs like this one. it’s making me think about this more.

    Fwiw, I lean towards thinking he’s guilty. The incidence of false accusations is likely so low, statistically, and the importance of protecting a victim is so much greater to me than that of protecting an attacker, that I think he probably did the things of which he was accused, and quite possibly more. I hope it never read as though I was defending MJ to protect him and whitewash his past.

    I was saying that people simply weren’t talking about that issue for a moment, and it isn’t because we were pretending it didn’t happen. It has come up in many other conversations, some of which I participated in on other blogs. It just wasn’t the subject of this particular conversation as much as MJ’s own childhood and illnesses. We were talking about one thing, and not another, and it doesn’t mean we were ignoring the other, or that all feminists are ignoring the other. I’m not even suggesting that people *should* be evenhanded on the subject of child abuse – hell, everyone should be furious about child abuse. About the possibility of it. But if I was talking about one thing, it doesn’t mean that I don’t also feel anger on a different subject, you know?

    So Anastasia, I totally hear where you’re coming from, and thanks so much for putting it all out there in your comment. And I appreciate that you included the caveat that your feelings aren’t really about *this* discussion in particular, because I didn’t see those things really happening here.

  71. You guys are being really thoughtful and smart here, which is why I love blogs like this one

    It helps to have moderate and sane people who will talk the rest of us down from our ledges :) ((looks wistfully at Volcanista))

  72. I don’t know if this is all Internet hype, but I’ve seen a lot of articles today and yesterday about how Jordan Chandler, one of the boys MJ was accused of molesting, actually WAS lying, and that no sexual abuse had ever taken place. Jordan’s father Evan was apparently the mastermind behind the whole accusation, and he was dead set on getting a giant settlement from the trial and ruining MJ’s career. All the comments on the articles I’ve seen are like “OH NOES YOU LITTLE SHIT UR GOIN TO HELL,” but… what about the father who manipulated his son into saying these things? The kid probably has no idea what he believed really happened.

    So no, certainly no one is excusing MJ. But the fact that it was so dubious makes it hard to totally condemn him- especially when there was another pretty evil adult involved in this situation, doing equal if not worse damage to his own kid. Just saying.

  73. I’ve seen those. And I’m…skeptical about the veracity of those articles, but if they’re true, it’s still not a reason to be nasty at the kid. If they’re true, the first person we should be condemning is the bastard who was willing to exploit his own child and ruin an innocent man’s life for the sake of money. Either way, that boy was a victim.

  74. @ Lucy


    You can check out this article – what you are talking about was brought up before MJ’s death and I think it goes to why some people were expressing discomfort at the absolute assertion of MJ’s guilt even after he was acquitted.

    I also think this isn’t the right thread to go into details about why they should or shouldn’t be believed. I think a lot of people have already expressed their feelings of hurt about sexual abuse victims being disbelieved and going into the gritty details of examining evidence could be hurtful to members of our community.

  75. Okay, y’all, I have been offline for several days and I appreciate that this conversation played out as respectfully as it did. I do want to say that the reason I didn’t explicitly talk about the molestation charges in the post is that a) this post is not about idolizing/canonizing Jackson; in fact, if you reread it, it is not even about *mourning* Jackson; b) this is a post about body image. It’s fine that we got into other topics in the comments, but I just want to say that this was deliberately NOT an “RIP” post.

  76. I haven’t been able to get “Leave me alone” out of my head since I heard. The song I think was a big catalyst for my hands off view of celebrity gossip. You can really hear how painful it was for him to be under the microscope every single day of his life, and the video isn’t subtle about the kind of crap he had to put up with. (And it’s on YouTube of course.) Now, of course, his death starts the three ring circus all over again, as he gets picked apart by every single corner of the media for his body image issues and how his fame affected him. Even in death, it looks like he’s not going to get his wish to be left alone, how sad.

    I have to admit, I echo Jenn’s sentiments expressed upstream. I believe the victims, in almost every case of rape or sexual abuse I’m going to believe the victims. In most cases unconditionally. I don’t need to examine evidence or weigh facts to know that it’s incredibly hard to be taken seriously when you speak out against an abuser. I don’t believe people just wake up and choose to lie about abuse and sexual assault, especially people whose position of power is so much weaker than the person they’re accusing.

    Ya’ll can hate me for that, but I’d rather be the person who is on the victim’s side no matter what. Somebody should be.

  77. Ya’ll can hate me for that, but I’d rather be the person who is on the victim’s side no matter what.

    I really don’t think anyone around here would hate you for that.

    The problem with the allegations against MJ is that none of us have seen real evidence one way or another, and the very same thing that makes his acquittal suspicious also calls the accusations into question. (Note that I would not have a bad word to say about the children in question either way, but their parents’ motives may not be entirely clear.) Money and power can allow you to buy your way out of even the most serious criminal charges, but they can also make you a target for same. In at least one case, it certainly sounds like the victim’s father was thinking a lot more about how he could benefit than about his child’s welfare — yet in all too many cases, children aren’t believed when they speak of sexual abuse, so one doesn’t want to doubt them. The fact is, in the specific case of Michael Jackson, we will most likely never know the truth. All we know is what’s already been said upthread: either he got away with heinous crimes because he could afford to cover them up, or children were victimized by their own parents’ greed and/or ignorance — a la the Satanic sexual abuse hysteria of the eighties — and an innocent man’s reputation was ruined. Either way, there was no justice, and a bunch of kids were traumatized. It’s awful any way you slice it.

  78. i wanted to chip in, i understand him changing his skin white. he had the same skin disease that my dad has. and my dad is white. idk. he does make me think about body hate and stuff alot, too though.

  79. I think this has all been settled now, but I just wanted to say: Carolyn, I’m really sorry about what happened to you. I can see where you’re coming from; I hope you can see why I reacted how I did to your comments to Jenn. (And I wish none of this had happened to any of us, or anyone).

  80. @ Caitlin – thank you for your comment and yes, the subsequent posting helped me figure out my touchyness and I did learn a lot from this thread

  81. I’ve waited a while to comment on this thread.

    First, the OP is astute, as always. Success and wealth didn’t insulate Michael Jackson from self-loathing. What a power lesson this is to people who struggle with weight.

    Secondly, as a reporter for a daily newspaper, I thought I might leaven some of the critique of how MJ’s life and death have been handled with my own observations.

    The coverage by reputable media outlets has been fair, thorough and sound. (CNN, FOX, MSNBC & AP are the outlets I have been studying). The coverage has been neither euphemistic nor canonizing.

    For those who think the media have been negligent for not labeling MJ a rapist, well, you simply don’t understand libel law. MJ was never accused, indicted or convicted of rape. Penal codes have distinct definitions of criminal sexual misconduct, and MJ was suspected of sexual molestation or some form of sexual indecency with a minor. We all have our own definitions of what constitutes rape. The law, though, defines rape differently, and the definition can differ from state to state.

    If any media outlets were to label MJ anything other than accused/charged with specific criminal acts, they would rightfully be vulnerable to libel and defamation suits.

    This reality often makes media consumers irate, but media must conform to law and institutional ethics. I think the coverage of his death has been fair, accurate and appropriate.

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