Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Why we mourn for Michael Jackson

It's been about a week since Michael Jackson died, the media frenzy has calmed down some, but he's still in the news. My usual attitude is that the world (and especially America's) obsession with celebrities is a detrimental and that our attention should be fixed on more important issues. For example, I really didn't care about when Heath Ledger died and I don't care about what is happening to Britney Spears. I'd much rather that the attention we give those celebrities be focused on something else, like the economy. But Michael was different.

It's hard for me to comprehend how prodigious Michael was. This is partly because his career was on a major decline for over a decade. His popularity started long before I was born and peaked when I was very young. I remember waiting in anticipation for his videos and listening to Thriller over and over on my mom's old record player. I remember talking about Black or White at school in the first grade. I remember when Dangerous came out and waiting for another set of videos. And I remember being confused about the child molestation accusations, that had a lot to do with the loss of my infatuation with Jackson, but I think it hurt Jackson a lot more than me, I think it made it harder for him to make music.

I've done a bit of research on both child molestation cases, and I don't think Jackson is guilty. I won't go into all the details but here are a few points:

First Trial
The case was brought by a dentist who was $68,400 behind in child support payments. He was jealous of the relationship that Michael Jackson had with his 13 year old son and extracted a confession by using a controversial drug. His ex-wife told police she did not believe her son was molested. Other children who were friends of Jackson were questioned and none of them reported inappropriate behavior. After the trial, several people who worked for Jackson sold false stories to media tabloids. Jackson eventually settled out of court because he was under a tremendous amount of stress.

Second Case
The accuser went to the same lawyer who served in the previous case before going to the police. The DA opened a website encouraging anyone who had been abused by Jackson to come forward, nobody did. In 1998 the accuser had stolen clothes from JC Penny, claimed that she had been beaten by the security officers and tried to sue for three million. Two years after that she claimed her breasts had been fondled and settled out of court for 137,000 (and never was punished for stealing clothes).

This is by no means conclusive proof that Jackson is innocent, but there really isn't much proof he is guilty either, just the words of two kids (though many more say Jackson never did anything inappropriate).

However, there is one person we know was abused as a child, Michael Jackson. He was poor and beaten and never given a chance to lead a normal childhood, if he did abuse the children, it was only abuse begetting abuse.

Aside from being a phenomenal singer and dancer, Michael Jackson pioneered the music video away from simple shots of the band playing or shots about the song's subject matter into actual stories. His music videos grabbed your attention for the full 8-20 minutes, they weren't just some random strung together images tangentially related to the song, they were the song. Nobody has come close to making videos like Jackson has. Along with the artistic merit Jackson added actual meaningful messages to his songs, especially towards the end of his career. Songs like Smooth Criminal, Bad and Beat it deal with crime and gang violence. Songs like Man In The Mirror, You Are Not Alone and They Don't Really Care About Us deal with introspection and societal problems. Michael Jackson gave millions of dollars to charities and was personal friends with many children (besides the ones who sued him).

What did he get for all of this? He was treated like a freak, the constant target of jokes by people like Jay Leno, the subject of negative media inquiry. A lonely man who was too busy mastering music and dealing with legal and medical problems to grow up, and now only after his death are we appreciating him. It's sad that somebody who was doing so much in his 20s and 30s faded so far from glory and died at a relatively young age. I always wished he would make some sort of a comeback, even though I didn't know how...