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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson

If there wasn't a bigger example of how our society will publicly mutilate someone, it must be Michael Jackson. Here is a person who was made a star at the age of eleven, and never properly assimilated into normal life and society. His life was tragic: he paid too high a price for being talented.

What always struck me about his defense against charges of pedophilia was that instead of simply saying nothing ever happened, he attacked the idea that what he had done was pedophilia at all. The man simply did not see (it appeared to me) how his actions could have been seen as sexual. Here is the loneliest person on Earth, trapped in Neverland (literally) trying to be loving to children. I don't think it takes much expertise to understand how his wires were crossed.

The press, of course, ate it up. We all did. He was a freakshow, a good joke. No matter that he'd given his entire adult life, and most of his adolesence, the the happiness of other people.

What about his plastic surgery. In this, I'm afraid, he was just ahead of his time. Today it's strikingly common to see plastic surgery among some of the most famous and beautiful people in the world. Hell, Megan Fox (the Transformers pin-up model) is...what? 22? And she has already had plastic surgery. Nora Ephron, that bastion of good taste, goes on public radio to rail against aging and defend cosmetic surgery. Looking at the carved and bleached face of Michael Jackson is looking in an unforgiving mirror.

I don't really know what to say, really. His life was just incredibly sad.

We ask too much of each other.


MattJ said...

great post

isaac butler said...

i personally feel ambivalent (or perhaps conflicted?) about the we-all-killed-mj line of inquiry into this stuff. For one thing, the idea that all MJ did was devote his life to making other people happy is boiling down an incredibly complicated phenomenon in a way that makes it far more altruistic than it really was. he wasn't a monk. he wasn't selfless. he made enormous amounts of money doing what he did. that doesn't make him a bad person or anything, i'm not begrudging him his success, but the idea that he essentially gave and gave of himself and his only reward was our collective contempt and his own undoing strikes me as, well, false.

It also leaves out the incredible amounts of abuse he himself suffered throughout his childhood by his father. It's not like MJ was normal, became famous and was destroyed by it. He was on some level an open psychic wound from the beginning.

i guess i kinda feel like how Hua Hsu feels about it:

"What is the allure of this narrative that we--fans, consumers, the media, American culture, etc--somehow destroyed Michael? What anxieties do we displace by projecting them onto his troubled face? I always think back to the interrogation scene from Three Kings. "What is the problem with Michael Jackson?" an Iraqi soldier asks a wayward American. "Your country make him chop up his face." He did it to himself, the American protests, but his interrogator insists: "Michael Jackson is pop king of sick fucking country." Maybe it is a "sick fucking country." Maybe the idea of pop transcendence is deeply flawed. But we are truly the sick ones if we didn't already know this, if we needed Michael Jackson to be our martyr. If we think we would trade it all for a world without Off the Wall or Thriller or "Butterflies.""

Freeman said...

I think it is complicated and obviously it's unfair to call him entirely selfless and altruistic. I think it's fair of you to question making a martyr out of him. But the reward system we offer people for their stardom is false. His financial rewards basically trapped him, like they trap so many people. He didn't look like a man who had gained much by the end. In fact, he looked remarkably like someone who had been stripped and mentally destroyed.

I certainly don't think I'm personally leaving out the abuse by his father; it's sort an assumed and public part of his narrative. But getting beat up by your Dad is one thing: turning into Peter Pan is another. He was isolated, objectified, and monetized. It's bad for anyone: it was especially bad for him.

I think we are just as dishonest when we say "He did it to himself" when we say that he was blameless. There is a relationship between his own personal problems and how our culture, obsessed with money, fame and eternal youth, fed them directly.

isaac butler said...


yeah, i think we're actually in large swaths of agreement here, based on your follow up comment. i don't mean to abrogate the public role in mj's truly bizarre (and bizarrely tragic) life. and goodness knows, there are lots of precedents... judy garland comes immediately to mind.

Freeman said...

I think you're spot on. And I do think you're right when you question the urge to say "MJ is dead and we have killed him!" I don't think being a celebrity automatically destroys people, or that people's desire to have pop music or love charismatic people is, in and of itself, an evil.

jengordonthomas said...

mayhap i'm psycho-boiling it down too much, but this seems a rather good case for ascribing the word codependency, as opposed to interdependency. either way, from the outside, it appears MJ suffered greatly...& clearly did not have good coping skills.