For the past couple days — during the marathon Michael Jackson coverage and all-MJ music and video tribute sessions — I’ve been caught with my feet in two different worlds. How is it possible that the sudden death of a pop culture icon has split me in two? I could have never guessed it. Let me explain.
Just like most of the world, I have my share of fond Michael memories. I had Michael Jackson folders for my school work in grade school and memorized the Thriller dance. In fact, me and a friend would go out in the front yard and play the song over and over on her boombox, meticulously acting out the Thriller dance. (I’m sure the neighborhood just loved it. Who wouldn’t want to hear Thriller 40 times in a row?) I loved MJ. And like so many, I believe he was a significant artist in modern popular culture, not just music. He changed the medium of music videos. He crossed invisible race lines of popularity. He was an innovator both in music and in performance. (Although I completely disagree with Ryan Seacrest, who said MJ’s impact was even bigger than Elvis Presley. Uh, no.) So there is definitely a part of me that can’t shake loving those early years, when MJ collaborated so brilliantly with Quincy Jones.
But there is another part of me that is struggling with the commemoration and the singularly focused adoration that conveniently leaves out (or frames as just a footnote) the second half of Michael Jackson’s life. I speak, of course, about Jackson’s alleged molestation of children (in the 2005 case he was indicted). Like so many fans, I was heart-broken when the news broke of those allegations. Can I still enjoy music made by a man who does such detestable things? After Jackson was acquitted or settled, depending on the case, there is a permanent stain and unshakable mark of infamy.
Certainly, I’m not the first person to wrestle with this. But what most of my dear Siren readers probably don’t know is that I am a survivor of sexual abuse. I was molested as a child. (And, yes, I talk about it in my book.) And for those like me, I suspect, it becomes more than just a little trouble of mind to forget those allegations.
Did Michael Jackson touch those children? I think there will never be a way to know definitely. And, unfortunately, this raises the classic problem for survivors and the accused alike. We only have one justice system and it isn’t perfect.
In fact, I think its flaws become particularly obvious when we look at crimes like sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault (rape). It’s an adversarial system and it’s incumbent upon the victim to prove the truth of their accusations. I believe in “innocent until proven guilty.” But, man is that a hard system when it comes to the intimate crimes of sex and violence. Like so many survivors, it’s not possible for me to provide you with something as tangible as photographic evidence or even a torn pair of panties.
But I’m not without compassion. The system sucks for those accused, too. We’ve all heard the stories of someone wrongly accused who is tainted for the rest of their life by the accusation. And while I think true instances of that are rare, I don’t discount that it could happen. And we just have to look at Michael Jackson to see that an accusation leaves a long shadow, now matter how much we try to ignore it.
In a perfect world, we would never have to worry about such things. There’d be no survivors, like me. There’s be no perps. And if there ever were, we’d have an infallible system unprejudiced by race, wealth, fame, social standing, gender, sexual preference or anything else.
As I avoid the fawning coverage, I wonder how many other survivors there are out there like me. I want to believe in our justice system, but I can’t shake the suspicion. What if rather than justice, injustice was served with Jackson’s cases? What if he got away with something, like so many perpetrators do? There are so many of us who never went to authorities or pursued legal recourse because we felt it would be impossible and would just be a way to be re-victimized all over again — in public. If he did get away with such an act, it makes me sick.
For now, I still have Thriller on my iPod. I can’t help that I like the song. Just like I still like some James Brown, even though we now know he was a perpetrator of domestic violence. And one thing I have had to deal with and accept in the course of my own healing and survival is that even the kind of people who can perpetrate such horrible acts can still somehow offer glimpses of redemption. The man who molested me was one of the first to truly encourage me to be a writer. How do you like that? It’s kind of a bitch to admit. And it’s not that I want to let that person off the hook, any more than anyone guilty of such acts, but it’s just the truth.
What I have had to learn and accept is that no person is 100 percent evil or 100 percent good, ever. Monsters can bring you flowers. Angels can smite you.
So I think I’ll keep out of the Michael Jackson grief and adoration circles. I’m going to keep moving forward with my eyes open. I don’t think you can ever reconcile the many sides of someone like Michael Jackson. Maybe acknowledging that is the best we can do.
And to any of my readers who might be in a place of terror or fear right now, I want to tell you that you deserve to live a life free of that. You deserve happiness, love and kindness and to never live in fear. There’s hope. Truly, there is. There’s a way out, even if it means more (temporary) pain. You are stronger than you know. You are more amazing than you know. I know about the dark place you live in. I know about the fear and anger. But there is a world outside the darkness. And you can get there. I believe in you. I know you can do it.
Here’s some information that may help:
- Safe Nest, a local domestic violence shelter, can offer you referrals to services they don’t offer.
- The Rape Crisis Center offers some good services, too.
- There’s a 24/7, national hotline available at RAINN.
And now for the poll: