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Saturday, January 03, 2004  

Writing: Understanding Michael Jackson

As some of you know, I write. One of the hardest things a writer does is put herself in the heads of people she is not like. Michael Jackson's difficulties have led me to wonder how I could make a wealthy entertainer's problems comprehensible. I believe one way would be to fault society for being so money driven, or perhaps fault individuals for their eagerness to jump through all kinds of hoops in return for moolah. Think about it. But for Jackson's wealth, he would not have been able to afford the problems he has.

Jackson is said to be extremely overextended financially because of his profligate lifestyle. Neverland alone devours millions per year. Salaries for its more than 100 employees alone would feed the hungry in a small state like West Virginia. Yet, society expects celebrities to live large. Would a poor boy from Gary, Indiana, who shared his bedroom with his brothers, be living so extravagantly now if he had not been encouraged to?

Plastic surgery is the pit of medical practice. That is because most plastic surgeons don't operate to remedy disabilities. They perform cosmetic surgery to try to satisfy people's idealized visions of their bodies. Furthermore, a significant share of doctors performing such procedures are not even trained in or certified in plastic surgery. Into this setting wonders a young Michael Jackson. Because of his deep pockets, he is doubtlessly encouraged to change virtually everything about his visage. No one considers sending him to a mental health professional who could him help him accept the face nature gave him. That would be against the plastic surgeons' interest. Instead, year after year, procedure after procedure is performed until the man looks like nothing Mother Nature would recognize as hers. The doctors become wealthy. Jackson becomes the recipient of unneeded alterations that are probably not reversible. He will likely never look like himself again. If a young man who worked at McDonalds had wandered into the same doctors' offices and sought a new nose or a cleft in his chin, he would have been told the doctor wasn't in, if not escorted out by security. Again, Michael's millions got him into trouble.

Jackson seems to have little, if any, interest in women. But, he has been able to pay two of them to bear children for him. But for his wealth, he would not have been able to hire them as extremely well-paid surrogates.

I do not know whether he is a pedophile or not. My inclination is to believe he is isn't -- his weirdness notwithstanding. But, if he is, again the way the filthy rich are treated in our society may be relevant. It is possible a loaded pedophile would see sex with children as one more thing he could buy.

I doubt I will ever write a story or book in which there is a character like Michael Jackson, but this interpretation of where he is coming from may be pretty close to home. Do I believe in what I would be writing about such a character? Readers ask writers that question often. The answer is not necessarily. But, what I believe is not what is important to characterization. I need to explain things in such a way that they seem true of the character. It is his point of view that gives the narrative verisimilitude. Characterization is not about agreeing with a character, it is about understanding him.

11:56 AM