Category Archives: Michael Jackson

And, I repeat: WTF?

By now, perhaps you have heard that Michael Jackson died.  If you have not, I would like to know what rock you have been under and whether there is any room there for me.

Los Angeles, the city that for better or worse I currently call home, is hosting a memorial service for the King of Pop today.  People have been going slightly insane trying to score tickets for this thing, which is expected to draw a hell of a lot more people than will fit into the Staples Center.  There are overflow plans and there are security plans, the second of which will be funded by the City of Los Angeles.

Now, I couldn’t give two craps and a hula hoop about Jackson when he was alive, other than to be sad at what a talented child turned into, but I’ll tell you what I do care about.  The Los Angeles Unified School District.  And the Fire Department.  And the Police Department.  And [insert here any one of numerous public services funded by my tax dollars].

Los Angeles, along with the rest of the State of California, is completely broke.  Bankrupt.  Belly-up, busted, in the red, and gone to the wall.  The city is struggling, cutting back on essential services, and raining pink slips on teachers like confetti.  And we’re paying for the fucking security at a memorial service for a singer?

Once again, Los Angeles proves it knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Here’s another blogger on this topic.

Rejecting Yertle

“Every now and then I am tempted to audition them for a commercial so we can put the money into their college savings, but there’s just no way I’d do that.”

Wanda gave me a look.  “I hate to tell you, but your kids can’t be in a commercial.  They aren’t well enough behaved.  They’d get fired.”

I briefly imagined Benjamin knocking over cameras and lighting equipment, then running cackling from the child handler with Giraffie hanging out of his mouth.  “That’s not true.  Zachary can behave.”

“But he doesn’t have the personality for it,” she pointed out.

“Ah, so what we’d need is Benjamin’s gregariousness with Zachary’s willingness to do what he’s told.”  I felt like Dorothy, wondering if there is such a child.  There must be, because the commercials are lousy with kids.  Just not my kids, who lack the requisite combination of showmanship and obedience.

There are, however, things they are good at.  Very, very good at.  I won’t get into details here, because I am cautious with what I write about them, but suffice it to say that they are not without their abilities.  And I don’t just mean their obvious talent for complete and total mayhem.

When I wrote last week about Michael Jackson’s ruined life, I wasn’t just talking about child actors.  I was talking about the need to push children to accomplish things.  Whether it be getting into the gifted program or being the star of the soccer team, there is nothing more destructive than taking a child’s gift and turning it into fodder for the spotlight.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not at all opposed to gifted programs or chess camp or what have you.  Sometimes, a highly gifted child can only feel normal if she is among others like her.  I am all for helping kids find an environment in which they are comfortable and in which they can feel like they are among their peers.  However, I think there is a lot of push to make children stand out, be better than their peers.

We want all our children to be from Lake Wobegone.  I am here to argue that perhaps there is something to be said for allowing our children to be average and for teaching them that Cs are just fine sometimes.  Nothing is a greater gift for an unusual child than to find an environment that challenges her without making her feel like she must be number one.  Hell, all kids can use that.

What it comes down to is a societal worship of success, which is a kissing cousin of the societal worship of celebrity.  Even most of those who eschew monetary success or fame are determined to be the top of their game, whatever their game may be.  Whether it’s making millions or being the most selfless of the social workers or being the crunchiest mama on the block, we spend a lot of time trying to stand out.  I know a lot of my struggle lately has been disappointment that I am not remarkable.

Being remarkable didn’t make Michael Jackson happy, and pushing my kids to excel may be a disservice.  If they are on the swim team, I want them always to work to beat their own records, but there is a fine line between instilling that work ethic and pushing them to bring home the ribbons.  A talent should bring joy to the possessor and should be used to serve the community.  All too often, we instead use our talents to shove our way to the top, where we perch miserably looking out at our kingdom, before sometimes falling ignominiously into the mud.

So, no, you probably won’t be seeing my kids in a commercial anytime soon, and not just because Benjamin would pour coffee all over the director and Zachary would eat all the doughnuts.  J and I want them to grow up without the ethos we ourselves both have – the need to prove ourselves to some audience out there.  In the end?  Most of the audience is too busy trying to succeed to even notice.

Gonna’ have the whole world on a plate

Facebook  is crawling with Jackson clips.  Watching them, I see snapshots from his first twenty-five years.  There is the stunning “I’ll Be There” and the groundbreaking 1983 “Billie Jean,” but there is nothing from the last two decades.  This may be because people want to respect the dead and show those moments when he really was the pinnacle of charisma and talent, rather than remembering him for what he became.

But what he became started with those clips.  He was a talented child who was thrust into the limelight, perhaps willingly but certainly far too young.  What that early fame did to his psyche?  Well, that’s the stuff of speculation, but I think we all have a rough idea.

He was pushed out into a fame that most adults would be ill-prepared to handle, but Jackson was only a small child, barely older than my eldest son, who still sleeps with his blankie and rides in a car seat.  That he could perform so well under those circumstances is astonishing; that he ever was put into that situation in the first place is tragic.

Sometimes, our children are capable of amazing feats.  They may be gifted in some activity, able to provoke gasps of astonishment from onlookers.  We will be tempted to push them forward, bedazzled by the possibility that they will accomplish something great.  When that happens, we must remind ourselves that normalcy is the highest joy to which we can aspire for them.  A life lived in peace, a productive life that gives back, to be sure, but one that allows them to attend neighborhood block parties.  Perhaps they will become famous – it happens sometimes – or perhaps they will be known only to a small circle of people like the rest of us.  Let’s leave that to their adulthood.

What I want most for my children right now is for them to have their childhoods.  I will take pride in their accomplishments and I will push them to develop a work ethic, but I will always try to remember that being alone at the top is often counter to living a fulfilling life.  When they die, perhaps millions of people will mourn them, perhaps not.  Either way, all that will matter will be that they filled their days with a joy that tasted like peaches.