Let’s Talk About Abuse

Let’s talk about abuse.

Yay!!!!

There’s the kind of horrifying sexual abuse that James Safechuck and Wade Robson testified to receiving from the ages of 7-14 years of age at the hands (and, sadly, other body parts) of then 30 something Michael Jackson.

We heard their stories in plainspoken excruciating detail this past week in the very fine four-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland.

hard to watch, for sure

Though we experience the facts second-hand it’s difficult to not feel victimized ourselves by the separate yet eerily similar violations as they are told to us.

Until it dawns on us that if we’re feeling this way what must it be like for the adult versions of these two children recounting it as a…love affair they willingly entered into with a man who was the most famous star in the world at the time?

A man who claimed to be the ONE person who would ALWAYS look out for their best interests against an outside world of sick liars would never understand THEM.

If that sounds far from your story or my story or most of OUR collective stories as Americans, think again.

thinking…

No?

Well, perhaps if we put the details aside and stick to the power dynamics.

It was less than three years ago that our relatively young country was similarly seduced by an older, quite famous man who claimed, and I quote:

… I have seen first hand how the system was rigged against OUR CITIZENS

 I have joined the political arena so that the powerful cannot beat up on PEOPLE WHO CANNOT DEFEND THEMSELVES.  Nobody knows the system better than me.  Which is why – I ALONE CAN FIX IT.

Oh god, this effing guy. I can’t. I just… ugh

This is not a stretch.  This is seduction of the powerless with promises of rescue and eventually undying devotion from extremely powerful and famous people who, through those seduced, acquire more of what they desperately crave.

In the case of the former it was love and sex.

In the latter case the man got even more than that.  Much to his own surprise he became THE MOST POWERFUL man in the world.  Or, one could argue, the world’s BIGGEST STAR.

Experts say a key strategy to deal with abuse is to recognize it is happening, set limits on the abuser and eventually remove yourself from the situation.

This is easier said than done for underage victims, since their power is severely limited and their cognitive abilities are not yet fully formed.

In the cases of Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson we watch the process of two men, now in their late thirties and early forties, finally able to take those necessary initial steps only decades after those crimes first occurred.

Confronting the past

They realize that the only way to true mental stability and lasting happiness is to finally recognize what happened to them.  By publicly sharing it with the world one could argue they are also taking the crucial next step of setting limits on any residual control the abuser might have on them (Note: Yes, even from the grave).

One hopes by taking these actions they will then be able to move towards the final act of removing themselves from a way of thinking that empowers that situation to remain alive and control their lives and their actions as adults.

It is only in the recognition of just how completely they were seduced and brainwashed into submission while vulnerable that they can break out of a cycle that alters their reality and causes them to act out towards themselves and the world in countless destructive, and self-destructive, ways.

Take for instance, Michael Jackson truthers (yes, they are real)

Misplaced anger is a powerful motivator for all sorts of questionable actions.  But sometimes it is a lot easier than acknowledging the deep pain, and yes, sadness that that anger is masking.

Which brings us back to the summer of 2016 and promises made to those angry enough to take a chance on a very wealthy man who vowed to protect and love them if only they’d give him the keys to their kingdom.  The implicit pact, as it often initially is in these cases, was that they would get access to his extraordinary life.

Then, in turn, particles of the magical fairy dust he possessed would be sprinkled across the country as a salve and solution to many of the problems they and their families had been facing for decades.  With his know-how they could be him, or a version of him.   Or it would, at the very least, be something shiny, new and distracting.

You know.. like a gold toilet.

One can’t help be reminded of the exciting bohemian relative or recently arrived fantabulous best friend who moves into the neighborhood only to turn everything upside down in a seemingly great way and then eventually leave you worse than you were to begin with.   It is only that person who could have ever made you appreciate your hopelessly average, and sometimes woefully inadequate family life.

.. and sometimes it comes with Seventy Six Trombones

But the thing about charlatans and abusers is that they don’t see themselves as villains.  Be it Michael Jackson of the current Electoral College POTUS, they do truly believe that what their nefarious actions do is actually to improve the lives of their victims.  They convince themselves this has to be the case because they so desperately need their victims to satisfy their own insatiable needs.

Rather than consider this as mere political partisanship, it might helpful to read Jane Mayer’s excellent piece this week in The New Yorker entitled, “The Making of the Fox News White House.”

Much like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson she lays out, piece by piece, a narrative of how not a person but an entity, Fox News, evolved into a far right wing propaganda arm for the current White House that undeniably now functions primarily as a 2019 Orwellian version of State TV.  Or, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes more aptly refers to it, Trump TV.

Are we all just living in an ancient Indian burial ground?

To say that this is solely an abusive situation would be an insult to survivors like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson.  The searing personal pain they have had to endure in their lives due to crimes perpetrated against them as children has no sole contemporary political counterpart.

However, to deny that a version of this abuse is not part of our current national equation, and that too many of the rich and powerful from one side of the aisle are complicit in it continuing, is to also deny the obvious.

No, I am not a psychiatrist.  Just a human being who, in the course of his own life, has been in more than a few abusive situations and come out the other side.

Cake – “I Will Survive”

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Turning Back Time

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 2.21.08 PM

We all came to America in different ships – but we are all in the same boat now

– Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) outside the Capitol Building last week to a mostly young crowd supporting a Democratic-led sit-in demanding a vote on gun legislation

John Lewis has been a congressman for almost 30 years but is still best known to most Americans as one of the young protégés of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In that realm, he is also renowned as the young Black man whose skull was brutally fractured by nightstick-wielding Alabama state troopers during the 1965 March on Selma when he, Dr. King, and hundreds of others merely decided to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in non-violent demonstration in order to integrate the South.

Living legend

Living legend

Now 76-years old and bald, one entire side of Rep. Lewis’ head still very clearly bears the bold, visible scars of that fateful day. So as he encouraged demonstrators to never give up on their goals it is also unsurprising that a veteran lawmaker like himself would admonish them to also not give in to their anger over 200 mass shootings since 2006 (the latest of which was responsible for a record body count of 49 inside an Orlando gay nightclub) despite absolutely ZERO modifications of laws that allowed those gunmen to purchase their often quite sophisticated military grade weapons.

The way of peace is the way of love, Rep. Lewis shouted out towards the crowd as he went on to further share with them what he said Dr. King related to him all of those decades ago.

Hate is too heavy a burden to bear, so we need to lay it down – it is better to love.

And to even that he then added this 21st century addendum.

So with all of you working together — we can turn our nation around. It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White, Latino American, Asian American, Native American, Straight or Gay – we are all Americans.

My head is still spinning over this....

My head is still spinning over this….

I am hesitant to say a few unexpected tears welled in my eyes as Rep. Lewis spoke. As a gay guy of a certain age I have not yet grown used to national leaders openly including us in the multi-layered cloth of identities in this country. Yeah, I know it’s been at least a couple of years but I’m not sure you ever relax about this sort of thing when more of your life has been spent battling inequality than basking in the rewards of the opposite. In this way, I can only begin to imagine how he must feel as the purveyor of this message after what he has managed to live through.

By the way, I know his above quotes to be accurate because I watched him say them on live television during the many multi-hours of coverage this 2016 demonstration received and then sped it back using my Direct TV rewind button in order to write it down exactly and remember it. That’s yet another way the world has changed for the better since the 1960s. Not only do you get to see government and civil disobedience live and unedited, you have the opportunity to record it permanently in case you forget it, don’t pay attention in the first place or if anyone doubts you.

I have the power!

I have the power!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the sixties, seventies, fifties and even forties for several reasons this week. No, they don’t all have to do with the passage of Brexit and the anti-immigration wave not only blowing throughout England but back on to and throughout this country via our current Republican presidential nominee. They also have to do with my home TV viewing habits via one of our own fave channels – at least in this household — Turner Classic Movies.

This month TCM’s been showing musicals from the 1960s and I was seduced into too many off hours of diversion in the last few weeks somehow – mostly recently several days ago by the film versions of The Music Man (1962) and Bye Bye Birdie (1963). Now don’t get me wrong, neither of these are great films but they are infinitely watchable and entertaining. So evocative are they of another time and place and naiveté that doesn’t exist anymore that it becomes impossible to turn away.

Saturated with glee

Saturated with glee

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to imagine that there is a town still as rosy as Sweet Apple, Ohio where all teenage girls looked like Ann-Margret; with fathers who had the gay sensibilities of Paul Lynde (Note: But you didn’t have to talk about them) and where the country’s biggest problem was just how on earth we could all handle the departure into the military of our own #1 word famous swivel-hipped pop star? (Note: And one with no discernible bloodshed because we clearly were fighting no discernible war).

Well, the only thing that could be better is viewing a kind-hearted con man re-energize one of our small towns citizen by citizen and, through his deeds (and unbeknownst to himself until the end), finding that he does have a soul underneath it all. So much so that he decides to leave his life of capitalistic crime, fall in love with and marry the local spinster librarian, and spend the rest of his life as a mere private citizen in the very town that at the beginning of the story he was determined to massively rip off?

Oh sweet Americana

Oh sweet Americana

Those are the thumbnail plots of Bye Bye Birdie and The Music Man and a pretty good representation of where we were sociologically in the early 1960s. No wonder such a significant portion of white America, not to mention white England, are nostalgic for the past and want to take our country(ies) back….there????

Yes. Make no mistake about it. That’s where they want to be. To a place that, well, never existed.

Because you can’t return to Sweet Apple, Ohio without returning to a time when Rep. Lewis types not only did not serve in Congress but would get their skulls bashed in or worse in some (many?) places if they dared to eat at the same lunch counter with you. And to return to the kind of Europe that Brexit proponents are suggesting – a time where citizens of one country were not free to emigrate and work in another nearby European country as legal citizens – means also going back to a place in history not that far removed from our most horrific example of nationalistic pride and anti-other/immigration gone amuck – Nazi Germany.   You just don’t get to say that brown and black and yellow and every shade in between of people are taking your jobs and your opportunities so you’re going to outlaw them from coming any where near you without also owning the idea that you are opening the door of advocacy for a time you would most likely publicly eschew.

Sounds about right

Sounds about right

This appears to be the dilemma now. Do we trudge forward in love as Rep. Lewis suggests? Or do we go back to the real time – not the fantasy of it – that Brexit, Trump, and the brewing worldwide nativism movements suggest?

As much as I like a good or even decently nostalgic movie musical – I’ll choose to follow a battle-scarred leader like Rep. Lewis any time of the day, week or year.

I mean what could happen, right?