Inner Michael » When Nobody Loves the Mirror

When Nobody Loves the Mirror

Once upon a time, a little boy- who was born on a street in an obscure town in Middle America—saw the world with wide-eyed wonder. Even the tiniest sound was music to his ears. The washing machine with its rhythm captured his body and held it hostage to the beat. This little boy would sit in his bed at night and stare through the window at the full moon and hum. The humming got better and better and more sophisticated until he opened his mouth and began singing full out, and his mother heard and wondered, Who is doing that singing?

She crept quietly through the house to find her little baby boy singing every note he heard perfectly on pitch. His voice was clear and bright and sounded like an angel singing. She told her husband, who scoffed at the idea; his son was much too young and much too amateurish to be as good as his wife suggested. But she insisted and he finally listened.

And the rest is history.

So how did a sweet little boy with the voice of an angel and a talent too big for him to contain become the “Michael Jackson” of ill repute and freakish fame? How did we get here from there? It’s simple really; money started to trump integrity.

I have asked: “Why was Michael Jackson such a lightning rod?”  ( )

Jan asked it on the Voices Education Project site with her “Words and Violence” case study: “ The Caricature.”

Matt Semino, Tom Mesereau, Michael Spies, Forbes Everett Landis, Joe Vogel and others have all asked the same question in one form or another.

People have asked me what I think happened. They want to know: Was it greed? Was it jealousy? Was it fear of his influence? Was it fear of the scope of his power? Was it an attempt to keep him in line or in check? Was it financially motivated? Was it racism? Was it the “tall poppy syndrome”? Was it the music industry? Was it the tabloids? Was it his enemies? Was it a conspiracy? Was it cultural? Was it planned and executed? Was it deliberate? Was it motivated by morality and religion? Was it human nature?


Michael Jackson’s accident of being— of being talented, of being born during an era of suspicion and a time of paranoia and “investigative reporting,” of being a symbol and a mirror of the culture of the twentieth century—was a perfect storm of circumstances. A product of his culture, Michael was also a victim of it. And he was a victim of his own enormous God-given genius and talent.

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. . . Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating. ~ Pearl S. Buck

Michael was, for most of his life, caught between a creative rock and a hard place. As an artist and a writer, I understand well what it means to be haunted by something—until it is on paper in words or paint. Whatever it is, the idea that comes, the revelation revealed, or the light that goes on will haunt until it is expressed. Art commands. It demands. It insists and it has foot-stomping, hands-on-hips, finger-wagging tantrums until it gets attention and gets its own way. The more those tantrums are denied, ignored or avoided, the louder they get.

And when someone is a genius and an artist driven by something outside himself to create, he becomes a slave to the creative process, the creator and the creation. Like facing the Star Trek Borg, resistance is futile. To ignore God-given talent or hide it under a bushel is to thumb your nose at God. Who wants or dares to do that? Michael created because he couldn’t not create. To not create for Michael Jackson or anyone like him is to not breathe, and to not breathe is to die.

Because his achievements were so great, his talent so wide, his palette so huge and his fame and wealth so expansive, he was a visible, easy target. Add to that certainty that he was shy and not an eloquent orator, and you have a sensitive and gentle giant. Bullies love those people because they are quiet, driven and spiritually grounded— and they don’t fight back. Love, in those cases, does not conquer all because the bully does not know love. To speak of love to a bully is to speak a foreign language. The crass always believe everyone else is like them; the cynical think the spiritual are fools.

An empath feels everybody and believes that everybody feels everybody too. Sociopaths, the irreversibly cynical, those jaded with mafia mentality and bullies, do not feel nor empathize. They crave power and attention and are conquest driven. The only feeling in their repertoire of emotion is satisfaction and frustration. When they are thwarted from their goal or conquest, their frustration motivates them with vengeance. They do not tolerate frustration or failure well at all. They strike.

We don’t recognize something in another that doesn’t also live in us in some measure. We recognize anger in someone else because we get angry. We can see love in someone’s eyes because it lives in our own hearts. We don’t recognize treachery in another if we are not capable of that same deceit. The innocent fly does not recognize the spider as a predator, but only as someone sharing the web. When great deceit lives in a dark heart, life itself is a reflection of that world view. If one sees the world as dangerous, indeed it will be. Hang out in the desert and everything gets hot. Hang out in the dark and the light begins to hurt your eyes.

Certain industries attract certain kinds of personalities. Law tends to attract people who value justice. Criminal justice tends to attract those who value power and control. Crime attracts those with a skewed sense of self-entitlement and fear. Sports tend to attract those who live in their bodies more than their minds. Modeling tends to attract those who value aesthetics, beauty and the attractiveness of “beautiful people.” Science tends to attract those who live their lives in the mental sphere. The clergy tend to be seekers of the God experience. What we don’t often realize is that the drug addict is looking for that same orgiastic state of Nirvana; he too is looking for God. But he is driven by the default of shadow rather than the passion of desire. We are driven by our desires—some conscious and some not.

These illustrations are simplistic and are generalizations used here only to demonstrate that people have different motives for different reasons and are sometimes looking to fill a void or desire in themselves that is the invisible shadow self at work. Someone who feels powerless is likely to be looking for a way to exercise power, and someone who feels inadequate is going to look for a way to feel superior to or “more than” those around her.

And then there are the geniuses and artists among us who have so much inside that it overflows and spills into everything they do. They are the inspired ones, the gifted among us, the mirrors of ourselves and our desires or our vacuums. We will project our own fulfillment or lack of it onto them if our own desires aren’t realized. We can love them only up to the point of personal resentment. We can feel joy in their success only to the degree that it parallels our own or they carry our dreams for us. Then envy can set in if we believe ourselves restricted or incapable of the same. It is too painful to own our emptiness, so we project on to another in the form of envy.

Michael, could not contain his talent any more than a person with a very sick stomach can refrain from vomiting. The force is too great, the momentum too fierce, the rising too certain. In someone with that kind of inspired artistry, it is going to come out because it cannot be stopped. In some cases it can be regulated, but with a truly inspired artist, it’s often a rushing river that is wild and untamed—it has that kind of force. You can’t stop a river any more than you can push it.

People who are in the business of exposing or tearing down other people with words, pictures or their offices of power feel a compulsion to do it. Sometimes it’s a game, other times it’s a junkie’s addiction to the rush of adrenalin. Occasionally, it is sexually gratifying to demean or destroy another. It satisfies a need to express testosterone that is unregulated or to hide from one’s own impotence. It is that surge of “power over” someone that satisfies an inner emptiness and distracts the psyche from its self-indictment of impotence. Bullies bully because they need to feel adequate, and that drive comes from a deep sense of inadequacy.

If an industry is profit-driven— and most are—the rules that govern it are constructed solely to make money. When there is a moral or ethical dilemma inherent in an endeavor, there are choices to be made: act morally, immorally or amorally. Disparity or a wide gap between values and behavior causes internal dissonance. In an ethical dilemma there is a lack of ease, an internal agitation until that gap is closed. To silence that internal hum of dissonance, adjustment is necessary—lower the values or elevate the behavior so they match. Disharmony in the soul is intolerable.

For those who live and work in circumstances that present soul-searching and ethical dilemmas, if they abandon their souls they will need to justify their behavior in order to silence the dissonance. Sometimes, an organizational culture requires overriding one’s conscience. If that work involves human beings, then one must dehumanize them in order to keep going.

Unethical financial moguls must see people as “cash cows,” prison guards must see people as “inmates,” rogue cops must see people as “criminals” or “perps.” Relegating people to subhuman status helps to make inhumane behavior easy. It worked for Nazis and Jews in Germany, Tutsis and Hutus in Africa, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland— and justifies genocide and war making all over the planet. It keeps dictators in business, populations under control, wealth centralized by class and race, and it justifies racism, classism, sexism, lookism, elitism, jingoism, ageism, nationalism and all the other dehumanizing isms.

When we are dealing with real people and their hearts, souls and emotions, the only way to get through the dissonance that comes with endeavors that are less than honorable or which lack integrity is to dehumanize them and make them “other.” This is a primitive and tribal way to navigate human affairs and, unless you are a Neanderthal, it has no place in modern society. Old attitudes die hard though, and sometimes generations must pass before the saved up and ancestral inflammatory feelings and resentments of the past are cooled. How do you effectively “otherize” people in order to dehumanize them?

Label their religion as heresy.

Hate their race.

See their philosophy as “wrong.”

Ridicule their god.

Make them aliens.

See them as “different” or “less than.”

Call their beliefs a lie.

Feel superior.

Deem them ugly.

Disfigure them.

Question their motives.

Humiliate them publicly.

Expose their human follies and foibles.

Laugh at them.

Deride their talent.

Make fun of their values.

Belittle their mission.

Deconstruct their identity and humanity.

So what did happen to Michael Jackson? If you understand the internal struggle of the human to be soulful or not, to be ethical or not, to cave in to convention or not, you can grasp what happened to Michael. The perfect storm gathered to make him less than human. The tradition of calling African Americans names and considering them subhuman is still very much alive, and in Michael’s youth it was rampant. Michael drew fire because he was daring, talented and powerful, and much of what he did challenged the establishment and flew in the face of convention. Too powerful for that racist and classist establishment; some saw him as a threat, corrupting the minds of youth.

The music industry has a long tradition of signing artists and then owning their souls. The record company dictated what you sang, what you wore, how much exposure you had, what kind of music you were going to do and how much and how it was going to be promoted. A music icon in the making with a huge audience and a lot of power might challenge long-standing traditions, and would need to be reined in and controlled so that the power structure and tradition didn’t die and the industry stayed in homeostasis. We may never know what was said and done about Michael Jackson in closed-door boardroom sessions.

The tabloid industry cannot afford to see their targets as real people, so they become “celebs” who are less than human “targets”: fair game and fodder for screaming headlines, ridicule, late-night TV comedians,and gossip magazines online and in print. For tabloid journalists and paparazzi, it is an occupational hazard to view celebrities as human beings. For many in that industry, the rush of the hunt, adrenalin and power, as well as the obscene amounts of cash, dictate their ethics. If that industry had any conscience, it would have changed after Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed while being chased for the “money shot.” Instead of a front-page splash with a juicy story about her love affair, we were presented with breaking news of an impending funeral.

Rogue cops and vigilante justice are still alive and well wherever there are those who seek power and control for personal and pathologically sick gain—whether that is ego, sexual gratification or to fill an empty hole in their souls. The law enforcement industry also has its adrenalin addicts and arrogance and attitudes toward justice, minorities and crime. There are cops who look the other way, cops on the take, cops who plant evidence and cops who lie—and they make every law enforcement individual look bad. A power broker who is white, male, fundamentalist, racist with testosterone and arrogance is more dangerous than any street criminal could ever be.

Michael was the target of all three of these major industries, and of the worst of the elements that corrupt good people—power and money. And he was an icon— the most famous man in the world— who pushed the boundaries, rattled the teeth of the establishment and crossed the lines of convention. That made some people nervous and enraged others. Michael blurred the lines of race by fixing his nose and “turning white”; he blurred the lines of gender by being a sensitive male and looking androgynous and he crossed musical boundaries. He raised the bar for videos, engineered new sounds and methods, and knew how to use drama— and he did it all publicly and well. And there was no evidence that he was going to fade or go quietly into the night.

He dared to address a lazy world: allowing its children to die without intervention in Third World countries; trashing a planet without conscience; seeing children disappear without alarm; ignoring the growth of gangs without alternatives; killing children in war zones; allowing people to starve and go without water; and behaving in a thousand soulless ways. He said it dramatically in lyrics, in song, in performance, in videos and with words. He called out a world gone silent and limp in the face of responsibility and stewardship for its own culture and problems.

So what’s a culture to do when faced with such a troublemaker: someone too popular, too powerful, too talented, too demanding, too avant garde, too loud, too in your face and too larger than life, especially when you know he’s right? Silence him. Vilify him. Ridicule him. Make him irrelevant. Mock him. Humiliate him. Crucify him. Lock him up. Hamstring him. But above all—dehumanize him. Attack especially his face, because the face holds the identity. Attack the way he looks, because it is the self he presents to the world. Take away everything that might reveal his humanity. Then label him a “freak” and dismember him in public for the entire world to see, and make it into a popular game and pastime to delight the masses. No harm done, really; he is not human, or is subhuman—a “monster,” an “animal.”

Michael Jackson was a mirror. He reflected everything that was wrong with the culture, with the twentieth century, with the world and with humanity. And when the image is ugly, nobody—but nobody—loves the mirror.

(C) 2011 Reprinted from Inner Michael’s Mirror Barbara’s monthly columan at Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait


  1. Docas said . . .

    Barbara, you are a genius and I love this article. You took the words out of my mouth. You understood Michael so well because you took the time to walk in his shoes and his spirit compelled you to write this brutally honest article. Thanks to Michael for all that he did and how he continues to inspire so many people.

    Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:49 am | Permalink
  2. vero said . . .

    Absolutely! You have really made the point well. He was targeted by the 3 corrupt entities, press/tabloids, music industry (MTV, Rolling Stone, critics who panned his last album Invincible) Cops / Tom Sneddon. Now we see what Rupert Murdock’s corrupt tabloids were doing: hacking the phones of victims and bribing police. Michael fought back against the filthy press. He was a strong and courageous person and a man that all men would do well to emulate.

    Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:46 am | Permalink
  3. Lynaire Williams said . . .

    Rev. Barbara, Your powers of observation are amazing. Reading your words, I started to shiver. To me, always a sign that I am receiving truth. All too sad and all too true. I am in awe of the way he kept going, right to the end. Bravo Michael! Lynaire W

    Posted July 16, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink
  4. Robbie M said . . .

    The unholy trinity and an innocent slain by their corruption. They succeeded in silencing Michael, but there`s not much they can do to silence the millions of supporters he has. It is the only comfort I have. There is a perverse pleasure in watching the tabloid scum being chased by their own kind. Who would have thought that the Murdoch empire would be grovelling in public, issuing profuse apologies for the behaviour of its staff in the phone hacking scandal. What goes around comes around. Finally a chink in the armour of the mighty media. I pray the whole rotten edifice crumbles, it would be richly deserved. Thank you Rev. Barbara for another brilliant article. Love and blessings from Scotland.

    Posted July 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  5. appleh said . . .

    Thank you Rev. Barbara for this article ! I just heard that Rebekha Brooks from NotW was arrested for hiding hacked emails from the police! Now the truths hopefully will be revealed piece by piece. I hope there will be a law in the near future that protect us from slanderous and lieing media. I wish Michael was still with us and see how his predictions maybe become true now!

    Posted July 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  6. Brenda Beazley said . . .

    Rev. Barbara…I shudder to think of the void that would exist without the voice of reason you provide…we all know the gift we had and still have in Michael…we feel Him in our hearts so intensely as though we draw the breath of life from His spirit…you help us focus our energy on His light…I know I should speak only for myself…yet intuitively I know I’m not alone…

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  7. Janet Matthews said . . .

    Divine retribution or Divine intervention ? So many cover ups, the truth hidden from public view for years until reports of a few celebrities having their phones hacked hit the headlines. That is when the story really took off and the flood gates opened to reveal the true horror of what had been happening. I have a feeling that Mr. Michael Jackson is looking down with some sense of achievement now. He has got his point across and people are sitting up and taking notice at last.

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  8. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    *wink* ~Rev. B.

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Permalink
  9. Kim said . . .

    Brilliant! How refreshing to read something so honest! The way which you were able to break down and articulate your observations showed what happened to Michael very clearly. I sincerely hope that all of the media coverage regarding the Rupert Murdoch story will only be the beginning of what needs to be a deep cleansing of the insensitivity, dehumanization and indifference with which people are treated. I see this story unfolding and now I am seeing it being discussed on the various news programs (even the tabloid shows) finally. Could it be possible that people are finally starting to see the light? I have hope! We need to continue speaking our voice. I am keeping the faith. If only Michael were here to see this. Wait…I believe he is watching. 🙂 Thank you for displaying the courage that you do in writing the truth.

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 12:14 am | Permalink
  10. Sheryl said . . .

    Another outstanding piece, Barbara. Many of your comments are similar to ones stated at the symposium on Michael last September at the college in Chicago. One of the journalists presented his “paper” regarding the reasons to bring down Michael. Of course your piece adds the sociological/psychological and spiritual elements more completely which help us to more completely understand what was going on. The journalist was mainly addressing the economics and greed of the music industry and how difficult it was for those in control (white) to allow this talented black man to rise to the top.

    Posted August 8, 2011 at 12:48 am | Permalink

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