Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What if Michael had written the book?

Once upon a time, I was a staff writer and editor for Detroit's Michigan Chronicle. And during those days, LaToya Jackson penned a book called, "Growing Up in the Jackson Family." This was during the days when she was struggling for stardom and Michael's star seemed to be fading into absurdity. The book alleged that she and her siblings were abused by their father Joe and people decried her as a liar. My thoughts on the topic were a little bit different. The following is a re-print of that editorial. What do you think?

What if Michael had written the book?
By Stefanie P. Worth
Re-printed with permission of the Michigan Chronicle

I have been a fan of Michael Jackson’s since the Five’s first days. I can recall penning the words of “I’ll Be There” on primary ruled paper to Sterling Harris, my second grade crush. Years later I continued to follow the successes and supposed doings of the Jackson clan.

From Janet on “Good Times” to Randy’s near-crippling auto accident to Rebbie’s single solo success and Janet's climb to rival Michael’s stardom. I watched as the brothers six went their separate ways — Jermaine’s lukewarm fame, Jackie’s violent breakup with his wife and Michael’s downward spiral into eccentricity.

Eccentricity? At 30? Why would the boy who had everything go weird? Doing so made him favorite tabloid fodder of the ‘80s — feeding our human morbid curiosity, drawing speculation into what happened along the way to make him become as odd as he has. Sad to say, despite his unquestionable musical genius, the “thriller” has been reduced to ridicule in many gossip circles.

Now comes LaToya, on the heels of several failed recording ventures and a scandalous Playboy pictorial with “Growing Up in the Jackson Family,” her novel account of childhood life in the famous brood.

Girlfriend has taken much flack since the release of her book. Though I’m in the process of reading it, I am as yet undecided on the book’s contents. First of all, none of us but the Jacksons grew up as Jacksons. So what really went on behind their four walls we are not privy to say. If LaToya is lying, then as I say, that’s between her and God. But secondly, if there is an iota of truth to what she discloses about the abuse and molestation, then Joe Jackson — rich, powerful, highly-revered and all — needs to have his behind in jail.

I think part of the reason the public outcry has been so against LaToya is that she has not achieved the success her brothers and Janet have — and we all know how long she’s been trying. But people disclose family skeletons all the time, celebrities and everyday folks alike, to the tune of great public empathy. Maya Angelou did it in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Was she scorned for the revelation? Perhaps we have allowed the Jackson mystique to cloud our judgment and render them infallible. Nobody deserves that burden.

News of fallen child stars fill the media these days. These now adult used-to-be’s recall the difficulties they encountered when they were no longer cute and couldn’t find work. Imagine what LaToya and Rebbie must have felt being the only two untalented children in a superstar family. The public is also much more aware of the sleezy side of life in childhood stardom. It’s no more peaches and cream for them than it is for adults trying to make it in the cut throat world of show biz.

One point LaToya emphasizes is their father’s dislike of his oldest son (for whatever reason). Jackie, she says, took the brunt of Joe Jackson’s abuse well into his early 20s. Most of us are familiar with the reports of abuse leveled at Jackie several years ago resulting in the dissolution of his marriage. The divorce was equipped with court-ordered injunctions keeping him away from the wife he battered and their children. Don’t psychologists say that abuse is cyclical? Could there be a link?

Janet’s Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis-produced “Control” album, and title video were widely touted as being autobiographical — a fact to which she even admits. Remember her marriage to James DeBarge which insiders report was destroyed because her parents disapproved? There are even sadder rumors about the destruction involved floating around DeBarge’s hometown of Flint. Since when is a financially independent 18-year-old still expected to bow to the beck and call of her parents? According to LaToya, when it’s a Jackson.

Then there is my dear, dear Michael. You say you think homeboy has some problems, eh? Animals in the backyard...gloved hand...pinched nose...Bubbles.... Ever stop to wonder what could have pushed him over the edge (if indeed that’s where he’s dangling)? Could Michael’s altered personality be a wealthy version of multiple personality disorder — generally brought on by childhood sexual trauma? Maybe, maybe not.

Well, I didn't grow up with those 11 people anymore than you did, so I, too, can do no more than speculate. But I’ve followed the Jacksons for years and these are not the first allegations of abuse to air about “Papa Joe.” I feel that enough questions have been raised over the years to merit some serious thought. He did for his family what most of us only dream of. But who knows what he did to get there and at whose and what expense.

LaToya alleges that the family abuse was a well-known secret in Motown’s halls. (Much like the now confessed to Ross-Gordy romance that resulted in Diana’s first child). The public has been known to ignore the grim realities of star life to protect images in the past. I’m just saying maybe it happened with the Jacksons, too. I could indeed be wrong, but the fact that LaToya is the family media hound should not overrule the reality that serious crime and sickness could lie beyond that famous doorstep.

Old folks say what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light. So maybe she just hit the switch. I’ll bet that if Michael had penned this tell-all tale he would have been besieged with public sympathy. The masses would exclaim with a sigh of relief, “So that’s what happened.”
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