The meaning of the life and death of Michael Jackson, 29 June 2009

Thom Hartmann talks about the meaning of the life and death of Michael Jackson, 29 June 2009

I promised you a conversation on Michael Jackson, and I want to do this in a serious and respectful way. Here's a guy who is one of the most brilliant artists, certainly of my life time. I mean, he was a genius as an artist. And I'm going to toss this out, not as a, sometimes I'll come forward and say, you know, "this is it, this is the truth, I've figured it out". More often than not, in fact. I'd rather put this out as a, you know, "I think this is a very real possibility". And I'm curious your thoughts on it.

There's an article in The Mail, The Daily Mail,, it's one of the larger of the newspapers, the tabloid newspapers in the United Kingdom and it was written by Ian Halperin who, right after Michael Jackson's acquittal in the child molestation case, right after that Halperin came in and spent about five years, the next five years, with Jackson and ultimately wrote a biography of him which is in print.

And six months ago Halperin in The Mail wrote an article saying that within six months Jackson would be dead because he was emaciated, he was anorexic, he was scared to death of his London concerts coming up. He thought he had only signed up for ten, he had actually signed up for fifty. He was graying, he was wearing wigs to cover his grey hair.

But there's two points to this I think that are really significant. One of the points that Ian Halperin goes through, and not in a scandalous way, in frankly I think a fairly respectful way, is that Michael Jackson was gay. He says explicitly the guy was not a pedophile, he's convinced he was not, he went in initially on the assumption that he was, that the charges against him were true, and came out convinced that they were wrong. But he did interview a number of adult men who had short term and long term affairs with Michael Jackson. But that mostly Jackson was afraid to have contact with pretty much anybody because he lived in this huge bubble and he could never come out. And right now in this day and age that's tough, but imagine 30 years ago, or 40 years ago when Michael Jackson was 10 years old and a superstar, rapidly becoming one. To be a young gay man in the African American community in particular, which is far less tolerant, broadly speaking, of homosexually than even the Caucasian community, the white community, which itself is full of bigots, probably would have been a career killer at that time.

Here's this young man, the girls are swooning over him, being promoted as, well, he wasn't so much a sex symbol, but just as a superstar.

And there's, I think, fairly ample evidence that he was born gay. God bless him. But he couldn't be who he was. This is another example, and between that and the power of celebrity, the horror of celebrity in some ways. I mean, we live in a culture where, perhaps because we don't have royalty in the United States, although they do the same thing in the United Kingdom where they do have royalty, but people are famous for being famous. I mean, look at Paris Hilton. What's she famous for? She's famous for being famous. It makes no sense at all. But we have this celebrity-driven culture and this false intimacy.

When I was in LA, day before yesterday, Saturday, I was driving around Los Angeles, and there were all these spontaneous memorials to Michael Jackson springing up. And I drove by one and people had, must have been a house that he's lived in once, or a studio where he'd performed, or whatever it was, I don't know, it was off Sunset, you know, going to the west side. And there were people sobbing. And, you know, I get it, it's a shame that a brilliant and talented person has died, but we've got this culture. And the problem for the person on the other side of that, the problem for the Michael Jacksons of the world is that on the one hand, they are the recipients of this incredible intensity from their fans, that feels like love, this quote from him that has, I've seen this clip on TV three or four times in the last couple of days where he says to his fans, maybe it was one of the last times he was out in public, he says, "I love you, I really do". It feels like love and yet it can't be reciprocated. It can't be normal.

And so because we have no civil rights for gays, I would submit to you, in this country, and in this piece he says, what's his name, "in the course of my investigations I spoke with two of his gay lovers in the course of my investigations, I spoke to two of his gay lovers, one a Hollywood waiter, the other an aspiring actor. The waiter had remained friends, perhaps more, with the singer until his death last week. ...

When Jackson lived in Las Vegas, one of his closest aides told how he would sneak off to a ‘grungy, rat-infested’ motel – often dressed as a woman to disguise his identity – to meet a male construction worker he had fallen in love with."

I mean, tough stuff for a guy who in public is afraid to come out, who's afraid, because of the homophobia in our culture promoted by these right wing cranks who are literally destroying people.

I would submit to you that in part Michael Jackson died as a result of celebrity culture, whether it turns out that he had a heart attack because of anorexia or if he had a heart attack because of a drug overdose, or if the drug overdose was because he had lost so much weight that the same amount of drugs that he was taking before were fatal now, whatever it is. What brought him to that? And I would submit to you that it was the combination of the, obviously the racism in our society which he spent much of his life trying to overcome and he was a major breakthrough in so many areas. I mean, before Michael Jackson there were many, many venues that, not just physical venues, broadcast venues, that just routinely didn't portray blacks; you didn't see black faces.

And clearly Jackson struggled with this through his surgeries and everything else.

But I would say that not just the way that African Americans are treated, but in particular the way gays are treated in our society is probably, now obviously I'm, you know, this is a real psycho babble reach, right, because I didn't know Mike personally, although I did know somebody who knew him, but that's, you know, that doesn't quite count, and that person is not saying about whether he was gay or not. But I would say most of the evidence is there and that's the tragedy of this society. It's why we have a higher suicide rate for gay teenagers in the United States. It's why in the African American community so many gays are afraid to come out, in particular. It's why, right across the board until we start...

The two things that as a society we need to do to grow up, and that the death of Michael Jackson in my opinion is emblematic of, and I think it's a tragedy, frankly, that the media is not talking about the larger issues, although because he never came out, maybe it's just they just consider it inappropriate to talk about the possibility that he was gay.

But until we start addressing as a society the odd and really bizarre nature of our celebrity culture, this false intimacy that we have, on the one hand, and secondly, the horrible way that homophobia has played itself out throughout the arc of this country's history, and not just this country; all over the world and in many other nations where, in Saudi Arabia they will still behead you for being gay. Until we start addressing those things and we come to terms with those and we grow up, there are going to be more Michael Jackson disasters, tragedies.

And for me, that was the carry home message. I mean, that was my first thought, was that this guy, this guy was just living out a dream, an extraordinary dream. He wanted to be famous, he wanted to be the king of pop and he was a genius, and yet he couldn't be himself.

Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.

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