I’ve been researching Michael Jackson and all the events of his life for about 7 years now. The average “Joe” has no idea not only about what happened to him but about what it is like to be a celebrity in a culture that is cynical, judgmental and sometimes even sinister.
And when you consider that Jackson was the most famous man on Earth, it amplifies not only the love that was thrown his way but the abominable shade. If social media is an indicator, then we are becoming a culture of not just cynicism but regretfully, sadism. Retribution, retaliation, anger, ridicule and all the things that make up the dark side of human nature including all the isms can be found on an ordinary day on social media. Racism, sexism, sadism, egoism, nihilism, nationalism, as well as misogyny, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, objectification, incivility… well, you get the idea.
This is actually counter to our real nature as human beings. We are actually hard-wired for compassion as science is proving from studies at major universities and scientific think tanks. So the shade, if not an innate behavior, has to be a learned behavior. We inherit basic goodness but must use volition and determination to go against our true nature to be offensive or the extreme—evil.
Where do we learn to marshal such magnitude of resistance to our true selves? How hard must we push against our own inner nature to be dark in our interactions with others? Where do we learn it? And how do we internalize the messages from outside enough to become an automatic response? We HAVE TO BE PROGRAMED to be awful humans. Where does that programming come from?
That is a question worth pondering.
In the case of Michael Jackson and the shade thrown at him in his lifetime, I think it was inevitable given the major forces at work during his lifetime. It occurred as the result of a perfect storm.
Let’s explore those times a bit…
Molestation of children wasn’t truly on the public radar until the nineties and after the McMartin case that caused a frenzy from 1987 to 1989 where it was fodder for the tabloid media. The McMartins were not guilty but the government spent $15 million trying to prove them guilty while ruining their lives and damaging countless children. The McMartins owned a family run daycare center. One child, coached by a mentally ill mother said he was inappropriately touched. The case, sensationalized with the help of tabloids, mushroomed into a child molestation ring run from inside the daycare center. All family members were implicated. Authorities knew at the time that the mother was schizophrenic but pursued the case aggressively anyway. It took 10 years to completely clear the charges but by then the stain on the family and the daycare was permanent. Lives were ruined and children suffered terror and nightmares from the investigation.
In the aftermath studies revealed incest to be endemic in rural America. This was about the same time that Satanic Ritual Cults’ alleged abuse of children surfaced and the field of psychology posited that Multiple Personality Disorder came out of perpetual ritual abuse. The Satanic Cult frenzy was a hysterical witch hunt similar to what happened in Salem. False memory syndrome was exposed because therapists interviewing children about sexual abuse were leading with their questions much as police interviews do. The media made spectacle of it all for a decade.
The repeated exposure in headline after headline ad nauseam caused monumental public outrage as the culture became sickened by all the sordid stories and hype prolonged by the media which was making huge profits. The media learned that scandal paid off. The tabloids learned that what really paid off was crime and scandal and celebrity in combination.
Around this same time, a jogger was attacked in Central Park in New York and 5 young males of color (4 Black and 1 Hispanic) were accused, tried and convicted of the crime sending outrage toward young men of color through the community and nation which became transfixed on the case. Again, the tabloids cashed in. The youth were not guilty and were exonerated and released from prison but not until more than a decade later. But the fear of black men resurrected from the historical and hysterical fear of black masculinity, stayed anchored in the public memory.
Prolonged stories and long awaited trials that stretch for months and sometimes years where the innocent are guilty in the public eye, can overwhelm those consuming them, causing people to turn away or lose interest. By the time a trial is completed, many will have lost interest or ignore the outcomes and may not know of the not-guilty verdict, or not care about it anymore. Even worse, because of the immediate presumption of guilt cemented by hype and the horrific and sensationalized nature of the alleged crime, the “guilty” verdict remains in the mind. It’s often reinforced by pundits and talking heads who pontificate with presumed guilt. Because of the repetition and reinforcement of the position of trial by public opinion, many will just assume the person guilty no matter the verdict and chalk it up to “money,” “celebrity,” notoriety, or a “good lawyer” who “got them off” because of their wealth or the talents of the defense attorney.
What has come of all this, is that it is impossible, and in some cases illegal, to allow children freedom to play unaccompanied or to interact with adult males unsupervised. Many innocent lives have been ruined by accusations alone because an accusation of harm to a child, particularly sexually, is an immediate public indictment and trial by public opinion where guilt is assumed instantly.
The public sentiment and protectionism may have gone too far because of the fear and the exposure of a sub-culture of (mostly) men interested in children as sex objects. A kind of hysteria emerged from that period. This explains much of the rush to judgment about Michael Jackson as well as the submerged racism that couldn’t bear (consciously or not) to see a successful and “inferior” black man, especially one that challenged gender stereotypes and confused gender and race in a “macho-man” climate. (“Beat It”)
The nineties were rocky for race relations in the United States.
The famous Rodney King beating by Los Angeles Police becomes front page news and the L.A. riots ensue when the officers are found not guilty, by a city’s African Americans frustrated by racist and profiling cops who are never disciplined for outrageous violations of civil rights. Nobody listens. And when the officers are acquitted, all hell breaks loose in the hood. The riots are the single worst incident of urban unrest in history. Whites are not sympathetic.
Then comes the O.J. Simpson long and drawn-out “trial of the century” televised for all to see. More spectacle. And a wealthy, famous Black man and celebrity beloved by football fans and embraced by the public. People stared in disbelief; they didn’t want a pop culture hero to be guilty. When O.J. was acquitted, African Americans who believed he was set up and framed because it was a customary practice in their neighborhoods, celebrated. Whites, who never experienced life in the hood, were angry.
Now comes the Michael Jackson accusations. They become part of a perfect storm.
Racism is not dead. It is not a post-racial America.
The presidency of Barack Obama and the many racist jokes at the expense of the president and his family exposes the racism still bubbling just under the surface. The arguably ugliest one by a teacher who lamented on social media she was tired of seeing “an ape in heals” referencing the first lady who’s been a portrait of style and grace. The “White-lash” that followed Obama’s presidency in the succeeding election underscores that successful or powerful black men are still an angry taboo to much of the old White establishment.
The habit of focusing on shade in social and mainstream media has a consequence. It has made for a hyper-vigilant culture quick to judge and condemn. The fear of African American adult males persists and is evidenced in the militarized and too-quick-to-pull-the-trigger attitudes and actions of police. Not all African American males are violent. Not all police are trigger happy or racist. Not all men are sexually aroused by children. Not all accused of violence are violent. Not all accused are guilty.
Things that may have once been innocent have now become “creepy,” yet some things that should have been unacceptable were overlooked. This is an example of acceptable or overlooked creepiness:
Why was it acceptable enough to be on TV? Why was a White man allowed to behave openly the way a pedophile does? A Black man would not get such a pass. In fact, an African American would not have been a TV host back then. Nor would a woman of any color.
It’s certainly true that there were predators in Hollywood “back in the day” for women actors often speak of the “casting couch” where they earned their roles, not with their acting chops but by alternative means, at the hands of entitled pompous and powerful men. Hollywood was, and still is, male dominated. It’s also true that what was acceptable then may have been innocent– or not. Men of color still seem to be judged by a different standard than white men evidenced by a glance at the Roman Polanski case and Bill Cosby by comparison. The White Academy Awards a year ago are a loud testament to the continued lack of respect for diversity.
Is it all deliberate prejudice? Not likely. Some of it is White privilege, an unawareness of micro-aggressions, while some is embedded and unconscious and some is ignorance, particularly ignorance of history. Prejudice and violence are not inborn, they are inherited or developed over time. What is inborn, science is informing us, is that we are actually hard-wired for compassion. But like a muscle that goes unused, compassion and kindness atrophies without use and strengthening.
Without compassion, or an awareness of it, we can become cynical. It’s become evident we are in need of adjusting our psyches. The cynical assignment of predatory instincts, immediate rush to judgment, knee-jerk reactionary responses, racism and pandemic cynicism of our times are damaging to the human psyche and toxic to the soul. A hyper-reactionary public assumes the worst in humanity which appears to be a runaway self-fulfilling prophesy playing itself out in the collective right now even into the Oval Office in America and the politics of Europe.
Tabloid journalism with its’ almost exclusive focus on the dark side of human nature has done us all a grand disservice. Archetypes and self-fulfilling prophesy are very powerful forces. What kind of world might we have inherited today if the media had focused more on the light? Would the light have been more believable and human nature considered more brilliant? One has to wonder…