Henry Darger helped me understand Michael Jackson. I think.

Henry Darger: Angel with American Flag Wings
Henry Darger: Angel with American Flag Wings (detail)

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?