My cranky old stepfather had a way with words. Back in 1955, I was but a 16 year-old lad when we were engaged in a conversation about movie idols. I shared with him my admiration for Elizabeth Taylor, who I considered to be the most gorgeous human creature ever to walk the face of the earth. In the middle of my blathering over her, Bernie interrupted, and in his inimitable Brooklynese, said, “Listen kid. Think about this. What if Elizabeth Taylor is out hiking in the woods. She’s gotta take a …she’s gotta go, you know…real bad. What does she do? She lifts her f ——g dress, pulls down her panties and squats…just like you and me.”
Fame and fortune doesn’t make anyone more or less human than you or me.
The current news blitz about the life and death of Michael Jackson is a good example of off-the-charts idolatry. Despite his wealth, (or because of it) it ultimately served as a virtual prison within a secluded world. Such was the case with Elvis, and others, who could not walk the streets, attend a public function, go to a movie or eat in a restaurant without throngs of worshippers crowding, begging, drooling and kissing his feet. If I were given the choice between the fame and fortune of a Michael Jackson, and to have what I have now, it would be a no-brainer. Michael Jackson wasn’t free. He wasn’t happy. He had not achieved the pinnacle of life. Sure, he was loved my millions, but was he really loved…as a man, as a human being, as a partner? So, what good the money?
Americans have a way of idolizing entertainers, religious figures and some politicians, ad nauseam. So much that no matter their foibles, no matter their transgressions, forgiveness is automatic, forgiveness that would be unthinkable if the transgressors were you or me. The media, and the general public, turn a blind eye for every indiscretion, crime, sin, character flaw or act of deceit they may engage in. It doesn’t matter. Idols are above morality. They are above decency. In some cases, they are even above the law. They can even be dangerous. Idolaters trust the untrustworthy, even if it means following them like sheep over the cliff. They can do no wrong.
Such was the case in Guyana in November of 1978, when a charismatic preacher named Jim Jones convinced 909 of his religious followers — supposedly intelligent and educated human beings — to kill themselves, including over two hundred children, by drinking Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. Unbridled worship is the seed for ominpotence.
Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Peter Popoff, Robert Tilton and Kent Hovind are but a few American evangelists who found gold by mesmerizing congregations into dutiful worshippers, gaining riches at the altar of ignorance then bilking their people for millions upon millions of dollars by lying to them. There’s really no one to blame but the gullible, for they buy into every word, because they are words they want to hear to begin with.
Besides corruption, the sheer and blatant hypocrisy of these supposed mouthpieces for God never cease to amaze me, yet their followers continue to ignore and buy into the excuses. All the while Jim Bakker spent twenty years being revered from his PTL broadcasts, spewing goodness and morality, he was bilking his donors for millions of dollars, not to mention an extra-marital affair. His exploits landed him in prison for five years. But, not to worry, Bakker’s ministry is alive and well again — after a mea culpa apology of course — broadcasting the word of God to many millions of those same followers who just can’t get it.
Jimmy Swaggart was another idolized preacher who spent much of his off-pulpit time hiring detectives to spy on other evangelists, including Jim Bakker, in order to expose them as sexual deviants unworthy of a ministry. Then, the tables turned, as another detective — hired by one of those ministerial enemies — caught him in motel room with a prostitute. From there, we all remember the televised crying jag begging for forgiveness for spending his congregations money toward sexual favors. Three years later, he was caught again, with another prostitute. But that didn’t phase the blind followers. Today, Swaggart heads up a world wide ministry staffed with his new wife, and many of his family members, while the sheep continue to drop over the cliff. Amazing, what charisma can do when people hear what they are predisposed to hear.
The idolization of O.J. Simpson earned him a Not Guilty verdict for the cold-blooded, premeditated murder of two people, in which the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming. Had someone named Willie Jones had a mid-level lawyer, considering the same evidence, he would have been convicted and executed by now.
He’s not the only celebrity who managed to escape prison because of fame and wealth. There was Robert Blake, star of Baretta, who allegedly killed his wife, but despite hard evidence, managed an acquittal.
Michael Jackson, the current epitome of idol worship, is said to have settled with no less than three accusers over a period of fifteen years, 1988 – 1993, one for $20 million, to drop charges against him. In each, the alleged victims were children and the alleged crimes were sexual molestation. His criminal trial for similar charges in 2005 resulted in — what else? Not guilty.
Some say, all those charges were trumped up. Yet, these were the cases that reached public scrutiny. I ask, how much is out there, that we do not know?
That also goes for politicians, probably more so than entertainers and preachers. For we — the people in general — are gullible enough to vote them into public office where they are not only held in high esteem, they hold power over our very lives.
American voters trusted Rod Blagojevich, the man who allegedly sold an Illinois senate seat to the highest bidder. Americans trusted Jim McGreevey, governor of New Jersey, until it turned out he was having gay affairs behind his wife’s back. Americans trusted Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, never thinking he was the ilk to abandon his post for four days to have an affair in another continent. Americans trusted Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York, until a sting caught him commiserating with prostitutes. Rep. William Jefferson, of Louisiana, stashed $90 thousand in his freezer. Yet, he ran for office again, and 47 percent of Louisiana’s voters cast their ballots for him. They didn’t care.
These are the ones we know about. What don’t we know?
In 1990, Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington D.C., was caught in an undercover operation using crack cocaine with a woman. He served a federal prison sentence, and — get this — ran for mayor again and got re-elected. If a police or fire applicant had such a record, he would be laughed out of the testing room.
Unfortunately, people get what they ask for…and deserve.
And so, contrary to the days of Lincoln, Taft, FDR, HST, and LBJ, we now live in the age of idolatry, where the beloved can do no wrong and otherwise intelligent people continue to turn a blind eye to thieves, liars, cheaters, dopers, molesters and corruption in general, because — well, they are all so cool.
Despite his foibles, Michael Jackson was certainly talented. For that, he deserved plaudits. But we have known others equally talented, today and yesteryear, (Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman, Gene Kelly, Ella Fitzgerald, Liza Minelli, Madonna, Elton John, et al), but were never raised to the levels of such adulation that they had to be relegated to self-imprisonment.
To those who still think Michael Jackson walked on water, may I refer you to the words of my old stepfather, Bernie, who had a way of putting it all into perspective. Just re-read the first paragraph of this blog.
And that goes for the unnamed herein.