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Michael Jackson: The Man In The Mirror

June 30, 2009

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“Oh, God! That boy moves in a very exceptional way. That’s the greatest dancer of the century.” – Fred Astaire

“I didn’t want to leave this world without knowing who my descendant was. Thank you Michael!” Fred Astaire (shortly before his death)

“The only male singer who I’ve seen besides myself and who’s better than me — that is Michael Jackson.” Frank Sinatra

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Michael Jackson died unexpectedly on Thursday, June 25. The suddenness of his death came as a source of shock to all.

Some have used the occasion to present a contemptibly narrow view of his personal struggles. But as the months and years roll by, it is the contribution of his musical genius that will be written permanently in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Even now, the greatest of his peers have recognized him as one of the most gifted and accomplished musical artists of the last century.

Few artists have used their talents to uplift mankind as vigorously as Michael Jackson. Though lean in stature, he stood firmly against social and political forces that seek to diminish the integrity of the human spirit. He uplifted individuals struggling to be free. At the same time his voice spoke a message that went far beyond the rights of the individual. Michael reminded us that personal dignity and individual freedom can only be perfected in the warm embrace of human solidarity.

It was the human family that stood foremost in Michael’s mind. “We are the world,” he said. And against this backdrop, he challenged freedom-loving individuals to act heroically for the betterment of all. “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change,” he said.

Thus Michael Jackson was no spokesman for narcissism, despite the fact that he often sought refuge there. At bottom, his music was driven by the ancient dream of the brotherhood of man. He saw redemption in a bonding of all individuals in simple humanity.  Human solidarity — Love — was for him the foundation of Justice and the meaning of Life!

Armed with this simple vision, Michael set about to dedicate his life to others. As a young boy, he burst onto the world’s stage like a bolt of lightening and, once there, he inspired youth, and the youthful, to act on behalf of justice and the human community. He created a powerful synergy with his audiences and through this confluence helped generate a moral force that over time would bring the world to a better place.

It is not commonly recognized how much Michael Jackson contributed to U.S public diplomacy during the last decade of the Cold War. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Michael’s music inspired young people in captive nations to take chances on behalf of freedom and democracy. With his dramatic style, he electrified youth and stirred them to unite in common purpose. In response, they rallied moral forces against fear and set about to challenge the ubiquitous brutality of totalitarian regimes. The collective energy Michael and other artists inspired became a critical factor in bringing about the political collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire. “We are the world!”

Surveys taken by the Voice of America during the 1980s demonstrate his appeal. Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, and Billy Joel were the preferred pop artists for VOA listeners behind the Iron Curtain. The music they provided offered a unique challenge to the fundamentals of Soviet totalitarianism — fear and isolation. It enabled listeners to dream of freedom and dignity, and it filled their hearts and minds with a practical determination to seek a brighter future.

But, among all American pop artists, it was Michael Jackson that towered above the rest. His popularity achieved the highest ranking by VOA listeners –more than 50% approval.

I recall myself and a friend crossing the border into East Berlin before the Wall was torn down. As my friend maneuvered our rented VW to the checkpoint, I pulled back the sunroof and rolled down the windows. Earlier I had cued a tape to play Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” As the guard approached, I hit the play button and turned the volume way up. The guard, who was carrying an automatic rifle, asked for our passports. Instead of responding directly, I said over the top of the music: “Do you like Michael Jackson?” He looked nervously at the guard house and then quickly nodded in approval. For a long moment, his face was covered with an unforgettable smile. But more than signaling his approval, the guard had broken military decorum.

Similarly, when we returned to the West through Austria, the guard stationed there responded to my question by first placing his machine gun on the ground. Then he grabbed my closest hand with both of his and said: “Yes, oh yes. Michael Jackson!” Not far away, hidden in a clump of bushes and trees, I saw the dark, sinister presence of Soviet tanks.

Michael’s creative imagination enabled him to craft a music of freedom, a music replete with a crisp defiance of injustice and unjust authority, a music deeply tinged with respect for the essential dignity of the human person. In a world whose temptations breed isolation and aloneness, Michael’s music gave voice to our common need for love, compassion, understanding, and mercy.  It gave succor to those struggling to belong and unleashed a willfulness to labor against the forces of spiritual alienation. In a world dominated by fear, his music gave transcendent purpose and the hope of future redemption. In short, Michael’s artistry was an energy that inspired resistance against all forms of cultural and political repression. It was a music whose vitality cried out for a liberation of the human spirit.

Reflecting on the 1980s and early 1990s, one labors to imagine a more heroic episode in history’s hard march against tyranny. Liberty sprang up amidst a near bloodless convulsion, and took a daring but peaceful step forward. It was in the intensity of this revolutionary fervor that the artistry of Michael Jackson towered as a beacon of light for those struggling to be free.

In the YouTube video below, listen to Michael perform “The Man In The Mirror.” Hear his words. Watch the imagery. Reflect how deeply he pleads for each individual to dedicate their lives to the reconciling impulses of Justice and Love. In a world that continues to be much too cold and brittle, Michael Jackson has established himself a much-needed prophet for our age.

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95 Comments
  1. June 30, 2009 10:14 am

    Nice post, Gerald. I remember studying political science in 1987, listening to a lecture by an expert on communist systems. He had managed to visit Albania some time before, which at the the time was probably the most closed country in the world. He was ushered into a classroom by his “guides”, and treated to a full dose of official propaganda. But he immediately noticed the crumbling school desks, and sure enough, he could make out the graffiti — “Michael Jackson”.

  2. June 30, 2009 10:39 am

    MM,

    Thank you.

    That’s a very nice story you have related. It’s greatly appreciated.

  3. June 30, 2009 12:52 pm

    Is this satire? It reads (to me) like an extended riff on the undeserved superlatives our culture lavishes on successful entertainers. I’m sure people in Soviet bloc countries liked Michael Jackson’s music (so did I), but it cheapens the sacrifices people like Lech Walesa made to give significant credit for the end of the Cold War to pop trifles like ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Thriller’.

  4. June 30, 2009 1:45 pm

    John Henry,

    “Is this satire?”

    You would benefit from knowing something about U.S. public diplomacy before making such ill-informed and silly comments. The decisive struggle in the world, then and now, is a struggle for hearts and minds. Period.

    To underscore Michael Jackson’s inspiring contribution in the last decade of the Cold War in no way diminishes the contribution made by Lech Walesa or others.

    As for those “pop trifles like ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Thriller’, the truth is that American music played a highly significant role in keeping the Solidarity movement alive during its darkest days. Indeed, it was Frank Sinatra to whom USIA turned to mobilize the talent and performances of America’s top musical artists to be broadcast into Poland. This musical marathon was made available to the Polish people by the shortwave broadcasting of VOA. It underscored the solidarity of the American people with the people of Poland. The effort was called “Let Poland Be Poland,” and to those who know anything about this period, it played a highly significant role.

    Today, it is Hip Hop and Rap that are in the forefront of struggles in the Muslim world.

  5. GodsGadfly permalink
    June 30, 2009 2:06 pm

    Musical genius? “Beat it”? “Thriller”? That kind of satanic filth constitutes “musical genius”?

  6. June 30, 2009 2:07 pm

    I’ve read numerous accounts of this period, Gerald, while researching a paper on the importance of culture in the Polish transition to Communism. None cited Michael Jackson as a significant influence on the Polish Solidarity movement.

  7. June 30, 2009 2:11 pm

    John Henry,

    Now you know.

  8. June 30, 2009 3:20 pm

    I’ve read numerous accounts of this period, Gerald, while researching a paper on the importance of culture in the Polish transition to Communism. None cited Michael Jackson as a significant influence on the Polish Solidarity movement.

    Imagine that: academics not taking popular culture seriously. Who would have thought?

    Great post, Gerald.

  9. June 30, 2009 4:41 pm

    Perhaps in light of all this it’s time to reassess our ideas of who “won” the Cold War.

  10. June 30, 2009 4:53 pm

    Michael,

    Thanks.

  11. June 30, 2009 4:54 pm

    Well, I’d certainly rank Michael Jackson above Ronald Reagan!

  12. June 30, 2009 5:08 pm

    Actually, MM, I meant in the sense that if the Cold War was fought in order for the likes of Michael Jackson’s music to dominate the world — that arguably we lost.

    If the choice was between the likes of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky suite (written for a Soviet propaganda film) and Michael Jackson’s oeuvre, the choice is pretty obvious.

    Certainly, I am glad that freedom won out on the world stage over international communism — but Jackson’s music and the type of pop culture it exemplifies represents exactly the sort of consumerism which is a misuse of our freedom, a choice to use freedom to pursue the base rather than the beautiful.

  13. June 30, 2009 5:59 pm

    “If the choice was between the likes of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky suite (written for a Soviet propaganda film) and Michael Jackson’s oeuvre, the choice is pretty obvious.”

    The choice is obvious. The final tally boils down to this: Poor Prokofiev!

    Indeed, Michael Jackson’s entire “50 Concert Series” at the O2 London Stadium sold out in ONE MINUTE. The last time I checked the iTunes Store, the Nevsky suite was hidden somewhere “down there.” Imagine if Prokofiev had to fill a stadium!

    But why try to compare them? To do so is silly.

    It is also silly to moralize about popular music. It is a waste of energy. Neither America nor the world has any need for a “culture cop.”

    The truth is that freedom has found a great home in American pop culture. Being an expression of freedom, pop culture, as we know it, has been a force for social, economic, and political good in America since the 1920s, despite loud protestations from religious fundamentalists. It will continue to work its magic here and around the world.

  14. Mark DeFrancisis permalink
    June 30, 2009 6:22 pm

    “a choice to use freedom to pursue the base…”

    This sounds like a snippet from a Baptist Ladies Guild record explosion, popular in the 70s and 80s.

  15. June 30, 2009 6:48 pm

    Indeed, Michael Jackson’s entire “50 Concert Series” at the O2 London Stadium sold out in ONE MINUTE. The last time I checked the iTunes Store, the Nevsky suite was hidden somewhere “down there.” Imagine if Prokofiev had to fill a stadium!

    In which it is discovered that quality is really just a matter of popularity. Who knew?

    I must admit, I’m a bit amused that this narrative is so immediately accepted around here, when one of the main criticisms that we Americans hear around the world is, “You people have exported your trashy culture all over the world and swamped countless local cultures in the process.” I’d always figured that was a pretty legitimate grievance — though the obvious capitalistic rejoiner is: If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

    Very well then. Vox Nova: How Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll saved civilization.

  16. M.Z. permalink
    June 30, 2009 6:49 pm

    It will continue to work its magic here and around the world.

    Yes, but the gates of hell shall not prevail. One only needs to look to Austin Powers to see the spoils of the rock generation. Many of the performers bought what they were preaching and were dead. Rather than an anomaly, Michael Jackson’s life is all too typical of the American celebrity. In as much as our music is aspirational, it truly is a culture of death. That isn’t a freedom I would cherish or worship.

  17. June 30, 2009 7:49 pm

    Actually, MM, I meant in the sense that if the Cold War was fought in order for the likes of Michael Jackson’s music to dominate the world — that arguably we lost.

    As someone whose formative years were spent largely in punk rock circles who strongly criticized throw away pop music and the consumerism in which it is embedded, I sympathize with what you’re kind of getting at. But Michael Jackson is a stupid target for such complaints.

    I must admit, I’m a bit amused that this narrative is so immediately accepted around here, when one of the main criticisms that we Americans hear around the world is, “You people have exported your trashy culture all over the world and swamped countless local cultures in the process.” I’d always figured that was a pretty legitimate grievance…

    Interesting to hear you admit that cultural imperialism is a reality. Not something I expected from the likes of you. But c’mon, they simply AIN’T talking about Michael Jackson.

  18. June 30, 2009 7:53 pm

    Rather than an anomaly, Michael Jackson’s life is all too typical of the American celebrity.

    To reduce Michael Jackson’s problems to a “typical” manifestation of “celebrity” is nonsense. Anyone familiar with his life knows that it was shaped by the experience of abuse and racism.

    In as much as our music is aspirational, it truly is a culture of death.

    What is “our” music? Which music? Rock music? Which rock music? Which artists? To dismiss “our” music as a “culture of death” is utter nonsense.

    That isn’t a freedom I would cherish or worship.

    Who said anything about worshiping music?

  19. Billie Who permalink
    July 1, 2009 2:38 am

    Did Michael Jackson ever play with that well known transexual Billie Joel or with that psychedelic “American” band Pink Floyd?

    I heard he also wrote down a cure for cancer but Bubbles ate it.

  20. July 1, 2009 3:44 am

    It seems clear people do not even know how to read – saying Michael Jackson “contributed” is not the same thing as saying he is the sole cause. The reductionism of Gerald’s critics indicates the problem — it’s not Gerald, it is those who have an inability to understand how multiple causes can work together to produce one effect.

    What is interesting is that I remember hearing about the way MJ’s music (and Levi’s jeans) helped influence the people in the streets in Russia (remember folks, this is a talk about Russia when talking about the fall of communism). MJ’s music, btw, is also important in the underground scene in…. IRAN. Music does contribute a great deal in underground cultural resistance, especially if the music is seen (as many in here show) to contain elements of “decadence.” If you think MJ’s music is decadent, one would think that would help make the claim that much stronger — because again, it would be that much more counter-cultural and inspiring for those who want to resist the culture (and mores) at large.

    And for those who say it is idolatry — well, remember, who did God use to help Israel? Cyrus. Recognizing the way people are used by God to help change history is not idolatry.

  21. July 1, 2009 8:06 am

    Henry,

    There are some who are inclined to turn to malicious language to vilify another person. When this happens one knows intuitively there is something profoundly sick inside them.

    These people are committing a great fault and it goes by the name of slander. But the fault lies not merely in the act committed but in the sickness that has engulfed the interiority of their person.

    This is why slander is recognized as a sin. To slander another — to engage in “backbiting” — is sinful. It is sinful because it flows out of the rot that lies within. It is this rot that separates them from the Love of God and their neighbor.

  22. July 1, 2009 10:04 am

    MJ’s music, btw, is also important in the underground scene in…. IRAN. Music does contribute a great deal in underground cultural resistance, especially if the music is seen (as many in here show) to contain elements of “decadence.” If you think MJ’s music is decadent, one would think that would help make the claim that much stronger

    I’ll admit, I’m a trifle amused that you say this, given that I’ve been lecture at length by one of your co-writers that one should not imagine for a moment that the protesters in Iran was freedom or have any interest in American culture. Perhaps there are cracks in the VN solidarity after all!

    Look, I grok that pop music is fun — though if I were to fulminate against an oppressive regime I’d prefer a Metallica or Rage Against the Machine soundtrack. In all seriousness I do have to question whether we should, as Catholics, support the idea that expressions of decadence are a positive form of rebellion against repression. Certainly, it’s a natural reaction to revel in decadence when suffering under a bitterly oppressive and Stalinistically-puritanical regime. But if we do as Catholics believe in “freedom for” rather than “freedom from”, that does not seem like it would be our viewpoint.

    • July 1, 2009 10:28 am

      DC

      I am discussing the situation in Iran which far extends the present “crisis,” but the long term relationships between America and Iran, and the underground in Iran. That there is an underground there is undeniable. That it is influenced by America, and especially, its pop forms, is also undeniable. Is it all bad? Obviously not. Is it all good? Obviously not. The whole “black/white” reading is the issue; when it is all seen as good, the criticism is also shown; but if it is all seen as bad, the good within can also be shown. This is a non-dualistic, but integral, examination.

      And remember, though you might say it is “decadence,” the question is, is it all decadent? No. There is a lot of good which inspires, the fact that it inspires and attracts shows this.

  23. M.Z. permalink
    July 1, 2009 10:25 am

    One Iraqi greeted the American troops as they entered his country with “Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy!”

    In regards to Poland, it is at least a crap shoot whether they are better off now. The immigrant flows are Eastern Europe to Western Europe. London in particular has a heavy population of Polish immigrants.

  24. July 1, 2009 11:37 am

    “In all seriousness I do have to question whether we should, as Catholics, support the idea that expressions of decadence are a positive form of rebellion against repression.”

    What is meant here by “we” … “as Catholics”? Does this refer to a unity without distinction? The truth is there are as many differences among Catholics on critical issues as one can imagine. The “we” here is totally misused.

    The phrase “expressions of decadence” is a long way from the lyrics of “Ben” or “The Man In The Mirror”, or “Earth Song”, or “You Are Not Alone,” or “What More Can I Give.” Why there is a need to conflate Michael Jackson’s song, or pop culture in general, to some abstract level of condemnation is troubling? It may satisfy a need for convenient argumentation but it is not predicated on truth.

    Yes, Michael Jackson was a voice for a “rebellion against repression.” But more than Michael, American popular culture in general has long been a positive force shaping hearts and minds around the world — even here at home. It played a central role in the Civil Rights movement. It remains a positive force today.

    Remember, people risked their lives during the Cold War to listen to the shortwave broadcasts of the VOA. It wasn’t a casual decision when they switched their dial to get a taste of American culture. People in captive nations spoke of American culture as a taste of freedom. At least give them some credit for their decision.

    It’s ironic that there is a small minority in America that has no appreciation of the tremendous good pop culture offers the world. It is a hugely positive force.

    What’s interesting to me is the reverence given the law by these same people. Yet, when Reagan came into office there were around 175,000 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons. Today, the number has climbed to 2.5 million. Why don’t these people rail against the American legal system and say it is rotten to the core? I think the answer is clear. They are indifferent to injustice.

  25. July 1, 2009 1:06 pm

    Look, I grok that pop music is fun — though if I were to fulminate against an oppressive regime I’d prefer a Metallica or Rage Against the Machine soundtrack.

    Rage, yes. Metallica, no way.

    Metallica IS the soundtrack to oppressive regimes. Not only is their music one of the favorites blasting in the headsets of u.s. soldiers killing civilians in the Middle East, Metallica themselves think it’s “pretty cool” that their music is used to torture human beings.

  26. July 1, 2009 1:28 pm

    Oh, here comes the torture debate again. Is waterboarding torture or isn’t it? Is Metallica torture isn’t it? Personally, I would find waterboarding and Metallica to be torture and don’t think they should ever be used. However, I can understand why some might question that, after all, it’s not like we’re talking chopping off fingers and playing Blue Grass. I think we can all agree that that would be torture!

    ;)

  27. July 1, 2009 1:52 pm

    Metallica IS the soundtrack to oppressive regimes. Not only is their music one of the favorites blasting in the headsets of u.s. soldiers killing civilians in the Middle East

    Well, contrary to Michael’s illusions US soldiers are not in the habit of driving around killing civilians all the time — but my understanding is that rap and hip hop tend to thud over tank and APC sound systems a lot more often than Metallica. I’m fond of it when I’m in a modern music, but then, I’m pretty old compared to a lot of our soldiers.

    But then, I’ll admit I did crack a smile when I read that Al Qaeda detainees had been convinced they heard “the voice of satan” when Enter The Sandman was blasted over the speakers at them.

    I have it on good authority that when the Peoples Liberation Army overthrows the evil u.s. regime, I’ll be shipped off to a reeducation camp where I’ll be strapped to a chair and subjected to alternate bouts of Shania Twain albums and an audiobook performance of the complete theological works of James Cone. So clearly torture is in the eye of the beholder. I only hope I’ll have the courage to hold out against such suffering.

  28. July 1, 2009 2:38 pm

    Rick and Darwin – Your torture jokes are — um — cute.

    Darwin – Care to elaborate for us why James Cone’s theology constitutes “torture” in your eyes? (I could make a guess, but I’d love for you to just say it yourself.)

  29. July 1, 2009 3:06 pm

    Well, if it would make you so happy, it would be cruel of me to deny you, Michael:

    I would find that tortuous for three reasons:

    1) That of his work I have read is written in an overwraugt and abrasive prose style.

    2) I consider some of his conclusions to be grossly wrong.

    3) Because it would remind me of you — and the comment was written mainly out of mischievous desire to tweek your overserious reaction to the discussion.

    If it makes you feel better, I would doubtless find you lecturing me endlessly to be torture as well. Listing him instead of you was meant to be no slight to your powers of abrasion.

  30. July 1, 2009 3:20 pm

    What James Cone have you read? Have you considered for one moment that his writing is MEANT to be abrasive? Have you stopped to think that maybe he is TRYING to irritate you? That you might need to be irritated, denounced, put in your place?

    Of course, you have the privilege to avoid whatever “tortures” you want to avoid, unlike actual victims of torture. You are also free to make jokes about it on the internet and then reach over and pop open a Bud Light.

  31. July 1, 2009 3:24 pm

    …then reach over and pop open a Bud Light.

    GASP! Them’s fightin’ words! You gonna let him accuse you of drinking that stuff, Darwin?

  32. July 1, 2009 3:38 pm

    Rage, yes. Metallica, no way.

    Well, I think Acrassicauda would beg to differ. =)

  33. July 1, 2009 3:41 pm

    I don’t know very little about Cone, as I recall Michael posting something about him once that really turned me off – and I don’t know that his or isn’t abrasive. That said, Michael, I find a number of issues with your defense of him here. You seem to equate abrasive with forthrightness. The later states the truth directly and allows the listener to be challenged by the truth. The former may or may not dealing in truth, but is merely making their personality part of what is to be evaluated.

    Have you stopped to think that maybe he is TRYING to irritate you? That you might need to be irritated, denounced, put in your place?

    Someone who is trying to irritate, is not likely someone who wishes people well, so I’m inclined to tune them out. Call it respecting common decency. I doubt I need to be irritated by anyone. I may need to be denounced and I may need to be put in my place. However, I doubt very much Mr. Cone is qualified for that service, and the fact that he thinks it’s his role is all the more reason to ignore him.

    The reality is Michael, that we reach a great many more people with love and kindness, by our actions more than our words, and when our words come into play, it’s the humble and respectful words that will get traction.

  34. July 1, 2009 3:51 pm

    Black theology, rightly, is not interested in “common decency.”

    It does not surprise me that you would dismiss someone who you wish to “tune out” as “unqualified.” That you could call Dr. Cone “unqualified” is laughable. And perhaps racist.

  35. July 1, 2009 4:24 pm

    Heh, I didn’t know (or certainly didn’t recall) that he was black, but I guess that proves my racism because I can’t even concern myself enough to remember he is black. Go figure. I really just remembered the name and that you cited him, and had in my mind a liberation theology type of some sort or another.

    Still, as a rule I’m not inclined to think that someone who doesn’t accept the Truths of the Holy Roman Catholic Church is qualified to instruct me on faith and morals. Not that truth can’t be found elsewhere or in other expressions, but I’ll still choose to seek counsel from those charged by Christ to give it. And as a Catholic, I’d be inclined to put as much stock in something called black theology as I would olive theology, short people theology, or warmonger theology.

  36. July 1, 2009 4:33 pm

    Michael,

    I read the first section of Black Theology and Black Power a year back to see what all the election-related fuss was about. It didn’t strike me that his abrasiveness was actually being used in defense of truth — which makes it immaterial whether I “need” to be “put in my place”.

    Look, you’re the one who brought up the fact that on several occasions Metallica was played at Al Qaeda detailees. (Torture seems to be the King Charles’ head to your Mr. Dick — it crops up everywhere.) Was it wrong for interrogators to do that to them? Quite possibly. Does that have anything to do with the quality of the music? Not really. (Nor does whether members of Metallica find that fact “pretty cool” have anything to do with the actual quality of their music.)

    As should be pretty obvious, torture has to do with its effect on the victim. Detainees felt hearing Metallica to be torture because it was alien to their cultural norms. (And frankly, being scared is probably the right natural reaction to have to modern metal — it those of us who find enjoyment in it who are the odd ones.)

    Of course, the trick is that just as hearing something radically out of context in that way can cause suffering, juxtaposition is also one of the standard sources of humor. So at the same time one may not approve of using heavy metal as an instrument of cruelty, it is undeniably humorous (if in a dark way) to the knowing observer to hear about guards putting on Metallica and detainees thinking they are hearing the voice of satan.

  37. July 1, 2009 4:35 pm

    So… you remembered his name. On what basis did you decide that he “doesn’t accept the Truths of the Holy Roman Catholic Church,” and is thus, “not qualified” to teach you anything? Because he seemed like a “liberation theology type of some sort or another”? Boy, you’re bright.

    So bright that you are too bright for me to engage with anymore.

    Tips for you before I go: 1) look up the meaning of the word “catholic,” 2) and look up “black Catholic theology” before you decide that “as a Catholic” you cannot “put stock” in “something called black theology.”

  38. July 1, 2009 4:40 pm

    It didn’t strike me that his abrasiveness was actually being used in defense of truth — which makes it immaterial whether I “need” to be “put in my place”.

    That’s strange. Countless people, black and white, do think that his abrasiveness is precisely used in defense of truth. Wonder who is right?

    Was it wrong for interrogators to do that to them? Quite possibly.

    Not “quite possibly.” Torture is always wrong. Period.

    As should be pretty obvious, torture has to do with its effect on the victim. Detainees felt hearing Metallica to be torture because it was alien to their cultural norms.

    It should also be obvious that Metallica’s cultural offensiveness does not make it torture. The use of loud sounds is not simply “offensive” or “alien to their cultural norms,” but it is PHYSICAL torture. But I am not surprised that you do not take torture-through-sound seriously because you simply do not take torture seriously.

  39. July 1, 2009 5:14 pm

    It should also be obvious that Metallica’s cultural offensiveness does not make it torture. The use of loud sounds is not simply “offensive” or “alien to their cultural norms,” but it is PHYSICAL torture. But I am not surprised that you do not take torture-through-sound seriously because you simply do not take torture seriously.

    I suppose we should be glad that you’ve decided to study theology and haunt the internet rather than becoming an operative for some people’s liberation group — since with your “no matter what you say I will accuse you of something new” approach to conversation you would make a rather devastating interrogator.

    It should be pretty obvious that violating cultural norms indeed can be torture and rather vile torture at that. Examples of this this from Guantanamo are not hard to think of: use of dogs and other “unclean” creatures, use of fake menstrual blood, defacement of a Koran, etc. I rather doubt that the music being used was actually louder than at concerts. The difference was in context: being used to cause suffering rather than being used to satisfy people’s desire to hear music.

    Of course, if you want to talk really despicable, apparently the collected songs of Barney the Dinosaur were used at times. Makes me shudder just to think of it.

  40. July 1, 2009 5:18 pm

    Jokes jokes jokes.

  41. Ronald King permalink
    July 2, 2009 7:49 am

    Gerald, I never thought about MJ’s influence outside of his value as an entertainer and, quite honestly, I was prejudiced in my evaluation of him as being narcissistic and materialistic. Neil Young, The Doors, Crosby Stills and Nash, Led Zeplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Bob Dylan, The Stones, Beatles, Cream, etc., still play in my head from the time in my life when I did not fit into either the left or the right and my neurochemistry was at its peak allowing me to experience the conscious awareness that I had no significance in the world of human relationships.
    It was the music and the lyrics that resonated with my isolated and disenfranchised hidden self that previously had no voice or vocabulary to express the internalized symptoms of alienation and self-loathing resulting from an environment that valued conformity rather than love.
    Gerald, I think that your post ties in with jonathanjones’ post above. Also, everything you write in your post about the influence of pop culture in social change can be supported with the advances being made in technology which enable researchers to develop a much clearer understanding of the development of the brain in response to human attachments.
    To view MJ in terms of black and white is to view him from the idolitry of rationalism which relies heavily on the domination of the left hemisphere of the brain. It is the right hemisphere that is repressed with authoritarian control and consequently, the internal struggle between the internalized oppressive authoritarian and the hidden and oppressed natural self are in a constant state of conflict. This internal conflict does gain expression through the arts in all sorts of symbolic representations.
    It is music that originates from the right hemisphere which then will influence the left hemisphere to create language that resonates with the reality that is being expressed nonverbally.
    You are RIGHT ON!

  42. July 2, 2009 10:48 am

    I’m sure it’s been mentioned by now in the comments, but Pink Floyd isn’t an American band.

  43. July 2, 2009 11:00 am

    Dan,

    Your point hasn’t been mentioned but what you say is true. Pink Floyd is a British rock band.

  44. CEK permalink
    July 2, 2009 12:17 pm

    WTF

    I was about to drop a LOL until I realized the OP was actually being serious.

    ‘Today, it is that are at the forefront of struggles with the .’

  45. Martin permalink
    July 2, 2009 7:37 pm

    MJ was immensely talented, a fact obvious from an early age. But you could go through virtually any pop artist’s corpus of work and conclude they were a force for world peace.

    We can admire him for his amazing God given talent but not his character surely.

    If Catholics, of all people, can’t discriminate between mere talent and those who at great personal risk, do not bow to the moral prudence of economic, political or religious powers, then we are not light; we are less than useful to society. I mean that. We have been given something others have not, we literally pervert that gift by exalting a sad to say – pervert. We can admire his God given talent and its effects but we have to be able to discriminate between nature and character surely.

    The saints are light from light. How could the author talk the way he does?

  46. July 2, 2009 7:59 pm

    But you could go through virtually any pop artist’s corpus of work and conclude they were a force for world peace.

    OK, please do so. You have a choice between Britney Spears and the the ’80s band Wham. We’re all ears.

  47. July 2, 2009 11:45 pm

    Martin,

    “We can admire him for his amazing God given talent but not his character surely.”

    Have you ever transformed yourself into an instrument that could move millions of people in noble ways? If you have, you will recognize that one’s God given talent is just the beginning. It only speaks to possibility.

    Now ask yourself: Is it possible to actualize such talent to such an extraordinary extent without developing courage, fortitude, justice, and temperance? Clearly, it is not possible.

    Yet aren’t those qualities precisely what is meant by character?

    So I ask you: What are you talking about? Michael Jackson clearly has character. What constitutes your meaning?

    Finally, let me throw one back at you. Don’t you feel a little awkward judging a person whom you don’t know or historical dynamics which you don’t understand?

    Frankly, my suspicion is that your visceral dislike of a caricature of Michael Jackson has distorted your judgment about the reality of Michael Jackson and what has been his lifelong accomplishments.

    “How could the author talk the way he does?” Because it is true.

  48. Spirit of Vatican II permalink
    July 3, 2009 2:13 am

    Drooling over Michael Jackson should know some limits of decency.

    There was a duet between Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger in which the proposition seemed to be fellative. Exciting, surely, but not something to be championed as the greatest spiritual breakthrough of the 20th century.

  49. Spirit of Vatican II permalink
    July 3, 2009 2:16 am

    Very obviously MJ was the victim of severe psychological disorders, which destroyed his talent and his looks a long, long time ago. Turning a blind eye to this tragedy is childish wishful thinking.

  50. Spirit of Vatican II permalink
    July 3, 2009 2:22 am

    As to character and talent, history is full of talents destroyed by their possessor’s lack of character. A modicum of character is needed to develop a talent and to sustain it, but character is not a major precondition of talent, and talent can survive lack of character — but often doesn’t, particularly in the case of dependencies such as gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction. (Sexual promiscuity and perversity seem not to destroy talent as effectively.)

  51. Spirit of Vatican II permalink
    July 3, 2009 2:27 am

    Finally, I agree with Martin that we should never confuse talent and sanctity. A genius is no more likely to be a saint than a saint to be a genius. Cardinal Newman held that the history of literature was a record of sin (by sinners) and that to read it otherwise was to miss the whole point. Pop music is a particularly decadent branch of Western culture — one Buddhist friend calls the triumph of pop “an Auschwitz of the mind” — though talents do emerge within its ghastly surge — ‘rari nantes in gurgite vasto’ — and so we should be particularly discerning in regard to it, as we are to the decadent poets and novelists of the fin de siecle or the libertines of the 18th century.

  52. July 3, 2009 4:42 am

    No one is saying MJ is to be canonized. Recognizing his contribution to society and the shape of the modern world does not make him canonized. One can look at and respect public figures for what they have done without it being an issue of saintliness.

  53. Spirit of Vatican II permalink
    July 3, 2009 5:30 am

    He’s the people’s saint. “Armed with this simple vision, Michael set about to dedicate his life to others.” His music was tinged with respect for human dignity. He awoke moral powers in the young everywhere etc.

    Is the woman referred to in the following lyrics Princess Di?

    “Privacy”

    Ain’t the pictures enough, why do you go through so much
    To get the story you need, so you can bury me
    You’ve got the people confused, you tell the stories you choose
    You try to get me to lose the man I really am

    You keep on stalking me, invading my privacy
    won’t you just let me be
    ‘cause you cameras can’t control, the minds of those who know
    That you’ll even sell your soul just to get a story sold

    [CHORUS]
    I need my privacy, I need my privacy
    So paparazzi, get away from me

    Some of you still wonder why, one of my friends had to die
    To get a message across, that yet you haven’t heard
    My friend was chased and confused, like many others I knew
    But on that cold winter night, my pride was snatched away

    Now she get no second chance, she just ridiculed and harassed
    Please tell my why
    No there’s a lesson to learn, respect’s not given, it’s earned
    Stop maliciously attacking my integrity

    [CHORUS]

    Now there’s a lesson to learn, stories are twisted and turned
    Stop maliciously attacking my integrity

    [CHORUS x 3]

  54. July 3, 2009 10:38 am

    Spirit of Vatican II,

    Sorry to hear you’ve bought into the loop of the MSM. There has been a chorus of malicious predators trying to destroy MJ for 15 years or more. But ultimately they can’t succeed. His impact will rise above that meme. The judgments of Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire more reflect the truth than they.

    Yes, he was a troubled person. He speaks to that openly and honestly, and in his music. But those troubles were the fountainhead of his creativity. They, in part, explain his appeal. Others know the same pain.

    But to paint him with every specific allegation that has come his way can only flow from a mean-spiritedness because they rest only on conjecture. They serve nothing but caricature and prurient interest.

    Aside from alienation, his music was about struggling against injustice and unjust authority — it was about freedom. This accounts for his immense appeal among captive populations. I hope that doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable. VOA would not have broadcast his music were it not in the national interest.

    To say his troubles destroyed his talent is nonsense. Tapes recorded two days before his death — and now released — belie that claim. Expect to see a video, or even a movie, on the last days of his life. There are hundreds of hours of tapes. He was a fifty year old man doing what he did in his twenties.

    Who is confusing sainthood and expression of talent? Not me. MJ was not trying to be a saint. He struggled to take his talents to heights never before reached. Frankly, that’s enough for one man! If sainthood doesn’t come with that effort then so be it. We’ve already enough pretenders to sainthood swarming about the blog who are neither talented nor saints!

    I recall Jacque Maritain being asked about artists. He said that God has his own way with his artists. To that I say, let God have his way. And, as Plotinus says in the Enneads, let him understand who can.

  55. Ronald King permalink
    July 3, 2009 12:15 pm

    The creative language of the artist, in this case MJ, is lived in the totality of his life. His creativity is God’s Gift to him and it is through this gift that his pain gained expression for all to see. His pain fed his creativity and its expression united him to those who suffer in similar ways through the symbolism of his life.
    An artist’s language is difficult to understand. His canvas is the totality of his life just as ours. MJ’s language was always open to all of us and our interpretation of his language reveals what is in our hearts. His performances reveal visceral expressions of repressed rage, loneliness, fear, loss and a desire to love and be loved. His dance seems to express a tightly controlled passionate desire to be free from the meanness of humanity through movements and gestures that would arose awe and rejection at the same time. It seemed as though he might be asking us if we would still love him if we knew how much he hated us. As I think now about this I believe he did not understand some of his language at a conscious level. I believe he was afraid of the immense power of his rage that fed his passion for creative expression.
    Instinctively and experientially he knew that human beings are dangerous and that children are safe before they become contaminated with prejudice. His deamons are our deamons. We do not have an identity until we are fully with God. All of us are boarderline personalities filled with rage and fear that can only be healed through the Grace of God with the gift of humility.
    I never thought about MJ in this way and for that I am sorry for my previous prejudice and lack of compassion.

  56. Ed the Roman permalink
    July 3, 2009 12:18 pm

    It’s certainly the case that American popular music inspired the subjects of the Kremlin.

    It’s also certainly the case that American popular musicians, as a class, thought that the US government ought not to do anything specifically to oppose the Kremlin, and said so when asked. Rather, we should have been nicer to them, since our system was not really any better than theirs.

    The Wall didn’t fall, and the Hammer and Crescent was not replaced by the Russian Tricolor, by people singing “Beat It” with German and Slavic accents.

  57. July 3, 2009 12:53 pm

    Ed,

    From what I can discern from your comments, you are confusing public diplomacy with official state-to-state relations.

    There are boat loads of U.S. policies, or policy recommendations, that did not deserve support over the course of the Cold War. People, here and abroad, rightly opposed or supported policies for various reasons.

    But artists were united in their support of efforts to liberate captive nations through a struggle for hearts and minds. I know of no instance where that was not the case.

    It was public diplomacy that finally brought a resolution to the East/West standoff. Such outcome was foreseen by President Eisenhower in March, 1953 when he ordered that an aggressive information program (public diplomacy) be used to spearhead U.S. efforts to defeat the Soviet Union. Military and economic power were to be used within the context of containment.

    To implement his Grand Strategy, Eisenhower proposed the creation of USIA to oversee the information offensive he envisioned and, four months later, Congress passed legislation to make that proposal a reality.

  58. July 3, 2009 3:54 pm

    Ronald,

    I find your comments extremely interesting. I don’t know where you’re located — maybe around the Polouse area — but I would like to have time one of these days to explore your thoughts more. I’ve benefited greatly from our exchanges on Vox Nova.

    It’s no wonder much of public diplomacy is a mystery to the American public. Laws were passed after WWII that forbid government agencies from distributing information intended for foreign audiences to be disseminated to the U.S. public. They had Goebbels in mind. The broadcasts of the VOA were included under that prohibition.

    Yet, some materials have been made available over the years with Congressional exceptions. In 1955, Louis Armstrong made a European tour. Portions of those concerts were published by Columbia Records under the title Ambassador Satch. The great photographic collection compiled by Edward Steichen called the Family of Man was distributed worldwide by USIA in 1956, both as an exhibit and as a book. USIA took Vladimir Horowitz to Moscow in 1986 where he performed for the first time since leaving Russia as an exile in the late 1920s. Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady was taken to Moscow in 1987, I believe. This is just a small sampling of what goes on.

    Public diplomacy is not salesmanship. It has the depth of which you speak in your comments. It is designed to awaken dynamics within the person to incline them to act on behalf of freedom and democracy. There has to be a resonance with the person, otherwise it will fail.

    In recent years, there has been an attempt to turn public diplomacy into a quasi-advertising agency for bad U.S. policies. Such approach can never work.

    Your insights into brain research square with my professional efforts to bring about changes in the political dynamics of populations. Music is a powerful instrument in that regard, albeit not the only instrument. One of the broadcasters at VOA was Willis Conover. Unknown in the U.S. except in jazz circles, he taught and broadcast American jazz to the world two hours a day, six days a week, 52 weeks a year for fifty years. Though unknown here, I recall when he visited Warsaw in 1985 or 1986. When he landed at the airport over 100,000 people were there to greet him. His visit was unannounced except through his VOA broadcasts.

    Thanks again.

  59. Ronald King permalink
    July 3, 2009 7:14 pm

    Gerald, I had no knowledge of what you stated above and I can now see why you have such a passion in this area. We are wired for music and I need to research more in this area. However, I recall reading some months ago about reseach trying to determine if there is a specific area of the brain that will trigger the experience of God. Nuns and meditators were studied using MRI to identify blood flow activity in the brain. When the subjects recalled their spiritual transcendent experiences the whole brain lit up. This result is similar to jazz musicians and people in love.
    I do not know if you read jonathanjones’ post. I believe it ties in with what you are addressing. I strongly believe that if we ignore the mystics in our faith and lose the mysticism in our relationships our faith becomes black and white, rigid, judgemental and mean.
    I am in the Tri Cities about 2 hours west of WSU. I am living where nuclear waste is being buried and one of the sites of the Manhattan Project. My tomato plants are very large.
    I would love to hear more of your thoughts in more detail.
    Thanks.

  60. July 3, 2009 7:51 pm

    Ronald,

    Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland — the Tri-Cities!!!

    I used to water ski about one mile downstream from where the waste water from the plutonium plant was put into the Columbia. The thought of “nuclear” never bothered us much then. Strange how “it” now scares everyone.

    I’m originally from a small town near Yakima on the Reservation.

    I’m familiar with this study of nuns. They were located in Kentucky, if I recall correctly. I believe there were reports coming out about it 8 years or so ago. At that time, I was funding research projects to determine the impact of quality relations on various aspects of human health.

    I did read jonathonjones post. I agree with him and it does fit into what I see. I agree about the mystics.

  61. July 3, 2009 8:40 pm

    The Jackodolators should look honestly at the sordid aspects they want to whisk away. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michael-jackson-bad-and-very-dangerous-1731258.html

    Remember where denial got the Catholic Church?

  62. Ronald King permalink
    July 3, 2009 10:10 pm

    Gerald, My wife will be swimming in the Columbia tomorrow in a triathlon in Richland. Howard Amon Park. You can give me a call at my office in Richland on Monday. I am in the phone book.
    We are originally from Pittsburgh.
    Spirit, there is no denial about anything. Read the posts carefully and you will see you are wrong about your statement or name-calling.

  63. Spirit of Vatican II permalink
    July 4, 2009 4:44 am

    No denial about anything? Vague references to his personal struggles, and dismissal of any reference to the truly troubling aspects as ‘meanspirited’ and a ‘meme’ perpetrated by ‘malicious predators’ (with of course no mention at all of pedophilia), constitute classic denial. Naturally no one wanted to believe that MJ was a corruptor of children (for we all had lovely images of his own singing as a child), but to deny the clear pattern that emerged is itself childish.

  64. Spirit of Vatican II permalink
    July 4, 2009 4:44 am

    I suppose when O J Simpson passes his fans will organize an apotheosis too.

  65. Ronald King permalink
    July 4, 2009 7:34 am

    Spirit of Vatican II, I am curious, what does your name mean? Anyway, I never thought much about MJ and only judged him based on his performances, materialism, narcissism, charges of pedophelia, etc. Looking at him now I view him with compassion due to my miraculous conversion in 2005 which united my education and experience under the direction of God’s Love.
    Childishness, as you describe in your post, is a pattern of perception based on powerful instinctive emotional responses to interpersonal interactions that form core beliefs of self and others that we carry with us into adulthood. These unconscious influences are hard-wired cognitive distortions of a child’s emotional response to an adult’s intrusion into the child’s need for nurturance and a sense of belonging. Our immediate response to MJ’s death will give us insight into areas of our psyche which need to be revealed to the Light of God’s Love in order that all of us may be united to one another in love which can only come through being united to His Love and looking at the world through His Reality.

  66. July 5, 2009 12:36 am

    Ronald King — see my weblog.

    I heard a good sermon this morning, saying that faced with events like MJ’s death we should be silent and ask what God is telling us in such events. The preacher held that the razzmatazz cheapened MJ in death. On one hand, I cannot help thinking that MJ would be delighted to create such a sensation (‘good career move’); on the other, the MJ tragedy is replicated in a thousand lives, not only in Hollywood, so it is hardly necessary to seek in it a mystic epiphany.

  67. Ronald King permalink
    July 5, 2009 6:57 am

    Spirit of Vatican II,
    I see I have some reading to do. I still believe every relationship must be understood from the mystical perspective, otherwise, we are nothing but flesh and bone.

  68. July 5, 2009 7:16 am

    Ronald,

    You are fortunate in your travels. Life without spirituality is a living death. It is coarse, brittle, and judgmental. It rests on an intellectual void. As spirituality enters our lives, it not only transforms our being but enriches our perception of things and others around us. It makes us see them more deeply and intensifies our relations to them. Love brings everything together in a higher order.

    Spiritual consciousness is an evolved consciousness. We are born yearning for it but struggle to embody it. It has immanent and transcendent origins.

    Spirituality diminishes alienation and opens up a dimension of reality where love makes its mark. As it does, our awareness, understanding, judgment, behavior, and creativity are profoundly transformed. It is from this point that we hesitatingly create a new face in and for the world. Bit by bit, we radiate differently. Others take notice, for good or ill.

    To live from an interiority expressive of love, compassion, understanding, and mercy — and to diminish the temptations of hatred, callousness, suspicion, and indifference — is an aspiration deeply rooted in the human spirit. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Each person’s deepest inclination is to bring the perfection of spiritual qualities into their lives and to make love a central dynamic in their struggles.

    My journey began on an Indian Reservation. You can only imagine what was contained in the thoughts and language of those days. From there I went from Jesuit university to Jesuit university until, after three stops, I came to Washington, D.C. Along the way there were many powerful influences whose presence prepared me for the task ahead.

    Gradually, I came to realize that it was necessary to penetrate beyond behavior to change the world for the better. Mechanical approaches do not work. It was also necessary to address the logical order and the ideas that were imbedded in our culture. But more than this, I came to realize that the brotherhood of man was not merely a dream. It was a reality that was evolving before our eyes day by day. Seen this way I came to better appreciate the healing dynamics of love circling around me and the significance those forces had in the struggle for hearts and minds.

    Perhaps through different paths we have come to the same place.

    It was a thrill to learn of your wife’s adventures in the Columbia River. A cascade of memories were unleashed that continue to flow even now.

  69. July 5, 2009 8:46 am

    Spirit of Vatican II,

    Why is it so difficult to accept phrases such as “mean-spirited” or “meme” perpetrated by “malicious predators,” as though the assaults against MJ are not mean-spirited or malicious? Why is my refusal to jump on the “allegation band wagon” an instance of “classic denial” when the motivation behind every one of these allegations is highly questionable? This is not classic denial, it is prudence and fairness.

    Much of the narrative swirling about MJ comes from a documentary by Martin Bashir. Many prominent journalists in the U.S. have accused Bashir of “yellow journalism” designed to paint MJ in an unflattering light. The New York Times said of Bashir that his style was nothing more than “callous self-interest masked as sympathy.” The feminist Gloria Allred is well-known to TV audiences for her vicious assaults on MJ. I could go on but this is sufficient to justify my use of the phrases mentioned above.

    Simply put, I refuse to participate in this circus. Personal assaults have become sport in America. So when I place in brackets the allegations against MJ, I am in no way engaging in “classic denial.” I am merely preserving my own integrity by not being willing to participate in slander.

    We have a judicial system of “due process” in America. A person is innocent until proven guilty. Those who saw fit to bring charges against MJ were given their opportunity. They were repudiated in a court of law on all counts. To be sure, this does not prove MJ’s innocence. But innocence cannot be proven under any circumstance. It is logically impossible.

    In the early 90s, charges were brought against MJ that were settled out of court for $20 million. This sum of money indicates guilt to many. After all, its $20 million! But when you can make $20 million in a week, and when you want to avoid a spectacle like O.J.’s, this settlement makes sense.

    Johnny Cochran, MJs lawyer, knowing the full weight of circumstances and evidence against him, advised him to proceed with trial. MJ didn’t want to go through with it and decided to go with a settlement. Who would want to endure such a spectacle, if they could avoid it? This settlement proves neither guilt nor innocence. It is what it is — a settlement.

    If you re-read my post you will find that these issues are beside the point. What I was trying to show is that there is a power to public diplomacy that more often than not obviates the need for economic sanctions or military action. MJ played a significant role in that enterprise. Most people would not connect his musical artistry with events such as we saw unfold in Eastern Europe. I thought this was a good occasion on which to make that clear. That was my point.

    But secondarily, I wanted to point to something else. There is a mindset in America that feels more comfortable with “controlling” outcomes by the use of force. This is what I would call an authoritarian or totalitarian urge and it is always present in American politics. To underscore this dangerous tendency — and to show that we need not submit to it to bring about significant political change — was my implicit intention.

  70. July 5, 2009 7:21 pm

    I agree that the man was mercilessly hounded. I think his fate will win sympathy for pedophiles. Their love for children is probably just as real and overwhelming as adults’ love for other adults, and just as prone to embarrassing or foolish behavior. The problem is that no one in the present climate can court children as MJ did without inviting the fate that befell him; his sister warned him a long, long time ago that his intimacies with children would bring on him a sea of troubles. Even if he was a chaste and innocent Mr Chips, his behavior was very foolish, wealth permitting. The cases brought against him and the out of court settlements may have been motivated by greed, certainly. He was probably given the benefit of the doubt in gray areas where your common or garden pedophile, such as the many clerical abusers, would be put behind bars (sometimes on the say-so of victims and in face of the strenuous denials of the accused, where no proof is possible, which has led to numerous unsafe convictions that had to be quashed).

  71. July 6, 2009 5:33 pm

    Spirit of Vatican II,

    How was it possible for Michael Jackson to withstand such withering assaults against his spiritual integrity? I do not know.

    A person can withstand much. They do so in war. They do so in prison. But the human heart cannot tolerate massive doses of spiritual alienation. Spiritual alienation contradicts the most fundament inclination of the person, namely, Love.

    For too long, Michael Jackson’s personal dignity — his very person — was violated at its deepest dimension. He was submitted to a cruel spectacle on the world stage. Names were created to ridicule him. “Wacko Jacko!” The sole purpose in all this was to bring the rage of world public opinion to bear on him so he would suffer spiritual alienation to the very depths of his being.

    This conduct runs counter to everything Catholic. The human heart cannot tolerate spiritual alienation. It has enough trouble with psychological aloneness and isolation. It cries out for love and this crying out flows from the deepest part of our being.

    So let me ask: Were these acts mean-spirited or not? Absolutely they were.

    Where was the Catholic Church in all this? Where were the American Bishops? Why did they allow the intentional destruction of a person to go unopposed?

    To be hounded as MJ was is beyond being criminal (legal). It is beyond being immoral. At its core, it is an existential violation of the person. Yet we allowed this conduct to continue. Where was the shame? Where is the penance?

    For his part, Michael Jackson at age fifty managed to rally his physical and moral strength to prepare for the performance of 50 concerts for 5 million people! Yet some continue to say he has no character? What a pile of dog mess!

    Above you expressed fear that Michael Jackson’s predicament will win sympathy for pedophiles. Fair enough. But there is no compelling evidence MJ was a pedophile. The best efforts to establish this point found him not guilty.

    More importantly, pedophiles garner no sympathy in America. Even the vaguest accusation of such will destroy a person for life. Mercy is not a commodity in America.

    Looking ahead, my fear is much different than yours. Increasingly, well-intended people are becoming afraid to pick up a kid today and give him or her a hug for fear of some wild claim by a nutty prosecutor or greedy parent. God help us if this becomes all too ordinary.

    Without love, kids will find love. Let me say that again. WITHOUT LOVE, KIDS WILL FIND LOVE. They will find it in places we won’t like. In gangs, in drugs, on the street, in sex, in criminal behavior. The root cause of dysfunctional behavior is spiritual alienation. This truth flows out of the heart of the Gospel message. Period.

    Mercy is not a commodity in America. This in and of itself is sufficient to explain why the U.S. has such high rates of violence. Fifteen time the violence as Europe; 70 times the violence as Japan. We are an alienated society. We lack spirituality. We depreciate quality relations. We are a moral society whose view of morality is to control behavior. We have a totalitarian urge.

    MJ engaged in risky behavior. No doubt. He was warned by friends that he was heading for a world of hurt. Nonetheless he built relations with children and continued to so do. Eventually this brought the vengeance of powerful forces in society against him. But even then, he continued to speak freely about how his interaction with kids, his intentions, and how he viewed his actions. He wrote about children in his lyrics and dedicated his life to children. He gave over $300 million to them. They were the hope and the future he wanted to see materalize.

    Why would he risk everything? What few seem to realize in accessing MJ’s conduct is that risk behavior is a mechanism of bonding. It heals the pains of spiritual alienation. Risk behavior is about love.

    When two young boys agree to break into someone’s house, their actions not only TEST but VERIFY the strength of their bonding. “I am with you.” “We are tight.”

    I am firmly persuaded that something similar was at work in MJ’s relations with children. Risky behavior cemented relations he had with these children. It also verified just how deep those relationships were. Bonding with the innocence of children offered him a buffer against the mean-spiritedness of adults.

    In my view, MJ was attempting to protect and celebrate innocence. He was not out to distort and corrupt it.

  72. July 7, 2009 12:26 am

    Lots of pedophile priests have been subjected to the battering MJ received.

    ‘Wacko Jacko’ was an affectionate name for Jackson about 27 years ago, if memory deceives not. Not at all unchristian.

    To suggest the Catholic Bishops should have intervened is rather over the top!

    That the young boys were closely bonded to MJ is true of many pedophile relationahips and is not regarded as a mitigation in the eyes of society or the law — au contraire.

    Many teachers bond with the innocence of their pupils and may form a deep loving attachment to them. But no teacher with his or her head screwed on invites a child to share his or her bed, or allows a child to do so even if that is what the child wants.

    “We depreciate quality relations” — I agree that the powerful affections of a pedophile (one whose primary or exclusive emotional and sexual attraction is to children) are discounted in our society; but such affections are not easily channeled into sublimated forms, especially as society provides no recognized framework for them, not even within pedagogic relations.

    Given the sexual frankness of MJ’s performances and milieu, I find it quite believable that he engaged in sexual banter with his proteges and probably in the other kinds of sexual play detailed by his accusers. In the context of his mutually adoring relationships with the kids that may have seemed natural and normal behavior. Yet viewed in the cold light of common day, moral and legal day, and journalistic day, especially when the recipients of his attentions come forward as victims, you cannot expect them to be seen as expressive of a “quality” relationship.

    “Risky behavior cemented relatons he had with these children” — here your reasoning is quite irresponsible. For he was involving the children themselves in the risk, putting them at risk — not only morally (why should they be initiated into an aging man’s lewdness?) but in terms of their relationships to their families and society. I also object to: ‘Risk behavior is about love” — even between adults you do not expose your partner to risks without the partner’s full consent, which by definition a child cannot give. Love rather protects the beloved from risk.

    MJ was not out to corrupt and distort innocence, but of course very often people do corrupt others without intending to, and a self-deluding man like Jackson probably never registered the consequences of his reckless actions. His inability to see, despite repeated warnings, that he was heading for a legal nightmare, suggests the he had an equal blindness to moral and psychological consequences of is behavior for his beloved kids.

  73. July 7, 2009 12:34 am

    MJ began as a boy singer talking of Salvation etc. He floated on a language of religious idealism. I recall that Irish priests imprisoned for pedophile offenses were not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist in prison, on the theory that their religiosity has been a component in their behavior pattern. I suppose MJ believed that love covers a multitude, and that it could not be wrong to express his saving love by hugging a boy, or sleeping with him (the most loving thing one can do, he said), or sharing his intimacy with them. Delusion is powerful when fundamental passions are involved; it helps understand the saga of pedophile clergy.

  74. July 7, 2009 4:11 am

    Der Spiegel has an article on MJ as King Lonely by 4 or 5 journalists. Calls him greatest pop star of 20th century but says his life at Neverland was empty bombast and his relation to children a need-driven and abnormal pathology.

  75. July 7, 2009 4:33 am

    Rev Al Sharpton shares your view of Jackson and makes much of his acquittal in court. But what about the more than 15 million dollars of hush money mentioned in the Spiegel article?

  76. July 7, 2009 9:22 am

    Spirit of Vatican II,

    “Lots of pedophile priests have been subjected to the battering MJ received.”

    Nonsense. Ask any person if they’ve heard of MJ. Those who haven’t would fill a small bathroom! Ask them to name one priest … silence.

    “‘Wacko Jacko’ was an affectionate name for Jackson about 27 years ago, if memory deceives not. Not at all unchristian.”

    Nonsense. It was designed as a pejorative term in an article by Tim Ward on Aug. 7, 1986 in the Brisbane Courier-Mail under the headline “Is Jacko Wacko?” Roger Hilburn wrote in the Los Angeles Times reporting from London on Sept. 12, 1987 that MJ’s “much-publicized eccentricities have caused writers here to dub him ‘Wacko Jacko.'” The phrase bothered MJ so much that he issued an impassioned plea imploring them to stop using the name. And you say it’s a term of affection?

    “To suggest the Catholic Bishops should have intervened is rather over the top!”

    The point is they don’t teach. Slander has become an art form in the media and American politics. Shouldn’t that bother the Bishops? I never said they should come to the defense of MJ. But they certainly can address the prevailing ethos. The point is they don’t. They are silent on most significant trends in the culture.

    You don’t understand my point about “risk behavior.” I’ll be writing more about this in later posts. I believe the prevailing view of “risk behavior” is incomplete and distorted.

    For heavens sake, Al Sharpton is a much more credible source than Der Spiegel or any of the other newspapers you mentioned. And for reasons like what I alluded to above on the subject of “Wacko Jacko”.

    Sadly, journalists today just copy one another. They don’t do the ground work. They arrange the facts to suit the narrative rather than the other way around. They begin where they should end and end in a reality-distortion field.

    Al Sharpton not only knew Michael Jackson personally but he has the capacity to understand his music and the media. He was with James Brown for years. What’s with it that you keep pointing to these worn out articles? They all come from the same place. Show me some primary evidence or reporting. Your strongest points are based on the mud-slinging speculations that are thrown about. Beyond that you try to dump all the hysteria you feel about priests on MJ. What’s your intention here? It’s not just.

    Overall you seem not to have a good relationship with American pop music. This is not surprising. Those who sought out jazz in the 1930s rejected Elvis. Those who were comfortable with the Beattles in the 19602 reject Hip Hop and Rap.

    What I find ironic is that you put great effort into studying Eastern religions and produce thoughtful pieces. But when it comes to the art forms that are shaping the hearts and minds of youth worldwide you seem to lack the same degree of curiosity.

    Reports say 1.6 million tried to get one of the 11 thousand tickets for today’s ceremony. Of course, that only refers to numbers!

    Thoughtful Americans have come to distrust the MSM. I think there is a much deeper story to tell about Michael Jackson, one that would enrich everyone. It’s about bonding in simple humanity.

  77. Ronald King permalink
    July 7, 2009 10:29 am

    Gerald, I wish I knew how to use this computer but I do not take the time. To quote you “Life without spirituality is a living death. It is coarse, brittle and judgmental. It rests on an intellectual void.” I love that statement. I can read, see, hear and feel when that hardness of heart is operating regardless of the situation.
    When I experience that hardness outside of me when interacting with someone I can then feel the hardness begin to develop inside. At that time I must let go of any judgment obtained from that hardness no matter how right it may feel because within that hardness the harsh judgment is correct. If I continue to exist within that feeling of correctness I am closed of to a union with love and instead love feeling right.
    Within that context I will live in cause and effect and be a master of my domain. I will live in Newtonian physics and judge by observation with the known being everything I need.
    Spirituality cannot be known in that realm of perception.
    I am late must go.

  78. July 7, 2009 5:28 pm

    Ronald,

    I experience the impact of hardness coming from without much as you describe. At some point, it is necessary to “walk on by” (Dionne Warwick) as a means of preserving integrity. I recall as an undergraduate Jesuits closing conversations with me about things that were controversial. They did not seek the last word. They closed our discussion with a smile.

    I’ve never forgotten the message implicit in that smile. To be sure, it is difficult to follow their example. But, at some point, it is essential. Otherwise, as you say, you tend to acquire traits that undermine your integrity. And you are directed away from the most important dimension of reality — Love..

    Perhaps this points to one of the reasons why I have been so attracted to public diplomacy. The greatest strength of a nation lies in its credibility. To be credible it is necessary to abide by the truth. But Truth is Beauty. It is not Ugliness. Too often we think we are speaking the truth when in fact we are speaking to ego — our ego. Truth is Beauty! Always.

    In the struggle with the Soviet Union, I always maintained that our position was stronger because we had very limited access to East European populations. Why do I say that? Because that meant we had to forego the desire to control the outcomes we sought. It wasn’t about being right or correct, as you say. It was not about imposing our Will. VOA had to broadcast songs of Michael Jackson or Art Tatum, e.g., and it had to allow the music by itself to do our work. In other words, we had to trust forces that were beyond our control. The truth of freedom inherent in the music alone had the power to do what we wanted done. This inability to control accounts in great measure for our success.

    This is one reason why it is important to allow the events in Iran unfold and to do so naturally. What’s the rush???

    Likewise, in national politics, I tend towards inspiration. If done at a profound enough level, inspiration can unleash forces within each person that will make them to act in ways that will support the common good. Programs don’t do that.

    Speaking of beauty, 1 billion people today watched the ceremony for Michael Jackson. I would recommend watching the entire event to get a sense of the dynamics it offered. I’m sure it will be re-broadcast over MSNBC this evening. It’ll also give you a sense of the power of public diplomacy.

    Think of the program in terms of the principles of human dignity, individual freedom, solidarity, and love. Think of belonging and what such a broadcast would mean to a young Muslim boy living anywhere from Morocco to Indonesia, from Nigeria to Kazakhstan. 70% of the Muslim population are thirty years old or younger! What would happen within this person’s consciousness? God only knows. But one thing it might do is mitigate his anger.

    “Spirituality cannot be known in that realm of perception.” I know what you are driving at here. But there is nothing more beautiful than the perception of a mother’s smile.

    By the way, MJ’s most favorite song was Charlie Chaplin’s theme song “Smile”. Jermaine Jackson sang it as a tribute to his brother.

  79. Ronald King permalink
    July 7, 2009 6:39 pm

    Gerald,
    The first contact outside the womb is purely physical and to the degree that mom is free to love then baby is bonded in that manner. When the child is able to smile that is the point at which the child shows the effects of love and cements that bond. I am deeply disturbed by the Pope’s misunderstanding and consequently the Church’s misunderstanding of sentimentality. They seem to prefer rationality over the emotions and yet it is irrational to not explore the true meaning of emotions.
    Sentimentality is the expression of a desire to return to the point of the experience of love either real or imagined.
    What you say above is so important but those who do not understand this have been defended against being vulnerable and consequently the smile only has meaning when the smile is one of agreement with their position. This is also sentimentality and they are desperate just as everyone else to love and be loved and to have significance.
    The Berlin wall still exists.
    Inspiration is critical. When someone inspires us it tells us that we have significance. God is working through inspiration that sees no walls and only has compassion.
    “Smile though your heart is breaking.”

  80. Magdalena permalink
    July 7, 2009 8:28 pm

    I am getting to this post late but I can’t believe it’s not some kind of deep-level satire. I am so sorry that Mr. Jackson is dead, especially for his children. But this man was deeply, deeply disturbed and managed to damage innocent people as he struggled with his own brokeness.

    Mr. Jackson settled with his first accuser after the child provided the police with a detailed description of the rather unusual, “splotchy” appearance of Mr. Jackson’s reproductive organs, including where the splotch moved to when he was in a state of arousal. Needless to say that description matched perfectly with the genuine article.

    As he was abused in childhood, he abused others as an adult – he needs prayers more than adulation.

  81. July 7, 2009 9:35 pm

    The greatest entertainer who ever lived? That is the latest eulogy!

  82. hey what about permalink
    July 8, 2009 12:32 am

    Maybe the Bishops should’ve intervened in the character destruction of Sarah Palin, by the same logic expressed above?

    “He needs prayers more than adulation” – I’ll echo that statement.

  83. Ronald King permalink
    July 8, 2009 3:59 pm

    A question, Do you love Michael Jackson?

  84. July 8, 2009 5:14 pm

    “Maybe the Bishops should’ve intervened in the character destruction of Sarah Palin, by the same logic expressed above?”

    Character assassination assaults the dignity of the human person, no matter who it is directed against. How can a personalist ethic ignore an ethos that thrives on this kind of sport? This American sickness needs to be unmasked for what it is.

  85. Ronald King permalink
    July 9, 2009 8:06 am

    Gerald, How did you get to where you are? You certainly have come a long way from home. I love hearing each person’s story who comes into my life. I have seen at times socialized sociopaths and a couple of child molesters and I would always find myself developing compassion for them after hearing their stories.
    Sometimes during my morning rosary run I will get this overwhelming sense of pain all around me and a deep desperation of no hope.
    Then I get the awareness that we are all connected in a quantum entanglement of emotions and experiences that emanate from us in different frequencies of light each impacting another and being impacted by others. One person I know told me that when she focuses her eyes a certain way she can see cables of different color light coming from and going through everybody. She said she cannot look at that very long because she will get claustrophobic. Each different color is associated with different feelings.
    Music does change our disposition and the light we experience.
    I totally agree with you about the Bishops speaking up. However, I get the feeling that few of them have the sense of freedom to speak up. I do not see them being allowed to be passionately human and instead I see them denying and repressing that passion through a conditioned piety that inhibits their natural God-given human quality to feel and relate openly as we are created to do. Intellect and rationalism seems to have taken the throne and the passion that God has given us has been forced into the void and surrounded by an intellectual defense of disdain for what is pure human emotion, until, the “spirit” overtakes them in a rush of divine elation that releases them from the prison of inhibitions.
    Sorry for the rant. I am in my faith because I know Christ is in the Eucharist and it wasn’t theology nor intellectual rationalism that brought me home.

  86. July 9, 2009 9:26 am

    Ronald,

    A few months ago, I posted a comment that may seem removed from this post on MJ, but at bottom it is not. I’ll post it here again because it is an interesting story on the challenges of fellowship and love. The recording I refer to below was made in a prison facility in the State of Texas. I recorded the stories of 100 young people who were incarcerated for serious crimes, including murder.

    Here’s my comment:

    “I recall recording the story of a young black boy incarcerated for murder. He was sixteen years old and had murdered multiple times when he was between the ages of ten and thirteen.

    He talked about his family, his childhood, his neighborhood and friends, and his gang. He asked about me. I spoke to him about where I was from, what I had done in life, and why I was interested in talking to him. Then I made the gesture that I would like to visit him sometime in his world with his friends when he got out of prison. He smiled and seemed pleased that I would care.

    “We talked a bit more. Then he paused for what seemed like a long time, looked at me, and asked very, very quietly: ‘Would you take me into your world? Would you take me to visit the congressmen and senators you know? Would you take me to the White House and the State Department?’ I said I would.

    “As we starred into each other’s eyes, I knew he was talking about a different world than what we have created in America. He was presenting a challenge to me that went to the foundations of our entire social system. He was asking me to act contrary to the world in which I felt comfortable, the world in which I had been nurtured, the world in which I belonged.

    “Would I have taken him? Yes, I would have found a way. But I also know that that promise is easy to say. Besides, the boy is still in Huntsville.

    I have taken others like him from the street to meetings on Capital Hill, including meetings with Senators. But, I have to admit: each time I take someone with me I know I’m placing a burden on others. I know I’m imposing on them a different vision of America than one which currently exists. And they feel uncomfortable.

    One Senator did put on display in his office a 32X40 photographic image of a homeless person that I had taken on the street. He wanted to gauge how his constituents and others would react. But an image is not a person.

    “The boy is right. We should all feel comfortable inviting our friends — no matter who they are — to meet our friends — no matter who they are. But we don’t. We don’t because we are not suppose to, given the ethos of our society. So, we are afraid. We let this fear penetrate our lives. Our fear reaches out and judges our friends in ways that are visible to them but ways which WE rarely comprehend. It says to them that they are different, that they are not really worthy to be in our presence at all times. This silent judgment shouts out to them. It fractures our relations with them, even though they may well be our closest friends.

    “I’ll never forget that boy. His vision of America transcended anything I’ve seen written in policy papers or written in novels. It wasn’t about ideology, or economics, or anything complicated. His vision was about authentic relations. He was speaking in the most affirmative way about the Brotherhood of Man. He was inquiring of me whether I was willing to Love him even if it was painful. He was questioning whether I was worthy to be his friend.”

  87. Ronald King permalink
    July 9, 2009 9:44 am

    Gerald, I am overwhelmed at this time with what you have written. Ending abortion does not stop abortion after birth. The trajedy of this young human being is that he experiences being aborted on a conscious level and his pain and rage is caused by my isolated individualized competitive self centeredness.
    I can see the significance of Christ saying that we are to give up everything if we are to be His disciples. God, how I fail at this.
    Anybody for a cross-country Rosary Run?
    Gerald, thank you for your profound blessing this morning.
    Ron

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