This post is a combination of answers to recent letters from Michael Jackson fans. But it speaks to all the fans. In fact, this blog came about because I wrote a review of the film “This Is It,” that published, and fans began to contact me. They asked questions, they poured out their hearts; they told me tender and sensitive things I can’t repeat. It seemed at first as though their grief was disproportionate, and odd in some ways because I heard the same stories over and over about peoples’ newborn curiosity about Jackson– from people who were never fans. Many began to ask me to speak about my perceptions of the Jackson phenomenon that certainly took many forms.
There was Jackson himself, the enigma that nobody seemed to figure out, the icon that confused and bruised ingrained and culturally embedded sensibilities. His disarming seemed deliberate. His work carried a message that when decoded, revealed a man on fire– a man determined to change the world using his art, work, life and body to do it.
There was the phenomenon of the fans. They were not just grieving but they were inconsolable. They were showing signs of post trauma and of a spiritual emergency and it was not just a few individuals, it was a mass of them.
Then there was the compelling intrigue of it all and the curiosity of it. It beckoned in a way that was for more than simple curiosity or even compelling desire to “figure this out.” What in the world was happening? How did this all come about? Why were fans so loyal, so intractably devoted and angry?
So began the study. The fans told me of their “Michaeling” which meant that they were watching his work on Youtube, reading his books, scanning the Internet for all things Michael Jackson. They were obsessed. When a well known figure dies, they become the center of focus for awhile because that’s natural but in time the intensity trails off… Not so with Michael Jackson. They were “Michaeling,” they told me– which they interpreted as compulsively seeking him out on the Internet– in videos and articles, buying his books, CDs and DVDs. They began collecting not just his work, but information. And it is still the case for many even 5 years later.
For me, the study has been an incredible journey with the discovery of all facets of an artist and from many viewpoints developed and honed over a lifetime; it’s been fascinating. “Michaeling,” though, has come to mean something else to me since I began to learn of it and through it 5 years ago. And I hope my definition goes viral like a scandal on fire because “Michaeling” has come to demonstrate to me, how fans have rallied to humanitarian causes in the name and memory of “Michael Jackson.” Schools have been funded, a children’s home been built, and a million trees planted– and that is only the beginning. That is true “Michaeling.” I hope someday the dictionary defines “Michaeling” as philanthropy in the name and honor of Michael Joe Jackson.
So many of the fans have turned their grief into action. And they have done it to honor a man who quietly did the same all his life. Something I’ve read over and over is “I am a different person. Michael Jackson changed me.”
I think the pain is so great for fans because the world is still so cruel to “Michael Jackson,” in name and in memory. It’s a bitter irony that it’s the fans who have taken the time and had the interest to research court records, studied what people said, looked into the backgrounds of those who accused and prosecuted him. They know that Michael was set up and that the first accusation of harming children came from a man who was mentally ill and wanted Michael to bankroll his career change from dentist to Hollywood screen writer. The second accusation came from a woman the jury saw as unglued, disjointed, with issues of entitlement and who had coached her children into assisting with other extortions where she received a payout. They know the scope of the corruption in this case and it takes their breath away. They have learned that Michael Jackson was seen as everybody’s benefactor and banker. The fans have studied and the fans know.
Nobody but fans have really researched this because the media saw a juicy story that could not be ignored and would not be challenged because it was so lucrative– the most famous and visible superstar in the world accused of sexual exploitation of children! It doesn’t get more juicy than that! Nothing sells like scandal! And the tabloids and tabloid journalists and tabloid TV milked it for all it was worth – bringing bags of cash and offering it to anyone who would tell them a salacious story for instant cash. Some of those offers were multiple times the target’s annual salary. So what’s more attractive– telling the truth or enough money to buy you a new house? In a sense, they are all victims too.
And the mainstream media jealous of the money the tabs were making followed in their path and did exactly the same thing. They learned that a “Michael Jackson” story sells. Any Michael Jackson story, whether true or not. When your editor realizes that a single individual can double and triple sales and circulation, reporters are going to be sent out to “get the story.” And what do they do when there is no story? Go back to their editor empty handed? No, they just take a piece of innocuous information and make something up. It’s evil. Pure and simple. No stuttering, no excuses. It was evil and the evil was rampant.
There’s even a name for it. When hysterical evil infects a society, it is like a virus that spreads to everyone involved or observing. The Indigenous people knew this phenomenon and even have a name for it– Windigo or Wetiko. It truly is a psychological madness that grips everyone downwind of it and in the case of Michael Jackson, because he was so famous and so beloved, that was the whole world because the world was downwind.
The pain that fans feel is not just the loss of “their idol” as the most guilty of those exploitive reporters has insisted and shouted and written in service to perpetuating it as a cultural meme. He’s not their idol, not in the way that slur toward the fans is meant. And not in the way most mean that or use that word.
Jackson fans do admire him for the way he retained dignity and strength in the face of an evil nobody else on earth has had to endure. And they feel the loss of a man who was tortured for no reason, who was innocent (confirmed by a jury that actually EXAMINED the evidence– or in this case lack of evidence,} and claimed by many who personally knew him, were close to him, and trusted him.) Jackson loved children but not in the way the virus of evil has captured imaginations and spread salacious and unfounded information. He championed children’s causes around the world, donated medical equipment in every city he toured, gave millions to charity (sometimes all the earnings from an entire tour,) quietly paid medical bills for parents who couldn’t afford them, found organ donors for some who would die without them, and even paid for funerals in cases where families didn’t have the money. He didn’t build Neverland for himself; he built it as a gift to the thousands of poor, sick and inner-city children who visited the ranch some attended by his staff in his absence because he was working elsewhere.
He’s not an “idol” but he is to be admired– a deeply religious and spiritual man who stood tall and faced unprecedented mocking and bullying as he found himself in the perfect storm at a time in human history where scandal was more attractive than integrity. Where humans were stuck in an evolutionary phase where it was more lucrative to behave as adolescents in a juvenile way and where scandal was raging in the body politic like hormones in puberty. The fans know that we humans are better than this and it was Michael himself who attempted to tell us all. They hurt because the world got it so wrong and has done nothing to correct it.
The pain is deep because it is all so unjust, the lies and unexamined assumptions and racism continue to this day, and they feel helpless to change it and find the whole situation sometimes just hopeless. It’s the virulent sting of powerlessness. The infection is too widespread, the wound too gaping. It is because their fellow humans (humanity) is consciously or not, caught up in it as well. And on top of that injury is the insult that Michael is gone.
It’s not that he is the fans’ “idol” or even their “angel” though some of the more sentimental individuals may feel that way (puberty and delayed puberty or addiction to drama and adrenalin will do that.) But it is more the archetype of the martyr– someone who dies for a cause. Someone who gives his life for a cause, for something noble and just and magnificent. Someone who throws down his body to serve his fellow man. It is that the martyrdom is not yet revealed nor is the cause clear. And therein lies the excruciating torment of incessant injustice heaped on grief.
In the midst of their sorrow is hidden the ghost of humanity and innocence lost for no reason that does not represent evil. The truth and reason live in the future while there are those who live now to suppress it, who insist on calling the fans “crazy” for the same reason they exploited Michael in the first place– for their own gain. Facing the truth of that is a living hell. Who would invite that? Admitting that to self is impossible because it would make clear one’s own complicity in the spread of evil upon humanity. So admitting it to the world is out of the question.
The truth of the matter is far greater than it first appears, far more vast than grasped in a glance, more archetypal than is realized. It is not just about Michael Jackson; it’s about many, many things that involve all humanity. Thus the size of the pain for fans of Michael Jackson. And no one else on this Earth bears it.
All Donations currently are being used to publish the “Words and Violence” Compendium, a project with more than 600 pages of resources about bullying with words– from the playground to the media. The Compendia will be shared with schools, childrens’ programs, educators and other supporters.
“Words and Violence” studies the impact of words when used as weapons to promote violence.
The work is dedicated to Michael Jackson and Lady Diana Spencer.