“No-one understands me… the painful youth I’ve had” —lyrics of Michael Jackson’s song “Childhood”.
The loath I feel toward pop culture is so intense that I almost never speak about it. When the American Congress spent a minute of silence for the death of pop star Michael Jackson I knew that the US had fallen into its cultural nadir. This said, Jackson’s case illustrates perfectly why parental abuse, as a subject, is the most potent taboo in our society.
He was born in August of 1958, just two weeks after I was born. Unlike my parents, professionals in classical music, Jackson’s family of musicians are pop. Yes: he was fabulously rich and, conversely, I have been unable to sell a single book to a publishing house and have been terribly broke the whole of my adult life.
I was good looking in my youth. But by trying to expunge his ethnic look, Jackson destroyed his face through aggressive facial surgeries. Why I am so poor and yet mentally and physically healthy, while Jackson was ridiculously rich and physically and mentally so unhealthy?
The reason that I am broke is simple. The topic I have devoted the most important part of my adult life is precisely what I said above, the most potent taboo of mankind and I am not making a penny out of researching it.
Why it is a such a taboo is exemplified in the sad life of Jackson.
A friend of Jackson, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, wrote an article that sheds some light into Jackson’s tortured soul. Jackson confessed the rabbi something that was tape-recorded:
“I am going to say something I have never said before and this is the truth. I think all my success and fame, and I have wanted it, I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That’s all. That’s the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved.”
Jackson had a lonely childhood. On February 2003 he confessed that his father used to hit him and his brothers. Little Mike often cried when he felt lonely and even vomited when he saw the father he so feared. His dad nicknamed him “Big Nose”: the etiology of his later self-consciousness and ulterior cosmetic surgeries. The surgery did seem to improve his look in the 1980s. But in the ’90s continuing and obsessive, self-conscious surgery ruined his face beyond recognition.
before and after
I’d never have listened Jackson but in order to write this entry I had to watch a few of his videos. If we compare the joyful young Mike with later pictures of him, the downward physical metamorphosis cannot be more pitiful. Boteach says that for a couple of years he tried to repair Jackson’s life. He tells us that “Michael was a man in tremendous pain” and that his tragedy “was to medicate his pain away rather than addressing its root cause.” Trying to help, Boteach informs us:
I took him to meet Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate. At Oxford University he delivered a lecture asking all children to forgive their parents if they had been neglectful. On the way down to the university he [Michael] had called his father Joe to tell him he loved him. All this was significant progress. He came with me to synagogue and regularly attended Shabbat dinner. He seemed directed and content. Alas, Michael could not sustain the spiritual effort.
Telling his irredeemable father that Michael loved him after all was, according to Shabbat, “a significant progress.” But unilateral forgiveness is a myth. In fact, such therapy blocked Jackson’s path to true healing. The most potent taboo is so universal that not only mental health professionals, but even the major critics of such professions are trapped in it. Below I quote excerpts of Alice Miller’s Breaking Down the Wall of Silence:
Hard as it is to believe, in the entire world there is not a single faculty in which a degree is offered in the study of psychic injuries in childhood. Psychoanalysis does not distort the truth by accident. It does so by necessity. It is an effective system for the suppression of the truth about childhood, a truth feared by our entire society. Not surprisingly, it enjoys great esteem among intellectuals… Fear of the truth about child abuse is a leitmotif of nearly all forms of therapy known to me.
This includes the extremely toxic “forgiving therapies” like the one applied on poor Jackson.
The danger does not lie with individuals, however criminal they may be. Far more, it lies in the ignorance of our entire society, which confirms these people in the lies that they were obliged to believe in childhood. Teachers, attorneys, doctors, social workers, priests, and other respected representatives of society protect parents from the mistreated child’s every accusation and see to it that the truth about child abuse remains concealed. Even the child protection agencies insist that this crime, and this crime alone, should go unpunished.
It is the resentment of the past, we are told, that is making us ill. In those by now familiar groups in which addicts and their relations go into therapy together, the following belief is invariably expressed. Only when you have forgiven your parents for everything they did to you can you get well. Even if both your parents were alcoholic, even if they mistreated, confused, exploited, bet, and totally overloaded you, you must forgive.
The burden of therapy was thus placed on Jackson as it is placed upon hundreds of thousands of other victims of abusive parents, never upon the perpetrator. Keep in mind that Boteach is a rabbi. Miller continues:
The majority of therapists work under the influence of destructive interpretations culled from both Western and Oriental religions, which preach forgiveness to the once-mistreated child. Thereby, they create a new vicious circle for people who, from their earliest years, have been caught in the vicious circle of pedagogy. For forgiveness does not resolve latent hatred and self-hatred but rather covers them up in a very dangerous way.
In my own therapy it was my experience that it was precisely the opposite of forgiveness—namely, rebellion against mistreatment suffered, the recognition and condemnation of my parents’ destructive opinions and actions, and the articulation of my own needs—that ultimately freed me from the past.
By refusing to forgive, I give up all illusions. Why should I forgive, when no one is asking me to? I mean, my parents refuse to understand and to know what they did to me. So why should I go on trying to understand and forgive my parents and whatever happened in their childhood, with things like psychoanalysis and transactional analysis? What’s the use? Whom does it help? It doesn’t help my parents to see the truth. But it does prevent me from experiencing my feelings, the feelings that would give me access to the truth. But under the bell-jar of forgiveness, feelings cannot and may not blossom freely.
Michael Jackson was prevented from experiencing his feelings and his personality could only blossom in music performances. In real life he withered. Even the rabbi acknowledged, after taping hours of talking with Jackson, that he couldn’t listen to Jackson’s words without “feeling a tremendous sadness for a soul” because “Michael substituted attention for love,” and that “he got fans who loved what he did but he never had true compatriots who loved him for who he was.” I conjecture that the pedophilic feelings that Jackson felt toward boys of the age when he himself was unloved speaks for itself. Miller again:
I cannot conceive of a society in which children are not mistreated, but respected and lovingly cared for, that would develop an ideology of forgiveness for incompressible cruelties. This ideology is indivisible with the command “Thou shalt not be aware” [of our parents' cruelty] and with the repetition of that cruelty on the next generation.
Michael Jackson had a recreational park for children in his property. He slept with young boys and thus he wanted to save his inner child by a sort of projection onto substitute children. Of course, he didn’t succeed. Here’s the real therapy that Jackson never had:
The possibility of change depends on whether there is a sufficient number of enlightened witnesses to create a safety net for the growing consciousness of those who have been mistreated as children, so that they do not fall into the darkness of forgetfulness, from which they will later emerge as criminals or the mentally ill.
Why did Jackson never get the real thing, an enlightened witnesses, not even with his millions of fans? This fact—solitude among literally millions of fans—is what moved me to write this entry. Miller explains:
But who is there to help when all the “helpers” fear their own personal history? Bogus traditional morality, destructive religious interpretations, and confusion in our methods of childrearing all make this experience harder and hinder our initiative. Without a doubt, the pharmaceutical industry also profits from our blindness and despondency.
That’s what finally killed poor Jackson, the pharmaceutical industry.
Although “Big Nose” forgave his dad in therapy, Joe Jackson never actually repented. Like so many women who ruin their faces with unnecessary surgeries, Jackson’s self-consciousness, ultimately originated from his dad’s teasing humiliation, drove him to abuse surgery to the point of ruining his face and finally looking like a scary mask.
Like most blacks, Jackson had a low IQ for sure. But the moral of his story, and similar stories, is that we should never forgive an unrepentant parent. Only telling the truth about our parents, like the posts I’ll be adding in this blog, can save us.
Originally published in 2009 at Blogspot after Jackson died, this 2011 version of the original post has been edited.