MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

The Fame and Misfortune of Michael Jackson

People who live and make their living in Hollywood are quick to tell you that Hollywood is an awful, soul-sucking, backstabbing hell of a town, and they’re largely right. Fame is, in its way, as evil a societal monster as alcoholism and drug addiction, and it’s not particularly surprising that many people who achieve fame turn to various forms of addiction and bizarre behavior in an attempt to muffle the pain it causes them.

Michael Jackson was one of the most vivid examples of what a terrible curse fame can be; unlike many people who seek fame out and then learn too late that it’s not all they thought it would be, Jackson had fame thrust upon him from the age of five whether he liked it or not, and he never could escape its clutches.

Jackson hadn’t been anything even vaguely resembling a normal person, at least publicly, for many years. The plastic surgeries, the bizarre marriages, the fabled Neverland ranch where he sought never to grow up, and worst, the charges of pedophilia, haunted him to his grave. “Wacko Jacko” was fair game for the tabloid press and talk shows, and I have to wonder if any person who ever wrote a tabloid tale about him or wrote a Jackson joke for a late-night talk show host ever paused, even for a moment, to consider that there was a real, hurting person underneath the horror mask celebrity had made of him. I rather think not.

I was in LA when Jackson died, and within less than 24 hours of his death people around me were already daring to make jokes about it. Perhaps it’s something about living in LA or working in the celebrity-grinder of Hollywood that makes people immune to any sense of common decency around death, particularly the death of a celebrity whose life was as strange and sad as Jackson’s. I really don’t care; I never found jokes about Jackson’s life funny while he was alive, and I find them even less funny in the wake of his death. This was a man who’d been used, abused and manipulated from the time he was just a little boy, chewed up and spit out for most of his adult life by the tabloid press, and it baffles me that anyone could find humor in the tragedy of his life and death.

Have we devolved so far in our humanity that compassion and decency for others has become an odd affectation rather than expected behavior? Is it somehow more funny if the scars and bruises caused by an abusive childhood are psychological? Do people really find humor at the ending of another person’s lifetime of tragedy and pain? I don’t care how much money Jackson made off his music or how many awards he won, the evidence of his life makes it pretty clear that it never made him happy. I appreciate the contributions his talent made to music in general, and to the lives he touched through his songs, but no amount of fame or money could ever justify what was done to that once-upon-a-time sweet little boy to turn him into what he became in the last years of his life.

In the video for “Childhood,” by far the saddest of his songs, Jackson sits on a tree stump in a forest singing while far above him children sail away from him through the sky in flying boats, playing games and laughing. In the song (which, by the way, is the B-Side of the single “Scream,” Jackson and his sister Janet’s attack on the tabloid media in the wake of the child abuse accusations), Jackson pleads for compassion: “Before you judge me, try hard to love me, Look within your heart then ask, Have you seen my Childhood?”

Jackson talked in an interview once about how, when he was forced to spend his time after school in a recording studio making albums to make money for the adults in his life who controlled him, he’d cry because he couldn’t just be a normal boy and go play at the nearby park with the other children. Wherever Jackson is now, I hope that when the end came for him, he became once again that bright-eyed little boy with the million-dollar smile, sailing off in a flying boat into a nighttime sky, free to play and be a child at last.

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon