BY JONATHAN VALANIA “She would have been a good woman if she had someone around to shoot her every day of her life,” says The Misfit at the end of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” The same could have been said of Michael Jackson. Instead he got Joseph Jackson, terrifying paterfamilias of America’s bizarro first family. By all accounts Joe Jackson, an ex-boxer and struggling musician who wound up a crane operator in a Gary, Indiana steel mill fits the profile of the tyrannical showbiz dad who transfers his thwarted dreams of stardom onto his offspring, whether they want it or not.
He cracked the whip like an circus animal trainer — literally, once holding Michael upside down by one leg and unleashing a barrage of blows on his son’s back and buttocks — until his children danced like a spinning tops and sang like a canaries in the coal mine. One night, Joe Jackson donned a fright mask and snuck in his sons’ bedroom window, screaming awake his sleeping sons — just to teach them the dangers of sleeping with the window open. For years afterward, Michael would be haunted by nightmares of a kidnapper climbing inside his window. Fear would make the Jackson 5 great — fear of failure, fear of pennilessness, but most of all fear of their father.
Seven hundred and fifty million albums sold later, the end justifies the means, some would say. I wonder.
Arguably it was Michael Jackson’s Peter Pan Syndrome, writ large, twisted and toxic, that sank his Titanic talent and ultimately killed him in the end. Peter Pan Syndrome is the disease of arrested development, often suffered by those robbed of a childhood by the pre-pubescent pursuit, willing or otherwise, of tender-aged stardom. It is not recognized as a form of mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, but I think it’s safe to say that Michael Jackson — having burned through $500 million he didn’t have along with the hundreds of millions he did, having been brought up on charges of child molestation, having disfigured his legacy in much the same way he disfigured his face — has proven them wrong.
Presumably, his long-rumored and ultimately fatal self-medication — daily doses of Demerol and Oxycontin, it has been reported — was his way of coping with the pain of his alienation from the human race and the shame of the glaring disconnect between who he was and who the world demanded that he be: A grown-up. He was eight years old when the Jackson 5 started, and though his body aged, he never really got any older. Small wonder that he preferred the company of children. The last 20 years of is adult life was one long Disney dark ride — a twilight zone of megalomaniacal man-childhood trapped in the decaying Neverland ruins of his own making — the kind of warped through-the-looking-glass existence you get when a certain madness is given an unlimited line of credit.
I bring all this up for two reasons: First the custody battle for Michael Jackson’s children, such as they were, has begun, and the judge has awarded temporary custody to Michael’s mother. As such, the circle remains unbroken. Secondly, as much as I am saddened and conflicted by Michael Jackson’s passing, I am sickened that the cruelty that birthed his celebrity is matched by the tawdriness of his family’s response to his death. The way they have been pointing the finger of blame solely at Michael’s personal physician, the way they brought in Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to muddy the waters and act as carnival barkers for the greatest show on Earth, the ridiculously hyperbolic media circus they have whipped up to document every mindlessly overstated and agonizingly overdetermined nanosecond of the golden goose’s passing.
It all seems so unseemly and pimp-like, so pre-Obama, so OJ trial version 1.0. The way they demanded a second autopsy when they didn’t like the results of the first — did not like that Michael’s death could not be blamed on someone other than Michael, and by extension, themselves. Perhaps, they are laying the groundwork for a wrongful death suit, or perhaps they are hoping to polish his tarnished legacy, and by extension his posthumous selling power (it is well known that Elvis is worth much more in death than he ever was in life), to paint him as a victim instead of a victimizer. In the end, I’d say he was both. After all, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
RELATED: A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a ruling this morning granting temporary guardianship of deceased singer Michael Jackson’s three children to his mother, Katherine Jackson, a court spokesman said. Michael Jackson’s mother had filed documents this morning in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeking guardianship of the deceased pop singer’s three children. Attorneys for Katherine Jackson said in court papers that the children’s biological mother, Debbie Rowe, does not have a relationship with them and that if she won custody, it would be “detrimental” to the minors. Prince Michael Jr., 12, Paris Michael Katherine, 11, and Prince Michael II, 7, are living with their grandmother and their grandfather, Joe Jackson, and have a “long established relationship” with her, the filing stated. MORE