Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
Like many others, I was brought up short by the news yesterday that Michael Jackson had died. The suddenness of his passing was surprising, leading me to initially suspect that the bulletin was false, especially since it was passed to the public, not by his family or staff, but by some unnamed internet source. But, within minutes, the news was confirmed.
Tributes began flowing in almost immediately. It seemed that people from all walks of life were touched by his death.
It is almost impossible to overstate Michael Jackson's impact on the music business. Early on, he gained fame as the lead singer for the Jackson Five, the group of singing brothers formed by his hard-driving father. Later on, he went out on his own with his first solo album "Against the Wall." But it was the mega-hit album "Thriller" that elevated him to mythic status. "Thriller" remains today the biggest seller in the history of popular music.
But it wasn't just his music. He was an incredible dancer, astonishing all who watched with his grace and inventiveness. He didn't just use existing moves; he created a whole new genre, patterns which, at times, seemed to make him weightless.
He was also an entreprenuer. I still remember the day it was announced that he had bought the entire Beatles library, before the Fab Four themselves apparently knew it was on the market.
As he grew older, he began to change. His personality turned a corner and wandered off in an unsettling direction. He had repeated plastic surgeries, attempting to re-shape his face into a mirror of his idol, Diana Ross. For a while, he slept in a hyperbaric chamber. And then there were the allegations of child abuse. He was acquitted by a Los Angeles jury of those charges, but as usually happens, even the declaration of innocence failed to remove the shroud of suspicion. It is perhaps a statement of our societal attitude toward that particular crime. For many, the accusation itself was enough to convict him.
In the last 10 years or so, he ceased to become the respected artist and more the caricature of strangeness. Wild accusations about his lifestyle were made in the press, and we seemed to be ready and willing to believe anything put in front of us. The fact remains that, at least in the legal arena, he was never convicted of anything; all we have are the loose accusations, which may have been merely the product of those looking to win the lawsuit lottery.
The story of Michael Jackson is one of great success, fame, and wealth. It is also a tragedy. And a warning to parents.
There are a lot of parents and grandparents out there who, not having achieved anything resembling fame or fortune on their own, pursue those selfish goals vicariously through their children or grandchildren. It starts out as toddler beauty contests, possibly one of the most exploitative exercises ever created. It moves into talent shows, auditions, competitions, perhaps TV or print ads...it goes on and on. I've seen these grown-ups. The pressure they put on those kids can only be described as abusive. And it's not just the entertainment field. Other parents who see a smidgeon of talent in gymnastics, ice skating, or other sports force on the young ones a schedule and pressure that would be considered unhealthy in a 30-year-old, having convinced themselves that "this is what my child wants."
Michael was thrust into the limelight at a very young age. Because of the fame and the incredible schedule and performance pressure, he was never allowed time to be a child. The seeds that sprang into his odd behavior later in life were sown early and deep.
The same conditions that created Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, also destroyed Michael Jackson, the human being.
If you are one of those parents that rousts your child from their warm bed at 4:00 a.m. in order to catch an available practice time at the ice rink; or spend hundreds or thousands of dollars dressing your toddler up in ridiculous and sexualized constumes and then parade them in front of crowds of strangers; or force your kid into acting classes, singing classes, and music lessons and then drag them to every audition, talent show, or screen test within 500 miles...
You need to take a step back; think about Michael Jackson, and ask yourself seriously what destructive seeds you may be planting.
Stop being your child's agent.
Be their parents.