Michael Jackson: A Conflicted Man-Child? (Influenced by Jehovah's Witnesses Faith Whole His Life)

Jun 27th, 2009 | By John Hoyle |

Michael Joseph Jackson, “King of Pop” and rock music icon for nearly forty years, suffered cardiac arrest and died Thursday June 25, 2009, at the age of 50.Michael Jackson in his early 20s

Michael Jackson died because his heart unexpectedly stopped working, and when it did his death took everyone around him by complete surprise. A few of his friends suspected he was ruining his health by overwork and over-medication with pain pills – but none expected that he would actually die from a damaged heart.

But maybe Michael Jackson’s heart was damaged in many ways, many years ago, back when he was still a very young child.

In 1965, Michael’s mother, Katherine Jackson, became a Jehovah’s Witness. Katherine had always been very religious and a Baptist, but on the suggestion of a friend began to study with the Witnesses and fully accepted the teachings of the Watchtower Society as her new faith. Her husband, Joseph, never became a Witness, but apparently allowed her to raise all of nine of their children in her new faith. Daughters Rebbie and LaToya, as well as her son Michael, became the most active Witnesses in the family. The rest of the siblings either became inactive or simply quit the religion when they became of age.

In an article written for BeliefNet.com in 2000, Michael described his childhood this way:

“More than anything, I wished to be a normal little boy. I wanted to build tree houses and go to roller-skating parties. But very early on, this became impossible. I had to accept that my childhood would be different than most others. But that’s what always made me wonder what an ordinary childhood would be like.”

Many of us who were also raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses can relate to what Michael was trying to say. It is almost impossible to have a “normal” childhood being raised within a very controlling religion. As a Witness child you’re discouraged from playing with the neighborhood kids, you can’t join the Little League, or engage in high school sports.

Going to school for a Jehovah’s Witness child presents constant choices, issues, and teasing because they won’t salute the flag, sing the National Anthem, celebrate the other kids’ birthdays, or engage in any activity that relates to a holiday. Michael Jackson about age 12Singing in the school chorus or glee club, or playing in the orchestra, presents obvious problems around Christmas and other national holidays. After all, how can you be in the marching band and not play the National Anthem?

Plus, there is the fact that as a Jehovah’s Witness child, you are going to be discouraged from going to college or university. So why waste your time taking all those college-prep courses in science, languages, or mathematics? There’s no reason at all to try to earn a scholarship if you’re not going to try for a college level education.

Michael Jackson was faced with all of those issues, plus being forced into becoming a full-time entertainer at the very early age of ten. In his home, father Joseph was clearly the boss and tough disciplinarian. Joseph could be a very harsh taskmaster; Michael and his brothers were expected to practice their music at every opportunity – they had little or no time to play or just kick back and be normal children.

On Friday and Saturday nights, when all the other kids were home watching TV, going to movies, having dates, or spending time with their families, the Jackson boys were performing in local bars or making concert appearances in other towns.

For Michael, only Sundays offered some respite from the career being forced upon him by his father. His Sundays were dedicated to the other master in his household - his religion – Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Michael continues his description of his early life (again quoted from the BeliefNet.com article):
“But what I wanted more than anything was to be ordinary… [Sunday] was the day I was able to step away from my unique life and glimpse the everyday… Sundays were my day for ‘Pioneering,’ the term used for the missionary work that Jehovah’s Witnesses do. We would spend the day in the suburbs of Southern California, going door to door or making the rounds of a shopping mall, distributing our Watchtower magazine. I continued my pioneering work for years and years after my career had been launched… Up to 1991, the time of my Dangerous tour, I would don my disguise of fat suit, wig, beard, and glasses and head off to live in the land of everyday America, visiting shopping plazas and tract homes in the suburbs. I loved to set foot in all those houses and catch sight of the shag rugs and La-Z-Boy armchairs with kids playing Monopoly and grandmas baby-sitting and all those wonderfully ordinary and, to me, magical scenes of life. Many, I know, would argue that these things seem like no big deal. But to me they were positively fascinating.”

Later on in his life, Michael seemed to develop an almost eerie passion to be with young children. He had relatively close relationships with Emmanuel Lewis, the diminutive star of TV’s “Diff’rent Strokes,” and Macaulay Culkin, the child star of the “Home Alone” movie trilogy, both much younger than he. He described his connection and special attraction to young children this way:

“[When I witnessing]…the funny thing is, no adults ever suspected who this strange bearded man was. But the children, with their extra intuition, knew right away. Like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I would find myself trailed by eight or nine children by my second round of the shopping mall. They would follow and whisper and giggle, but they wouldn’t reveal my secret to their parents. They were my little aides. Hey, maybe you bought a magazine from me. Now you’re wondering, right? Church was a treat in its own right. It was again a chance for me to be ‘normal.’ ”

We all have to grow up eventually and face the realities of life as adults. Unfortunately, Michael Jackson never really grew up, and it seems clear that he did not want to. His body continued to grow, but by restricting his body’s natural development (he was reportedly 6-feet tall with a body weight around 120 pounds – about 60-70 pounds under norm), removing all or most of his body hair, and always speaking in a low volume, high pitched voice, he tried to remain a pubescent teenager. One observer commented that Jackson, either by design or because of psychological damage, essentially stopped growing socially at age 14.

You may look younger than you really are, but society’s norms do not look kindly upon middle-aged men who are obsessed with associating with young, unrelated children. Forty-year old male babysitters are not in high demand, but this is exactly what Michael Jackson wanted and tried to be.

His creation of his Neverland Park on his estate in Santa Barbara County, California was designed specifically to draw young visitors to his home. It’s true that many of these children were suffering from diseases and some were from poor or disadvantaged neighborhoods – and it’s also true that many were accompanied by a parent or guardian. His young visitors and those who accompanied them described their time at Jackson’s Neverland as “happy, fun, unique, much like going to Disneyland.”

It was Jackson’s obsession to be close to young unrelated children that eventually got him into serious trouble in the early 1990s, and formally charged with felonies in 2003-2005. He eventually paid out millions of dollars in one case and barely managed to survive his criminal court case in 2005. It is true that Jackson was found “not guilty” of all charges by the jury in that case, but in the court of public opinion he would be found guilty and punished severely for his behavior and poor judgment over the last few years of his life. His reputation and wealth would never fully recover from the damage inflicted during that court case.

Jackson’s closest friends and family continued to support him in spite of the accusations plus several incidents of allegedly inappropriate behavior with other people’s children. Most of them still expressed their feelings that Jackson was treated unfairly and punished for his totally innocent and kindly acts toward children. Almost everyone that has been close to him personally remains adamant that Michael Jackson would never hurt a child - simply because he loved children and loved being with them.

My own opinion (which is of course is “Just One Opinion”) is that they are right. My opinion has changed somewhat since his court trial and I now doubt that Michael Jackson ever intended to molest or hurt a child in any way.

I do still hold the opinion that his social development was retarded by the excessive discipline he received from his father, Joseph, plus the lack of normal social development due to his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing by his mother. It should be obvious to anyone that is paying attention that the man did not have a “normal childhood.”

We all see our life through our own eyes. Inside, I am still 20-years old and 145 pounds - but what I see every day is a 200 pound, 65-year old man in the mirror. That’s not me! It can’t be!

Michael Jackson’s own song hit, “Man in the Mirror,” touched on this phenomenon to some degree. I think that when Jackson looked in the mirror he saw a boy in his mid-teens – thin, hairless, beardless, and youthful – and he tried very hard to keep himself that way in reality.

When he was with young teenage boys and girls, he acted out his own childish fantasies with them, playing their games, singing their songs, acting silly and being stupid. He was trying to remain ageless, unchanging, just as he would have been when he was still a teenager.

During the trial, Jackson was accused of having pornographic magazines hidden away in his house, and this evidence was suggested as being proof that he was a child molester. But for all of us who were teenage boys, especially in the 1950s and 60s - didn’t we all sneak Playboy and Penthouse magazines into our rooms to share with our friends? Weren’t we curious about naked women? Didn’t many of us growing up in the 1970s and 80s have posters of Farrah Fawcett (rest in peace, Farrah) in a wet bathing suit hanging on our walls or on the back of our bedroom doors? Didn’t we hide our “dirty magazines” between our mattresses or under our junk in the closet so our mother’s wouldn’t see them? Remember sitting around with our friends and sharing nasty, gross, or sexually charged jokes that we had heard?

Michael Jackson about age 18I think that is what Michael was really doing. He was reliving the teenage years he never got to enjoy like the rest of us – he was too busy working, traveling, and making money for his family. No wonder he busted away from the Jackson singing group and went out on his own at 18.

I must say that I was a fan of Michael Jackson during the peak of his career. Not a devoted fan, but still a fan of his music, an admirer of his many talents, and a fan that was cognizant of his many good works and philanthropies.

I was also very disappointed in Michael Jackson. I disliked his self-indulgent spending, the way he managed to snatch the Beatles’ music catalog away from his friend Paul McCartney, and the self-destructive damage he did to his face and body with constant plastic surgery.

To look at that handsome young man on the cover of “Off the Wall,” or the attractive, and athletic performer in the videos of “Thriller” and “Billy Jean” – and then compare the disastrous cumulative results of all of his facial mutilations twenty-five years later – was truly sad and heartbreaking for me.

So who’s to blame? I can not judge all of the players in Michael Jackson’s life. His father, Joseph, certainly had much to do with what Michael became, both professionally and psychologically. Katherine, Michael’s mother, made choices for herself and her children that clearly resulted in their socially dysfunctional behavior and unhappy relationships. No one can grow up as a Jehovah’s Witness child and not be scarred socially and psychologically; many of us manage to get over it and go on with normal lives – but Michael Jackson? Probably not.

Of course, Michael must share the blame and take responsibility for his own actions. His friends often tried to steer him away from his obsession with being around young children – but he wouldn’t listen.

His friends and business associates tried to rein in his excessive overspending and poor investment choices – but he wouldn’t listen.

Many doctors and surgeons counseled him against undergoing further plastic surgeries because of the damage he was doing to his face and health – but he wouldn’t listen.

And now he’s dead. Michael Jackson, the talented singer, dancer, performer, song writer – “The King of Pop” – is dead.

And now he’s dead. Michael Jackson, the generous philanthropist and friend to so many people, no matter their race, religion, creed, background, color of their skin or their disease – friend and stranger alike – is dead.

And now he’s dead. Michael Jackson, the young child that was never allowed to be normal, severely disciplined by a sometimes cruel father, raised as a Jehovah’s Witness by a mother caught up in a cult, denied the normal teenaged relationships that we all cherished – the little boy that never really grew up to be a man – is dead.

So Michael, we’re all so sorry that your damaged heart stopped beating and that you have left this world forever. But whatever your eternal destiny might be, no matter where you may end up, may you rest in peace…

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