Saturday, March 9, 2019

Never[land] meet your heroes.

One of the few personal traits I'm proud of is that I've always had a firm grounding in reality. Oh sure, I sat with a friend poring over Beatles magazines and fantasizing that I would marry Paul McCartney someday, but I was nine years old.

I really don't have any other recollection of celebrity-chasing. I have gone to a few book signings, but they were people like Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet (well before the sex abuse claims against him came out), Garrison Keillor (again -- decades before he was disappeared for touching a woman's back), Jodi Picoult (no allegations against her that I'm aware of, and before she became a regular on the New York Times bestseller list), former Mets Manager Davey Johnson, baseball announcer Tim McCarver, and Phil Lesh (at which Mr. Brilliant was fangirling a lot more than I was). But I have never felt that I "knew" these people.

Oh sure, there are celebrities that I've thought might be cool to hang out with, but I've never felt I really knew any of them. The very fact that they are celebrities means that they have a public persona that may or may not resemble their real personalities, no matter how many interviews they allowed Barbara Walters or Morley Safer or, yes, even the Queen of Self-Revelation, Oprah.

The closest I've come to rubbing elbows with celebrities is the time I was an usher at the Drama League Awards, where my function was to point guests to the correct room. What struck me that day was that except for John Lithgow, who is as massive as you'd expect, and Jeff Goldblum, who was an absolute prince of a fellow with the three women attending an unrelated conference at the same hotel, just how much SMALLER these people were than you'd expect; small people with extraordinarily large heads, for some reason. The biggest surprise to me was Frances Sternhagen, who made a late-life career playing imposing WASP matrons. You may know her as "Trey's mother" in Sex and the City. In real life, Sternhagen is about my height (which is less than five feet tall). The colors of the world may only seem real when you viddy them on the screen, but despite what Gloria Swanson said in Sunset Boulevard, in reality the movies got big but the stars are small.

If you watched all of the documentary Leaving Neverland this week and stayed to watch the discussion with Wade Robson and James Safechuck afterward (yeah, it was moderated by Oprah, but people DO listen to her), and you came away NOT believing that these two men were telling the truth, then I would say that you are refusing to distinguish between artist and person, between image and person.

Perhaps it's easier for me to believe these two men because I have zero investment in the Mythos of Michael Jackson. I was never a fan. Yes, he was a charismatic entertainer, but there have been plenty of those. I don't toss around the word "genius" lightly. And I sure as hell know that what I see on a stage or in a music video or even a concert has nothing to do with who the person is when he gets off the stage.

With Jackson, it's not even like he was trying to hide anything. The endless parade of prepubescent boys, traded in for a younger one once they reached their teens. The hand-holding. The media calling these boys Jackson's "travel companions." The theme park of a "ranch" that couldn't have drawn in more little boys if its driveways and walkways had been painted in Krazy Glue. All of it as if it were perfectly normal, as if EVERY adult male in his 30s and 40s decks out his house like a kiddie park and walks around holding hands with boys that are not his. The media were so focused on his increasingly grotesque appearance that they didn't even seem to notice what was going on in plain sight.

Everyone enabled him. He was a cash cow to so many people. There was too much money to be made off of Michael Incorporated to look at his personal proclivities. Then add in a celebrity culture in which ordinary people long to be touched by what they perceive as greatness to the point that they're essentially pimping out their sons just so they can hang out with a star. What do you end up with? You end up with James Safechuck's tormented countenance and shaking hands as he finally feels courageous enough to face the demons that the star everyone thought just "loved children" put there.

I don't see Michael Jackson as a monster. It was clear from very early on that he himself was severely damaged by his childhood. I don't know if he was sexually, emotionally, or physically abused, but that he was put out there on stage and expected to use his charisma to support his entire family and even enable the less talented among them to have show business careers constitutes abuse. No, he was not a monster. But he was someone who had the resources to buy the ersatz childhood that the Neverland Ranch and boys like Wade Robson and James Safechuck, and others brought him. They were easy marks because their parents became starstruck and indulged their sons' and their own fandom to an extreme that they don't even understand anymore. They were in thrall to Michael Jackson and now that the curtain has fallen, and the spell is broken, they can't even explain it.

So why don't people like Macauley Culkin and Corey Feldman come forward about him? Perhaps it's because he DIDN'T abuse them. Why not? Because what did he have to offer two young stars in their own right that they didn't already have or could easily get? He didn't have the leverage with them that he did with two unknown kids whose "show business careers" only existed in the reflected light of Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson was a sick, tragic man and clearly his maturity development was stunted. The world wanted him to remain that cute kid on the Ed Sullivan Show forever. As part of the Jackson 5, while he looked like a little kid onstage, offstage he wasn't allowed to be one. And when the puberty monster hit, his emotional development stopped.  As a young adult, he was able to use his money to create the childhood he'd missed, even as people like Quincy Jones and others were able to create an image that could loosely pass for a reasonable facsimile of evolution into something perhaps having some of the aspects of an adult performer.

Jackson didn't abuse everyone he came in contact with any more than a rapist rapes every woman he sees. But no matter how tragic Michael Jackson may have been, no matter how much he cried in the corner at the thought of his favorite boys being away from him, no matter how lonely he was, no matter how much money he had or made for others, no matter how much people may have enjoyed his records, his videos, and his concerts, the fact remains that Michael Jackson ruined the lives of Wade Robson and James Safechuck and probably others who are not yet ready to come forward. No amount of talent, or your enjoyment of it, mitigates that fact.  And for the men he abused, his musical legacy does nothing to change that.


  1. The Michael Jackson tragedy was just the real world done on a larger than life scale. The one thing all humans are good at is denial. Everyone has a public persona, the face they present to the world, regardless of whether or not they're a celebrity. The beloved parish priest, the joking uncle, the adored grandparent, you name it. No one ever wants to believe that someone they know personally is capable of evil -- or even just plain being a jerk -- when they're not around them. The biggest difference between Michael Jackson and your typical local pervert is Jackson's celebrity allowed him to be so open about his fascination with little boys that he was able to make his behavior go unquestioned for much longer than it should have.

  2. No one is saying the word Pedophilia here, but its a helpful descriptor because if you look it up, it is exactly what MJ did. The grooming is the most potent part of the pedophile's toolbox, and they take their time. What really got me was how he took his time and grooomed the parents as well in order to get the younger aged boys that he wanted. He put a lot of work and time into it and you could call it brainwashing when done to a 7 year old! If an adult that a kid is totally in love with and trusts tells a kid that if they ever tell a soul that the perpetrator and the victim will actually be killed, then the victim, at a young age, will integrate that so deeply that they might not even know it. Thats why the statute of limitations on these cases is so wrong.
    Remember, at the same time that MJ was doing this, so was the catholic church and any number of other trusted organizations. There are thousands upon thousands of people that have not come forward and many that dont even remember or have the tools to tell a truth that they believed as a little kid would kill them. This is pure grooming and traumatic response to something happening that no one could understand, much less a 7-10 year old. It feels good and the attention feels good. Along with that comes a constant reminder that if anyone finds out, they will all lose everything.
    The guy in the audience of the Oprah show with the Officer Friendly story was a great example of this....

  3. ...MJ was a pedophile who used his status as a talented musician and dancer to achieve his goals. He was allowed to do this along with all of those organizations and the scary uncles along the way because society could not look at it. I even think that the jury in his trial was tainted, if you look at the older woman juror who just didn't like that a witness snapped her fingers.
    The parents are of real interest here and its a cautionary tale, and really instructive to all adults, in that its not widely known how easily parents can be groomed.
    Pedophiles do not recover. They continue their activities unless they are stopped and removed from being around children. It takes a kind of work that our system does not have funds for and they continue to release these people back into society and rely on local lists and posting where they live.
    My questions remain about the adults in the situation. The maids that found MJs kiddie porn and other porn stash, the maid that saw Michael showering with a victim, the large staff around the house...and mainly, the idea that an adult (even a childlike one,) would sleep with and hang out with little kids without others around....

  4. ...
    Yes, he had all the money in the world and he used it. He could get anything or anyone that he wanted. But society was supposed to stop him. It was so clear (to me anyway) what was going on. Im sure that the professionals saw it. But the system is not built for this kind of prosecution.
    There are many things in our judicial and legal system that need to be reformed and right up top are the statute of limitations laws and also the ability of these powerful people to interact with witnesses and threaten them. we see it in Trump and we have seen it all along with the mafia and other organized crime. So where are the funds to put people in protective custody and the time to have them unravel whats happened to them? The accused gets a speedy trial and that goes against what is needed in these cases in order to get true testimony.
    Denial is a huge part of this and money is another. Also, back then and even now, people just dont know the facts about child abuse. My mother was commenting about how little the people around Robson and Safechuck knew about all of this. The wives were just frightened and didnt know what was happening. I was saying to her that maybe they are people who were raised away from dysfunction and that maybe those of us that come from dysfunctional backgrounds do more research into psychological issues and read stories about these things more often because we are trying to sort ourselves out. But the parents, the wives, the brother; none had a handle on what may have happened to the kid(s) and didn't do any research. If a kid could have been abused but claims it never happened, does one not look up what child abuse looks like? Doesn't every parent read horror stories about these things in order to be able to protect their children?
    I can say from experience that teen kids will keep secrets and even if you think that you are thisclose with your kid and they tell you everything, you are bound to get some surprises as they become adults and those issues become problematic or become less important as an embarrassment. None of that surprises me at all. Actually, after making it 25 years with a complicated, talented kid, nothing surprises me at all anymore.
    Yes, the celebrity thing is a problem and the rabid fans who are a good as conspiracy theorists at this point are mind boggling, but pedophiles are gonna be pedophiles and nothing will stop them except the law.
    Its a helpless feeling that these things continue to go on every day. This is an extreme example and a very important doc that needs to be seen, but these things will continue to happen until we look at pedophilia as a mental disease that is incurable and the courts follow suit.
    Its for the best that MJ died the way he did. he was a tragic figure who was physically abused by his father and who felt that he had missed his childhood, but many people have lived through worse and not become pedophiles. This has to do with malformation in the brain or disease. That is not to take away from anyone's trauma or circumstances, but not everyone has this problem. So I am opposed to feeling sorry for MJ in any way. ...

  5. ...
    I am outraged almost daily by the courts in the US and what a tin ear they have about issues that we have much more real data on now. I dont think that chld abuse is just rampant right now or in the last 20 years; I think that it has always been there and is just being uncovered by the slow wheels of justice in the courts or in organizations that are worried about being sued.
    In any case, I think its an important film, and it serves to not only each about pedophilia and grooming, but also to show that our culture of celebrity is just wrong. How to stop it? Through docs like this and talking about it to everyone. losing embarrassment about who is the criminal in any situation, and to try to make material possessions and money less important in society. Good luck with the last one. My last thought is to never let your children out of your sight. Parenthood is all about sacrifice and this is the big one; do not let your kid go alone anywhere with adults, even if you know them. Host the playdates at your house and go on field trips. Being a scout is not Ok unless you go on the trips. Forget being an alter-kid or studying with the rabbi. Parents have gotten a bad rap in recent years for being overprotective, but actually that may be the thing to do. That's a hard thing and its exhausting, but its clear that the danger is all around and unless you can pick up that someone is grooming you and your kid(s) its the only thing to do. sorry for the uber long post...some things never change;-)

  6. I'd suggest it wasn't so much Michael Jackson who ruined the lives of the two boys but rather their parents. parents have a responsibility to their children. They abdicated that responsibility for the fleeting association with fame. Jackson was one sick individual, but those who permitted their children to "play" with him are the real criminals.


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