Michael Jackson: Lost in a Cultural Neverland
'Don't try to make him normal' I was told. 'He's famous because he's not normal.'
The tragic events of Michael Jackson's arrest, which have broken the heart of all like me who know him, are an indictment not just of a man, but of a culture. America is increasingly becoming the land of damaged celebrity. But who is to blame for the fall of so many "heroes"?
Many accuse Michael Jackson of living in a world of fantasy. But superstars live in a world not of their own creation, but of our creation. Our worship of celebrities has gone from a pastime to a devotion, from a form of recreation to a form of veneration, from entertainment to religion.
Detached as we are from G-d and estranged from lofty pursuits, we have invented new gods here on earth. Where once people were awed by the heavenly stars, today they prostrate themselves before movie stars. Where once man pondered the secrets of the Universe, we today seek to uncover the enigma of Michael Jackson. Is it surprising, then, that the objects of this worship begin to believe that they have a right to make up and live by their own rules, even when it becomes completely ruinous?
Many believe that it is drugs and failed relationships that spoil celebrities. But I have discovered that it is sycophantic friends who are the worst poison of all. When I was close to Michael between 1999 and 2001, I tried to convey to him that famous or not, he must incorporate the basic ingredients of a healthy life, and that among these are time spent with family, involvement with a spiritual community, and being prepared to take criticism.
When he mentioned to me that his greatest wish was to promote the welfare of children, I told him he could only do so if he attained a modicum of credibility. This meant never being alone with children who were not his, meeting and learning from respected child-development and education experts, and speaking at serious rather than sensationalistic events.I introduced him to Elie Wiesel, Shimon Peres, and Prof. Stanley Greenspan, one of America's foremost child-rearing authorities. We lectured at Carnegie Hall and Oxford University. And when Martin Bashir's people asked to do a documentary, I told Michael he'd be crazy to accept because the last thing he needed was to be more famous. He needed dignity rather than celebrity, and I advised him instead to accept an invitation to speak at Harvard.