Vivian uses a common sense approach to explore the social issues of today.
Marrying Michael Jackson
“You are not marrying a black guy!” my dad shouted at me in 1983 as I drooled over Michael Jackson’s spread in my newly purchased Thriller vinyl album. My dad had nothing against black people, but mixed marriages were frowned upon then, and I was determined to marry Michael Jackson when I grew up. It was the dream of millions around the world who were devoted fans of the music legend.
My elementary school participated in national “Right to Read Week,” and we were awarded “money” for the books we read. At the end of the campaign, our school held an auction. Area merchants donated coveted items to the auction, which included an extensive array of Michael Jackson products. Already a voracious reader, I set the bar even higher for myself, determined I would have them all. A photo of me swooning over a Michael Jackson T-shirt was even featured in our small town newspaper. Yes, I did make a haul at the auction that year and even managed to have enough money left over to score an autographed picture of the Three’s Company cast. Younger people may have to Google that one.
In the early 1980’s, only the most affluent in our town owned VCR’s. Even fewer had cable. My family had neither. To watch any of Michael Jackson’s music videos, I suffered through all the commercials during the 7 pm line-up on Music Magazine. I set my Baby Ben alarm clock for midnight every Friday to look for him on Friday Night Videos. Due to MJ’s epic popularity, his videos were always aired last, but he was worth the wait.
I saved my allowance and bought every Tiger Beat magazine featuring a blurb or photo of MJ. I owned a MJ doll, microphone, sunglasses, Bubble Gum cards, shirts, albums, folders, and any other memorabilia I could afford. My bulletin board was plastered with his face. During the Grammy Awards, I positioned my Panasonic cassette recorder in front of the TV to capture his soft spoken acceptance speeches. I was crushed when he took Brooke Shields as his date instead of me. The best part of going to the movie theater for me was watching MJ’s Pepsi commercial before the feature flick. After visiting Disney World and watching MJ in Captain Eo, my life was complete.
Boys at school insisted MJ was gay, but I figured they were just jealous. After all, they were making that same accusation against George Michael from Wham. What did they know?
No one can argue that MJ was a pioneer in the music and entertainment industry. He was the first to pair a captivating visual story with his music, and his videos put MTV on the map. His embellished attire, sequined glove, intricate choreography, signature moonwalk, and his vast appeal to all ages and races made him a positive, unifying force in the world.
He hid behind sunglasses because he was shy, and we loved his humility despite being the most famous person in the universe.
Then, things started to get weird.
Rumors and Evolving Look
Murmurings emerged about MJ sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber, buying the Elephant Man’s bones, and his odd relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. MJ retaliated by penning the song, Leave Me Alone, and the video poked fun of the rumors. MJ accused the media of concocting stories to exploit him, and we believed him.
Fans were perplexed when MJ was frequently spotted toting around Bubbles the chimp and young boys, like Emmanuel Lewis. When questioned about his peer group of boys under the age of 12, MJ expressed that children were innocent and without the guile of adults. He loved their openness and honesty. MJ was surrounded by people who were quick to take advantage of him and cash in on his success with flagrant disregard for his well-being. We understood this and excused his eccentric desire to hang out with kids instead of self-serving adults.
MJ’s biggest defense for keeping company with minors was his attempt to recapture his own lost childhood. MJ often lamented his formative years were spent on the road and in the studio while other kids were outside playing and making friends. His father was also a very demanding and abusive tyrant. Once MJ became a celebrity in the Jackson 5, he was no longer free to roam without being mobbed. We felt sorry for him. It made sense when he transformed Neverland Ranch into an amusement park with rides, a train, and a petting zoo. MJ was still a child at heart—someone who had grown up too soon and needed a chance to experience all the fun things he missed.
Fans anxiously awaited MJ’s follow-up to Thriller. When his Bad album was released five years later, we were shocked by his whiteness. Rumors surfaced he bleached his skin, but MJ claimed it was a disease called vitiligo. At the time, we were skeptical. We were uneasy about this new look, and we were especially concerned about MJ grabbing himself in every dance move. That was new. And weird. We didn’t like that his nose was half the size it used to be. Still, many celebrities reinvented themselves with each new album release. We considered the outrageous transformations of Madonna during that era and gathered MJ was just trying to keep his image fresh too.
The Wives and the Kids
In 1994, the dream of every female MJ fan died when he wed Lisa Marie Presley. To console ourselves, we proclaimed the union to be a sham and a publicity stunt. This was the general consensus anyway. When MJ planted a big kiss on Lisa Marie at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards, it appeared staged. Years later, we learned this kiss angered Lisa Marie, who felt like MJ used her. When the couple was interviewed by Diane Sawyer in 1995 on Primetime, the biggest question fans wanted answered was whether or not the two were “intimate.” No other newly-wedded couple would be asked such a question. Why was it asked of them? MJ’s evolving, androgynous look called into question his sexuality and the authenticity of their relationship. It was also during this time the child molestation claims surfaced. Could it be MJ was using Lisa Marie as a smokescreen to defuse the validity of the child abuse allegations? She staunchly supported him, and even years after his death, vouched for his innocence. While she was uncomfortable with his unusual cavorting with kids, feeling this set him up for criticism, she remained adamant he was not a pedophile.
The union between Lisa Marie and MJ dissolved in less than two years, as we assumed it would. They had much in common—lost childhoods, constant paparazzi, and hounded by exploitive leeches—yet, they were too odd of a couple to survive. Lisa Marie grew weary of his child-like antics and his growing addiction to drugs, and he was disgruntled by her refusal to bear him children.
Before we could breathe a sigh of relief that MJ was back on the market again, despite our growing uneasiness with his ever increasing erratic and bizarre behavior, he was married again. This time, to Debbie Rowe, his dermatologist’s assistant. She didn’t have his heart though but was merely a pod to bear him two children—Prince and Paris. While MJ denied Rowe was artificially inseminated and that he fathered the children, this is highly debatable. Rowe even admitted to authorities that she never had sex with him. Regardless, this marriage charade ended in divorce too, with Rowe giving up visitation of her children. A third child, “Blanket,” was born to MJ through a surrogate in 2002.
Many devoted MJ fans refused to accept he was spiraling downward and no longer worthy of blind adulation. Some of us, however, removed our rose-colored glasses. The drug addiction and child molestation allegations were too big of a strain for our love to bear. Instead of pledging our undying love and desire to marry him, we focused on his talent as an entertainer. We lauded his dancing, his videos, his music, and his philanthropy, but we could no longer commend his character.
In December 1993, MJ released a famous video, decrying the claims of molestation. We watched, transfixed. He admitted his drug addiction was a result of pain from a surgical procedure on his scalp. He described the humiliating ordeal he underwent when investigators stormed his home and photographed his body. We started to feel empathetic. His eyes implored us to believe him. Could MJ hurt a child? He seemed so gentle and kind. Could he so blatantly lie to us? Surely, he wouldn’t make this video if he weren’t being transparent and sincere.
When MJ died in 2009, part of us died with him. He was an icon of our childhood. We sat in the movie theater during the brief airing of This is It and mourned the loss of our tragic and talented legend. He was the most innovative, creative, and musical entrepreneur in our lifetimes. The man we had written off as “Whacko-Jacko” somewhere down the line was forgiven in the flick of a Fedora and the wave of a sequined glove. The rumors, the addiction, the freaky idiosyncrasies—forgotten. At the end, he smoothly moonwalked his back into our hearts. MJ was gone forever, and all that remained in us was love and admiration for this once-in-a-lifetime talent.
We had kids of our own and shared MJ’s videos online with them so they could experience something they never see in today’s cookie-cutter Top 40. We smiled nostalgically when we skated with our kids at the roller rink and Billie Jean started playing. We felt wistful when young and rising celebrities voiced MJ’s influence on their work as artists. We remembered what we wanted to remember.
Then, the HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, revived old ghosts. It’s hard to deny the facts:
- MJ slept in bed with young boys.
- Forensic evidence proves these boys touched the same pornographic materials MJ kept in a suitcase beside his bed.
- Jordie Chandler drew a picture of MJ’s private parts that matched.
- An alarm system was rigged in the hallway outside his bedroom to alert him if anyone was approaching.
In addition, MJ wooed these boys and their families with lavish gifts, and once the boys reached maturity, they appeared to be cast aside. Was he being generous and kind, or was he using his wealth and stardom to manipulate people for a vile purpose?
MJ was an internationally known mega star. It’s difficult to imagine someone with his raw talent could be a monster who preyed on children under the spotlight. The media reporting on this cannot even bring themselves to use the term “pedophile” when referring to him. His level of celebrity cannot be uttered in the same sentence with such a derogatory and beastly descriptor. It seems sacrilegious.
MJ’s defenders slam his accusers of being opportunists. They point out that MJ was never convicted, which would presume his innocence. However, O.J. Simpson wasn't convicted either even though we all knew he killed his wife. He even wrote a book about how he did it.
Still, we have learned from the recent Me Too Movement that sexual abuse is often a repressed experience that remains buried until something triggers it, causing it to bubble to the surface to be processed by the individual who was victimized.
Imagine if a non-celebrity wanted your son to sleep in bed with him. Alarm bells would go off immediately. You would never allow your son to be alone with that man ever again. No amount of money could buy you off and cause you to look the other way so you could profit while your son was abused. Why isn’t anyone focusing on what monsters the parents of these boys were? They were the ones responsible for protecting their kids from this dangerous and compromising situation. Where is parental accountability?
The Jackson family estate is suing HBO, but is it because they think MJ was falsely accused, or are they, too, trying to turn a profit? It's no secret his family tried riding on his coattails, which is one reason MJ distanced himself from them. He referenced their betrayal in his music from his "super fly sister" to his "brothers who don't give a damn." Like vultures, they descended on his estate at his passing.
Predator or Peter Pan?
Fame and fortune is a blessing and a curse for many child stars. A fine line also exists between genius and insanity. MJ was a musical genius, but was he mentally ill enough to abuse young boys in this sick and twisted way yet convince himself he was somehow showing them love? He depended on drugs to sleep because he struggled with insomnia. One might question whether his inability to sleep derived from a creative mind that would not be quieted or a guilty conscience that kept him awake. The evidence is damning. We shouldn't give him a free pass just because we loved his music and he was iconic to our childhood, yet we can't condemn him without certain proof he committed a crime. Was he a child predator hiding behind his notoriety or a lost boy from Neverland trying to capture a childhood that eluded him?
What do you think?
© 2019 Vivian Coblentz