March 2005

Global politics&Human rights24 Mar 2005 12:38 pm

“People whose lives are barren and insecure seem to show a greater willingness to obey than people who are self-sufficient and self-confident. To the frustrated, freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom from restraint. They are eager to barter their independence for relief of the burdens of willing, deciding and being responsible for inevitable failure. They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those who want to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility.”

Eric HofferThe True Believer

Working on this assumption: what the world needs now is fun, fun, fun. And a generous refill of self-esteem.

Happy Easter everyone. However you spend it, make sure you enjoy your long weekend.

Activism&British politics&Middle East20 Mar 2005 05:06 pm

London – 19 March 2005

American politics&Corporate&News media&The art of blog15 Mar 2005 12:08 am

Hello all. Apologies for the cursory nature of my entries lately. Finally, I have found a moment to pop in and wave blearily. This is in direct defiance of my clock’s disapproving face, which clearly implies “Time you weren’t sitting at a computer any more, Foxy ol’ thing”. Yes, it’s actually frowning at me. Well, kinda. OK, no it’s not.

Anyway, I’ve just got time to note that bloggers are officially not journalists in the eyes of the American establishment. Which presumably means we don’t need to adhere to the pesky libel laws either? Good-o.

The BBC (see link above), as ever, are reporting this news as though it defines world legislation rather than merely that of a foreign country, so expect the legal concept to drift across the Atlantic and into our statutes soon.

And the second “Duh, really?” news story of the day award goes to Army Life Conducive To Bullying And Violence. Well, knock me down with an AK47. Who’d have thought it?

British politics&Europe&News media09 Mar 2005 01:26 am

Too tired to write a real post. Sorry. How about I give you a hastily-typed Quote of the Day – no. 3 instead? It came to mind when watching a TV news reporter comparing Labour’s/Tories’/Lib Dems’ identikit electioneering as though their disagreements are anything but superficial.

“What luck for rulers, that men do not think.”
Adolf Hitler

Nice cheery one, for bedtime… Right, I’ll be back when there is less danger of me falling asleep on my keyboard and typing a load of skdjkdjfskdjhhfrjb.

Global politics&Pop culture03 Mar 2005 05:47 pm

One for the bleeding hearts among us (a category which includes your genial host):

“The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.”

– Albert Einstein

News media&Self&The art of blog02 Mar 2005 02:43 am

This evening, I happened to stumble across a couple of sentences on the Channel 4 news website which sounded vaguely familiar. Then I realised it was because they were quoting me.

If only my HTML skills were up to putting a wildly exaggerated “AS SEEN ON CHANNEL 4” banner across the top of the page. Heh.

Pop culture&Race&Random life&Strangeness01 Mar 2005 01:00 am

When I was a youngster, I loved Michael Jackson. Not just in the general way I loved all pop music. I mean I really loved Michael Jackson.

For a couple of those formative years, my best friend and I hoarded every scrap of memorabilia and newspaper cuttings we could get our hands on. When it came to Christmas or birthdays, we arranged between us which of his commercial output would go on each of our request lists. Our plan was to ensure no duplication, so we’d both have access to his entire oeuvre.

Our parents didn’t quite understand the urgency of our requirements at times, but we did pretty well nonetheless. In those days, I’d have no qualms about skipping out of school at midday to buy 7” singles with my lunch money, so it wasn’t long before we built up a sizeable Jackson stash.

Of course, we wanted more than just his recordings. In 1988, aged 13, I went to my first ever gig. Michael Jackson at Wembley Stadium. Quite a spectacular start to a lifetime of live music. It gave me very unrealistic expectations. At my first grotty Camden indie gig a couple of years later, I was perplexed by the shambolic ordinariness of it all, wondering when the pyrotechnics were going to start.

You see, what Michael Jackson offered was the sort of cool oddness you didn’t often see in the suburbs of southern England. Thriller defined the zeitgeist in a way no musician has since replicated. And the man could dance. Really dance. His audacious talent, coupled with the natural glamour American superstars seemed to exude, left us awestruck. I even – ahem – taught myself to moonwalk. (Yes, I can still do it. No, don’t ask me to demonstrate at your wedding reception.)

In the summer of my 14th birthday, during the Bad era, I read his ‘autobiography’ Moonwalk on holiday. In it, he claims that his gradual facial changes were due to the natural growing up process. He goes on to say that he has only had 2 nose jobs and a cleft put in his chin, and that anybody who accuses him of having extensive surgery or bleaching his skin is lying. Despite the evidence of my own eyes, I believed him. I even defended his position to laughing detractors. “He wouldn’t be allowed to say that if it wasn’t true,” I naively protested.

Looking at the cover of the book now, I’m astonished at how easily I believed his word against the evidence of my own eyes. He’d transformed himself from shy, black, sweet-smiling teenager to milky-skinned, wire-limbed, doe-eyed alien.

Sometime around the start of his solo career in the 70s, Michael Jackson must have decided his own face didn’t fit. So he set about redesigning it. The first sign was when his nose began to narrow. Then, shade by shade, his skin grew lighter. Looking back over his many faces, it is horrifying just how dramatic the transformation was.

From the late 80s onwards, the newspapers carried endless “WACKO JACKO” stories, all about Jackson’s pet chimp Bubbles, his oxygen tank, his odd pseudo-parental relationships with ageing stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Ross and the comical hygiene paranoia which meant he only appeared in public if masked. His dissatisfaction with his appearance, his perpetual facial reconstructions and his changes of skin colour were considered a joke, proof of the incorrigible eccentricity of millionaires.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realised just what a grotesque freakshow my former favourite had become, and how none of his family or entourage seemed to think this disturbing behaviour warranted intervention. Scroll through the pictures in this post from top to bottom and reflect on the fact that the British press did little more than jeer at him for this self-mutilation, and that professional surgeons saw no ethical conflict in continuing to take his money.

At no point did anyone mention the fact that Michael Jackson is almost certainly suffering from body dysmorphic disorder.

A close friend of mine has also battled the debilitating symptoms of BDD for many years. Thankfully, she has now managed to achieve stability after a long struggle and occasional relapses. It helps that she has no private fortune, nor access to unscrupulous surgeons. If she had been granted every delusional whim, rather than being forced by sheer self-loathing and desperation to seek treatment, she would undoubtedly look similarly unearthly now.

By the time I was 15 or 16, I was no longer interested in Michael Jackson. Hip hop and indie had captured my attention. Sequinned gloves and moonwalking belonged to the 80s. The 1990s, I surmised, held no place for him.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Jackson’s sales were already dropping. His public behaviour was increasingly strange, and his face changed shape from one month to the next. The tabloids stopped alternating teasing editorial with expedient respect for his popularity, and started really laying into him.

And then things got even weirder.

He married Lisa Marie Presley. He married Debbie Rowe. He produced blonde, blue-eyed children like rabbits out of a hat, claiming they were his own. He gave two of them the same name. He dangled one of them off a hotel balcony.

He was accused of molesting a young boy named Jordy Chandler.

When the child abuse story hit the headlines, what surprised me most was how certain I felt that he was guilty. And how guilty I felt at assuming the worst about someone I used to admire, without hesitation.

As a former fan, I could have automatically given him the benefit of the doubt. I might have been among the legions who dismissed the allegations as ridiculous. But I wasn’t. And when he silenced his juvenile accuser with money, I didn’t cheer along with his loyal public. I wasn’t glad the charges had been dropped. I was disgusted at his amoral cowardice.

As you know, 46-year-old Michael Joseph Jackson has been accused of child molestation again, and he couldn’t fix it with dollars this time. The LAPD is out to get him. The biggest celebrity trial in recent history has just begun.

(Read the case against him here.)

Did he do it this time? Yes… I think he probably did.

Yet at the same time, I also believe it’s possible he is convinced he has done nothing wrong, and is being honest when he denies the charges.

Michael Jackson is clearly a damaged man, plagued by mental health problems and deeply scarred by a traumatic childhood. His eternal child/Peter Pan complex is more than just a marketing gimmick, it’s evidently an obsession. His ability to relate to children as equals is probably also real. The sinister side of these obsessive childlike delusions is that a grown man, with adult hormones and adult sensibilities, may genuinely believe anything he does with children is therefore normal. Little boys often play strange pre-sexual games with one another. In the crazed parallel universe of Neverland – a universe in which he only has to make a wish and it is granted by a paid lackey – Jackson may see no difference between that and his own behaviour. He may genuinely think it impossible for such activities to be child abuse, because he believes he counts as an honorary child too.

Or perhaps I’m still being naive and he’s just a really good liar. Perhaps he knows exactly what he’s doing. Who knows.

So, you see, the start of Jackson’s trial and the ensuing media circus makes me feel a little sad. Michael Jackson was once a disproportionately significant figure in my life, in the way childhood heroes often are. I discarded him long ago, but he still figures in the story of my life in the same way a memorable teacher might.

I’m hopeful that justice will be done this time, but it really depends on just how low the defence team are prepared to go. And given that they are employed by a superstar, they will probably stop at nothing to destroy the reputation of their opposition. However, the prosecutors seem equally determined to prevail, so we shall see. (Whatever happens, it will be played out in public for all the gawping world to see. Inevitably, the criminal justice system is no more than light entertainment when the protagonists are familiar faces.)

But even more than this, I feel sad at the sheer tragedy that is Michael Jackson. His body of work is packed full of genuine pop classics. (Who can keep still when the bassline of Billie Jean starts? Even you guitar boys have to concede that one.) He seemed to have so much promise. He was a naturally good looking young man, who hated himself so much he carved his face to pieces. He was blessed with rare gifts but exploited his position to gain the trust of children and their families, and used his fortune to build a huge child-friendly lair. If even one of the children’s allegations is true, somewhere along the line a talented, sweet-looking boy turned into a monster. Who – or what – made him that way?

A psychotherapist friend (who specialises in treating abused children) informs me that it is almost guaranteed that a sex offender who preys on children will have been abused him/herself as a child. According to her, abusers will procure children of the same age they were at the time their own abuse started. For example, if a man sexually molests boys of 11, it usually means that he was abused himself by a man from the age of 11. It also usually means he will not be interested in his victims once they grow out of that age group, for example when reaching puberty.

This information is irrelevant if Jackson is innocent. But if he did it, the next question we should be asking is: who abused Michael?

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