Jessica, I saw nothing cruel or exploitative about allowing Paris Jackson to speak about her dad and I’m inclined to believe the Jackson family didn’t force her to do so. According to several news reports, Janet Jackson was slated to speak but let Paris speak instead because she wanted to say something about her father. I watched the whole thing and found the memorial to be tasteful and well-executed, not the bizarre spectacle you describe.
Perhaps after seeing such an outpouring of emotion for her dad, Paris was moved to be more than a just a front row spectator. I'm glad she got that moment. Hopefully it will serve as an emotional touchstone for her and not as a source of deep pain and embarrassment when she’s grown up and looks back on that widely broadcasted day. Maybe she’ll be reminded that despite all the things, good and bad, that have been said and written about her dad, regardless of the media’s obsession with his bizarre and tragic life and the public’s schizophrenic fascination and repulsion toward him, at the end of the day she was the one person who reminded everyone else that he was a human being. That he was her dad and he loved her, and as importantly, that she loved him too. On that stage, her love for him seemed pure and simple. There were probably not many people in MJ’s orbit that the same could be said of with any certainty. Paris and her siblings gave MJ something that not even his most committed fans could give him and that his clearly dysfunctional family never gave him, but he seemed to always crave - unconditional love. As heartbreaking as her moment on stage was to watch, Paris was able to profoundly humanize MJ with just 26 words and in a way that no one else could.
Yes, allowing her to speak was risky but prohibiting her from speaking could have hurt her too. Children are much more resilient than we give them credit for. When my mother died last fall, my little niece and nephew spoke at her memorial service. My niece was 9, my nephew 13. I was afraid they would fall apart but instead they spoke lovingly and in surprisingly great detail about how their grandmother touched their lives. It was very cathartic for them and for us adults too. I know that’s not the same as being on stage in front of 20,000 people and hundreds of television cameras, but my point is that speaking allowed my niece and nephew to take part in the celebration of my mother’s life and helped them to understand that that her death was part of the cycle of life and was not something to fear or despair inconsolably over but something to accept and understand. Children are often sidelined at funerals and memorials because adults want to protect their feelings. As a kid, I was always very scared and sad at funerals. I felt like I an outsider at a very adult ritual of grief and regret.
Now that MJ is gone, I think it’s possible for his kids to eventually have somewhat normal lives-albeit not in the short term and not during the next few years of custody and other legal battles expected over his estate-absent of round-the-clock paparazzi and outside the constant glare of the media spotlight. That is if their guardians protect them and they don’t grow up to be scandal-prone musicians, movie stars, attention-seeking children of once famous parents or, heaven forbid, freakish media magnets like their father.
Photograph of Paris Jackson at her father's memorial service by Mark Terrill-Pool/Getty Images.