Henry Darger helped me understand Michael Jackson. I think.

Stace and I watched a documentary, called In the Realm of the Senses by Jessica Yu the other night about Henry Darger. She’s the filmmaker best known generally for her Acadamy Award speech about her dress costing more than her film (and best known at to me at Yale for her athleticism, sexy fencing brochure photo, and being Marty’s sister). Like Jessica, I saw the “outsider art” exhibit at LACMA in the early 1990s and never forgot Darger’s amazing and kinda creepy artwork and 15,000 page book about a battle between young girls and an army in lands I cannot pronounce or spell correctly.

This is a really interesting film which animates much of Darger’s amazing collage artwork. It’s about a sensitive and intelligent boy who was abused and abandoned young and lived the rest of his life within his interior realm and imagination, most of which was focussed on children.

He had no friends or social contacts and scraped by as a janitor. He did try to adopt children but was refused. No one even knew he made this artwork until after he had died.

This film made me think a lot about Michael Jackson who, it seems pretty likely, was abused as a sensitive and talented boy and who has had the means to create a world that matches his internal fantasy life in which only children are to be trusted.

There is an odd mix of naivete and sexuality in Darger’s work (he draws young girls naked quite often, with what appear to be penises). I am really interested in understanding the myriad effects of sexual and other forms of child abuse andthe creative ways in which people deal with this all-too -common and overlooked reality. Of course being abused does not exculpate anyone from their actions, but it is important for genuine undstanding. And Michael Jackson is nothing if not an enigma. I haven’t yet had a chance to read Margo Jefferson’s book, but I have thought a lot about how normal people seem to think it is for white women to manipulate the hell out of their bodies via plastic surgery but how odd it is for a black man to do the same.

What if you never quite felt your body was your own?

5 Replies to “Henry Darger helped me understand Michael Jackson. I think.”

  1. I am alerting child advocates to Randy Cohen’s column, “The Ethicist”, which ran 12/03/06. Cohen advised a writer to his column NOT TO REPORT child pornography he’d found on his boss’s computer. Cohen valued the protection of a pedophile from “ferocious persecution” above protecting children from abuse/exploitation. Child advocates have worked long and hard to break the silence surrounding sexual abuse of children. I am terribly afraid that Cohen has used his public forum to discourage reporting of child abuse. It is possible that your organization has the voice Cohen may listen to. Please email Randy Cohen at ethicist@nytimes.com.
    I have included a copy of the column, my response to it, and Cohen’s reply to me.
    Please help,
    Laura Wrzeski

    >Below is column, rant, pathetic response from Cohen
    >Q: I am an Internet technician. While installing software on my company’s
    >computer network, I happened on a lot of pornographic pictures in the
    >president’s personal directory, including some of young children – clearly
    >less than 18, possibly early teens. It is probably illegal and is absolutely
    >immoral. Must I call the police? I think so, but I need my job.
    >S.M.N., Vancouver, British Columbia
    >A: It is a crime to possess child pornography, and understandably: The
    >sexual exploitation of children is reprehensible. Yet you have no legal
    >obligation to contact the police, nor should you. The situation is too
    >fraught with uncertainty. These photographs might depict – legally – not
    >children but young-looking adults. The images could be digitally altered.
    >Your boss may have acquired free (albeit illegal) images rather than bought
    >them and provided a financial incentive to those who harm children. Someone
    >other than your boss may have downloaded the pictures.
    >In any case, while protecting your job should not forestall your calling the
    >police, the consequences of doing so should. Even if your boss were
    >acquitted of criminal charges, the accusation itself imperils his job, his
    >reputation and the company. If convicted, he faces years in prison. (Arizona
    >recently sentenced a man to 200 years on similar grounds.) Since you have no
    >reason to believe your boss has had improper contact with children, you
    >should not subject him to such ferocious repercussions for looking at
    >forbidden pictures.
    >Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and an expert on
    >sentencing, describes the rationale for these laws: “We punish the kind of
    >possession many concede is not inherently harmful but which contributes to
    >behavior which produces much harm.” That is, by stopping buyers, even those
    >who have had no contact with an actual child, we hope to stop sellers, who
    >do exploit children. Is this effective? Tough to prove. Berman observes
    >that: “The criminalization of child porn consumption is premised on
    >contestable utilitarian calculations.”
    >Why not target child-porn producers directly, much as we differentiate drug
    >dealers from drug users? We try, Berman explains, but it’s not easy: “A lot
    >of these Web sites are offshore. And the domestic ones are good at covering
    >their tracks.” But if the intent of the law is estimable, its effect in this
    >case would be too destructive to your boss and too ineffectual in protecting
    >children for you to abet.
    >You do have duties to your employer. Because this material is on its
    >computer, the firm risks prosecution. But short of calling the cops, your
    >options are few. Nor would deleting the pictures eliminate all legal risk;
    >that could be seen as destroying evidence. Your best recourse? Alas,
    >.Readers can direct their questions and comments by e-mail to
    >ethicist@nytimes.com. This column originates in The New York Times Magazine.
    Below is my first response:
    >Randy Cohen:
    > Your Dec. 3ird column was horribly disappointing. All the people I’ve
    >asked about what they thought of it could hardly believe that you wrote it.
    >The writer was not asking for any of the legal advice, but guidance on what
    >would be a moral decision. Legal or not, those images were created for the
    >gratification of pedophiles. Only a trained investigator could make a
    >judgment of legality. You are not a lawyer. You are also absolutely
    >unqualified to judge whether or not unknown consequences to the boss justify
    >protecting him from an investigation that may well be protective of his
    >business. The boss and law enforcement (we the people) have a 100% right to
    >a full investigation. Additionally, neither you nor the writer knows whether
    >or not the images may be vital to an ongoing investigation. In spite of your
    >unconvincing acknowledgements regarding the unforgivable crimes of child
    >abuse, it was clear you favored covering for a perpetrator, whomever he
    >happened to be or do, over the rights of children not to be violated and
    >exploited. It was ridiculous to propose the fact (?) that the writer did not
    >himself know whether or not his boss or anyone else had abused a child as an
    >excuse for “silence”. The writer cannot be expected to personally
    >investigate such a possibility.
    >Legal or not, we are all morally obligated to report child pornography,
    >whether you disagree with the laws and consequences of downloading child
    >pornography or not. If the writer indeed uncovered the boss’s ugly little
    >secret, and then got canned for it, there are very good legal remedies to
    >protect and compensate the writer from the vengeance of whomever the
    >pedophile is.
    >Mr. Cohen, you’re a dad. You should be passionately advocating any and all
    >methods used to identify and persecute pedophiles, even the ones who “only”
    >view child pornography.
    >Below is Cohen’s response to my letter:
    >Thanks for the interesting note. Of course the sexual exploitation of
    >children is vile; I wrote as much in my first sentence. The more difficult
    >question is how to respond to those who do not produce but consume it. I
    >believe that child porn producers should be vigorously prosecuted but that
    >its consumers should receive a more therapeutic response. Sadly, that is
    >not the case.
    >Reporting this in-house amounts to passing the buck, letting someone else
    >send the boss to prison for looking at an illegal picture. However, in
    >S.M.N’s particular case, this is a very small company owned by the person
    >who seems to have the child porn, so that limits the options S.M.N. has and
    >obviates those measures you suggest. But even if this were a larger company
    >and there were higher-ups to whom he could report it, he should still be
    >reluctant to do so because the consequences to the boss and his family are,
    >as I wrote, likely to be wildly disproportional to any actual harm he’d done
    >and would have a vanishingly small chance of protecting any child.
    >If you can think of another action S.M.N. could take that might do some
    >genuine good, I’d be happy to hear about it. But to me, the unwise laws
    >concerning child porn consumers foreclose any action on his part. It is
    >demoralizing to do nothing in such a situation but worse still to do harm.

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  5. Michael Jackson was not a pedophile. Both accusations were extortion attempts made by greedy parents. It’s been proven. (If you’re curious vindicatemj.wordpress.com/ for more information). He was very much heterosexual.

    However, you do have a point. When I first read about Darger Michael Jackson immediately came to mind. I think they have a lot in common when it comes to their childhoods and their draw to children.

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