June 26, 2009 Posted at 11:00 AM | Permalink
michael jackson and a case for spiritual abuse
When Michael Jackson was doing his "gloved one" thing back in the late 80's, I was into the Talking Heads, ska, a little punk and no junk. Cheesy, flashy, sexless and weird, MJ meant nothing to me. Blech. And that's pretty much the opinion I've stuck with all these years. Okay, yeah I liked some of the Jackson 5 stuff and I did have a copy of Off the Wall which I rollerskated to (along with a Linda Ronstadt tape and Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic --my first rock album purchase) in the late 70's early 80's during our family's California stint. Off the Wall was off the hook.
So yesterday's news was strange, but I didn't feel as if I'd lost someone special. I cried when Jim Henson died, okay?
Then Eric Francis over at Planet Waves mentioned the whole Jehovah's Witness connection and Jackson's 12th house Pisces Moon, and that DID interest me. So I poked around a bit on the internet with that this morning. And yes, I finally cried.
The spiritual abuse connection.
I know a few people who are bonafide victims of spiritual abuse. Probably because of where I live, most of them come from the Word of Faith/Prosperity movement. This doesn't mean that they simply grew up with odd churches who met on Saturday instead of Sunday or abstained from all red meat or whatever and felt different because of it. We all, in some way, feel different. Moreover, I get the power of symbolic sacrament and ritual. We need object lessons all the time as reminders of larger truths than our little daily grievances. I'm completely aware of how self-absorbed I can be.
No, spiritual abuse requires more than attention to ritual or sacrament. Spiritual abuse needs an honest, devoted seeker of the divine encountering obtuse, legalistic, and and heavy-handed authorities. A supple and sensitive supplicant bowing at the feet of manipulative, rigid dogma. And twist goes the mind.
Jackson's Pisces Moon would have been enough to suggest could be the victim of somebody's ungracious dogma, but as Eric points out, it's also in the 12th house--the home of transcendence, boundless space, world without end, amen. That's someone completely and totally attuned to another world. At best, a mystic who channels divinity as sure as she breathes air; at worst, a doped-up, checked-out lost soul.
I think Jackson was both.
People who aren't seeking transcendence never get whacked the way a true believer does. The concrete, sequential folk end up the task-masters, most likely. Yes, I'm generalizing. But I do see the potential. I also see the potential (which is likely more destructive) of the true believer finally denying his/her truth and winding up a tool. Nobody likes a rebel. Or rather, nobody rewards a rebel in a spirtually manipulative regime. And if you can't see a way out of the regime...then join it.
Want peace? Beauty? Magic? Grace? No. We want Duty. Conformity. Results-Oriented Outcomes.
Here's a piece from an interview Jackson gave to Awake! the Jehovah's Witness publication. Note how Jackson defends himself and denies his creativity all at once. Or at least tries to. It's like a visit before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. I find this sort of exchange very, very painful.
Awake! May 22, 1984 p. 19-20 "What About Music Videos? ***Would Never Do It Again!"
In another popular video, Thriller, the performer is seen to transform first into a "cat person," then a dancing "monster." Evidently not wanting viewers to conclude that it promoted spiritism, the film begins with the disclaimer: "Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.-Michael Jackson." Nevertheless, it was so realistic that some who saw it admitted that they were horrified at first. What was this short film intended to convey? And how does the performer, Michael Jackson, feel about it in looking back?
"I would never do it again!" says Jackson. "I just intended to do a good, fun short film, not to purposely bring to the screen something to scare people or to do anything bad. I want to do what's right. I would never do anything like that again." Why not? "Because a lot of people were offended by it," explains Jackson. "That makes me feel bad. I don't want them to feel that way. I realize now that it wasn't a good idea. I'll never do a video like that again!" He continues: "In fact, I have blocked further distribution of the film over which I have control, including its release in some other countries. There's all kinds of promotional stuff being proposed on Thriller. But I tell them, 'No, no, no. I don't want to do anything on Thriller. No more Thriller.'"
And, from a book called The Magic and the Madness, about Jackson's conflict with church elders over the "Thriller" video:
"Despite the fact that Michael was a devote Jehovah's Witness-and no doubt had donated quite a bit of money to the religion-the church's elders were extremely upset with him, mostly because of the "Thriller" video. p.324
"But before he had even finished work on the "Thriller" video it brought to a head the ongoing conflict between the church elders of the Encino Kingdom Hall and Michael regarding his fame and his career....Im meetings between Michael and the elders...he was not receptive....He refused to make any kind of statement repudiating his work, and the church insisted he should .....Finally, when the elders threatened to force him to leave the religion Michael became extremely upset" p.326
This obviously had a serious effect on the gloved one so he decided to destroy the tapes. We're talking about a million dollars of work here. It was brought out to Michael that the church elders should not dictate Michael's "artistry." Michael's attention was brought to the fact that Bella Lugosi was a very religious man yet he played out his artistry as Dracula and Lugosi's religious beliefs had no bearing on his "art." So it was suggested that Michael put a disclaimer at the beginning of the video stating that the video in no way reflect Michael's religious convictions. Michael agreed to this. John Landis, the director, didn't want to do it but if he didn't agree then the whole thriller video was going to be scrapped.
The book continues:
"How ironic that Michael's benevolent spirit wasn't enough to satisfy the elders of his Jehovah's Witness congregation. They expected him to restrict his entertainment practices as well. At this time, Michael was called into another meeting with the witness elders over the "Thriller" video. Again they told him that they were considering excluding Michael from the religion. Michael left the meeting particularly shaken. He did not want to be disfellowshipped. He decided he would disown "Thriller" if he had to....Furthermore Michael would make a public statement about his sin in an issue of the Witness periodical, Awake! ( May 22, 1984 ) p.359
How does someone who is fundamentally an artist, so fundamentally open to the experience of creativity --to inspiration-- deny himself? What does that do to such a person?
He has to opt for his spiritual home or his creative home. For any artist raised in a religious home, this is profound and disturbing. He has to bifurcate the two who should remain one. It's an unnatural split, but the only choice if one can hope to retain a morsel of sanity if you're still towing the "orthodox" line.
And what of God? Then who does God become and what kind of custody arrangement works here? God on the weekends with spirituality and a modified God back in the recording studio during the week for creativity? Or do you only get to see God on the weekends while the rest of the week is run by your manager/agent/lawyers/private doctor, et al?
If you're fundamentally attuned to the music of the spheres, aching always to hear the heart of God, this is an untenable schism. Based on what I've read of Jackson's religious interests, this was, in his own sad way, what happened. Schism. Jackson "sold out" to the god of commerce; if heaven wouldn't have him, then he'd create his own Neverland right here.
The artist, the poet and the priest are kinfolk who do not always understand what goes on in each other's homes, but they ought to recognize the same blood runs each other's veins.
Not much has been said about this as everyone mourns Jackson. But if you grew up in a religious home, you know your religion was like an invisible third parent. Could have been a good parent, could have been a bad one, but that influence was indelible and pervasive, as much as your own flesh and blood parents'. That Jackson was later reported to have converted to Islam says much more about his need for this invisible third parent than anything about his eccentricity. When in Dubai, do as the Dubai do. If you're constantly seeking divinity, you'll take God wherever you can.
If you grew up in a church that carried on like the folks above --and simultaneously attempted a career like his-- it's small wonder he became what he did. If my theory is true, we should have started the mourning 20 years ago.