When Michael Jackson died in 2009, I thought it might signal a turning point. For the first time in twenty years, conversations about MJ were actually focusing on his talent. A generation that only knew him as a Halloween costume and/or ethereal, Casper-like Pied Piper learned that he was, at one point, a groundbreaking musician and live entertainer. I dare say there was almost a whiff of guilt in the air, at least among entertainment writers and pop culture pundits: Sure, he was weird, but we probably didn't help. Too bad he wound up hiding his gifts from the world. After a decade spent embracing new, crueler ways of reveling in celebrity downfalls, either goading stars toward self-destruction with exceptional bloodlust (Britney Spears) or tacitly rewarding them for it until they reached an early grave (Anna Nicole Smith), it actually felt good to be talking well of someone's legitimate talent, whatever specters of scandal loomed nearby. Maybe the Era of Mean was becoming passe.
Nope. This week, Jackson's 15-year old daughter was rushed to the hospital after attempting suicide, her mother confirmed. It's too soon to know why she did it, but it is quickly becoming apparent that Paris Jackson was dealing with a slew of issues, including malicious cyber-bullying often aimed at her over her father. She's destined to inherit plenty of her dad's money, but it seems as a teenager she's inherited his problems too.
Just to be clear, it's not important (to this conversation, that is) whether you believe that Michael Jackson spent the early '90s playing video games or spin the bottle with Macauley Culkin. Whether or not his inappropriately intimate relationships with kids ever became abusive is a separate discussion. The more relevant question is: why would people so outraged at the notion of child abuse take to Twitter to abuse a child?
The irony is, this online animosity is levied at someone who, despite sharing DNA with one of history's bona fide global superstars, seems pretty eager to come across as a normal teenage girl. (She gets excited over the end of school, she shows off new haircuts, she communicates her emotions via song lyrics.) On the other side of the Twitter-verse you have someone like Amanda Bynes, whose outrageousness is exalted by her fans. It's sad to think Paris might be more popular with her peers if she only stopped trying to stay well-adjusted.
In addition, Paris hardly seems surrounded by the best adult guidance. Though she's recently reconnected with her mother, Debbie Rowe, she's spent most of her life surrounded by an extended family that seems more concerned with infighting over Michael's estate, and protracted lawsuits to add to it, than with raising three kids dealing with the aftermath of their dad's death. In fact, Paris's suicide attempt led to the apparent revelation that her cousin T.J. Jackson, who became her co-guardian last summer after her 83-year old grandmother went "missing", has actually been living hours away.
And then there are the adults outside her family, even now commenting on Paris in less than sympathetic ways. Of course, there's the predictable blather in the comments sections of news articles: "Boohoo! Poor little rich girl can't take life! Get some real problems, kid!" Stuff like that, albeit typically with worse spelling and rAndOm CaPitAlizAtiOn. These remarks I find unsurprising, if still revolting. But then again, it's hard me to relate to grown men (and these are, usually, men) who mock a teenage girl's motives for trying to kill herself, rather than instinctively try to understand them, because my life is not empty and I was not hatched from a pod.
Far more irresponsible is coverage like this, now broadcasting "reports" that Paris didn't REALLY mean to kill herself - as if that's some kind of GOTCHA! moment. "We're also told Paris was conscious when EMTs arrived and did not argue or put up a struggle when she was placed on a stretcher," writes TMZ, suspicious of the fact that since Paris didn't hand the ambulance driver a shovel she must really just be a major drama queen. On SiriusXM's Opie & Anthony Show 52-year old co-host Anthony Cumia referred to 15-year old Paris - who, let's review, just finished feeling some kind of emotion, whatever it may be, that compelled her to take a meat cleaver to her arm - as "the new Wacko Jacko." The radio pundits concur that Paris clearly didn't mean to off herself, because well, if she did she could have done a much better job of it. So, you know, world's smallest violin, guys, amirite?
Now, of course suicide attempts are often intended, albeit unconsciously so, to get attention and incite action. That doesn't diminish whatever deep-rooted problems lead someone to believe that this is the way to do it. You'd think when grown-ups hear a kid sound a cry for help, they'd want to answer it - not chime in with suggestions on how to more successfully asphyxiate yourself.
Yes, I pity Paris. She's definitely her father's daughter: born to a family that treats kids as cash cows, raised in confusing extremes of isolation and notoriety, and now, for whatever reason, turning self-destructive as an escape. I just hope her story turns out differently. I hope she learned something from her dad's death, and I hope we did too.
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