The Rottenness of Perfection
A found play, signed "Sean Uyehara"
The stage is set with a table at stage left. Three white-smocked anthropologists sit behind it. They are two men and one woman (This is I, Daughter of Kong). I, DOK sits at the left side of the table furthest upstage. Facing them is Michael Jackson circa 1985. He is wearing his iconic red leather jacket, black fedora, black pants – short with white socks exposed and one silver glove. Between MJ and the anthropologists facing the audience is a skeleton, like one you might see in a biology classroom. There is a screen above the stage in the center of the room. On this screen there will be projections of slides and video.
Anthropologist 1: We’ve reviewed your request to purchase the remains of John Merrick from the British Museum of Natural History, and we are fairly certain that we will reject your request, but we couldn’t resist calling you in to explain your desire to acquire the specimen.
Also, we’re big fans.
MJ: Thank you. Thanks, that’s flattering. Thank you for having me.
A2: In the unlikely event that we were to agree to your request what would you do with John Merrick’s remains?
MJ: I would take them back to my residence, Neverland Ranch. They would be cared for in the best possible manner. And, they would be on display to all of my ranch’s visitors.
A2: How many visitors do you have?
MJ: Thousands a year. Something close to ten thousand a year.
A1: So, it’s open to the public?
MJ: No, people are allowed by invitation only.
A1: Who do you invite?
MJ: School groups mostly.
I, DOK: One of the questions I have is why you want John Merrick’s bones in your home.
MJ: I feel an affinity for him.
A2: How so? These questions are vital to our ability to assess your request, so please be comprehensive.
MJ walks over to the skeleton and looks it over. The lights lower, two soft spotlights on MJ and JM (the skeleton) remain. MJ turns to the audience.
MJ: I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. Our religion is as it is termed. We are witness to a personal God, and we refer to our personal God in a specific way, by his name – Jehovah. When I was small my father took me door to door with my family to spread Jehovah’s power, deeds and prophecies. It satisfied me to be Jehovah’s conduit. God spoke through me, and I often miss that feeling now. These days, from time to time, I disguise myself and hand out copies of The Watchtower in cities I am visiting. I hate hiding my identity, but it’s necessary if I am to spread Jehovah’s word. I don a fake name – Tito Jackson. No one knows who I am.
There is a power in names – when I say “Jehovah” it rings like an incantation that makes his glory known.
My own name is different. It is buried in an identity I can’t sustain. Today, “Michael Jackson” isn’t so much a name as a vessel for others to fill. Eventually, singing became my way to unearth my hidden self. My voice is a summons.
I find it excruciating that JM never truly knew his name. He was the Elephant Man. He didn’t grow into the person he was meant to be at birth. Instead, his identity was subsumed by his appearance, and his physique became a reflective surface onto which society projected their longings, fears and desires. Just like my body has become.
I had no childhood. Almost since I can remember, I have been a spectacle. I can’t go anywhere without being ogled. People want to handle me. The idea of privacy is foreign to me, and can only be attained at a place like my ranch. I have so many questions of John Merrick, JM.
I was told recently that love is something that ultimately is specific. Everyone loves, but its rare that one is able to express what makes their singular — their specific — love, often even to themselves. Did John love?
MJ sings “Rock with You.”
The lights come back up. We catch the tail end of a conversation amidst the panelists.
A1: So, we’re all sitting there in a hexagon. Half of us are clothed. There’s this gruel on the table, and she turns to me and says, “Smell my finger.” And…, it smelled like barbeque sauce!
I, DOK: John Merrick’s life was a bit of a tragedy. He was extremely intelligent and sensitive, one might say, despite his station. Perhaps he would have been one of the great figures of his generation if given the chance. It’s difficult to say, because his figure was so grotesque that it defined his entire being.
They say that it was extremely difficult to clean under the folds of skin on the various parts of his body, and whenever he was near you could smell his rotting flesh.
MJ: If he were here now, I would embrace him.
I, DOK: I think its admirable. It’s touching.
MJ: I imagine that his ugliness was confrontational. It must have made people contend with the wound we all bury – the one that permanently separates beauty from justice.
MJ: In some cases people are unfairly defined by their bodies.
A1: After I had a root canal I was embarrassed to smile. It made me depressed, and changed me. I used to be carefree. But, once I began suppressing my smile my whole personality changed. I am actually a fun loving person.
I, DOK: Do you expect to display his bones in a glass case?
MJ: My thought is to allow people to run their hands over his smooth femur just so they might have a sense of the accumulation of pain that rested over his gnarled figure.
A2: I am not sure if that is appropriate. Its strange that you would want these treasures exposed when its rumored that you sleep in a hyperbaric chamber. Don’t you worry about decay?
MJ: Of course I worry. I suffer from a number of ailments. I don’t think John Merrick does anymore.
A1: The root canal thing lasted for several years. I really became someone else. It’s funny how the state of your teeth can affect your personality. Not, like ha-ha funny. But, just more, sort of funny weird. I had a hard time cleaning my teeth afterward too, so I was always worried that I had bad breath. If you are not confident about your smile and you think you might have bad breath, one thing that might happen to you is you turn into a mumbler.
I, DOK: Mr. Jackson, what ails you is more or less hidden. In a way, your life, the way that your person causes one to confront beauty is the opposite of John Merrick’s. Your awestruck fans face an overwhelming, uncanny beauty that in many ways is unfathomable. Yours is an aesthetic of disappearance, while his was one of presence.
MJ: I am finding other ways to establish my presence.
MJ (to I, DOK): You seem to have a sort of understanding of my longing. I thirst for knowledge, and I think having John’s bones near me will help me to cut through the meaty fog of my own existence.
I, DOK stands and begins walking to MJ. The lights lower and a pool of light circles her. She puts her hands onto MJ’s shoulders tenderly. She addresses the audience.
I, DOK: Beneath my smock I am covered in thick, downy fur.
I mean it.
I want to give something to you, but not everything. I have been living on this earth for eighty-seven years, and I know something about secrets. Secrets aren’t always nefarious. People need to keep something back for themselves. And, that’s what I am going to do now.
Still, I want you to know what’s necessary if you are to begin understanding why I would feel kindness towards this man. (Points at MJ.) I want to council him.
People generally find it difficult to understand who I am, so let me trace an edge about myself by telling you who I am not.
In 1936 I fought with two brothers against Franco. Their father was killed during the suppression of a miner’s strike a few years earlier. When meeting people and engaging in small talk, as small talk often goes, some would ask the boys about their father. “What does your father do?” The brothers would say things like, “Oh, he’s just some deadbeat.” They would be asked “Where is your father?” And, they’d say, “He’s just lying around somewhere.” or “He’s part of the underground.”
It was funny, unless you knew just how deep their pain ran. But, even then, still, we laughed.
The brothers were ambivalent about coming to grips with their loss. And, their jokes often made people uncomfortable when they found out that their father was in fact dead. The brothers knew this and didn’t mind. They wished it. They ham-handedly expressed their confusion by making others confused.
This is not my goal. So, know that when I tell you that my father is a beast, I mean that literally. I don’t mean he is beastly. He is a beast. I don’t say this to make you uncomfortable or to make you question my intentions. I have no ambivalence. My father is an actual beast.
He is 47-feet tall. He lives in seclusion outdoors on a hidden island, and requires the sacrifice of virgins to keep him from lighting on civilized lands.
This is what makes me different than you. As time has passed, I have learned how to present myself as human. But, I have a basic rift that I must contend with in that regard, because I am half-beast.
When I see Michael Jackson, I see someone torn apart from himself. He can’t access even the most basic facets of his identity.
I face a similar problem. Except that, for me, the issue concentrates on what it means to be a beast-woman of incredible power. And, again, I mean that literally. I can lift a bus. When its full of school children… and lead… and pianos. I have incredible power.
My mother was a starlet.
I don’t mean she was luminous or had diva like qualities. I mean, she was a starlet. She was made famous by the movies. She was Marilyn Monroe before Marilyn existed.
I bat a lash at a man passing, and have him licking my heel and begging for my hand.
Let me tell you who I am not.
One of my coworkers at the museum is a woman named Larry. Larry is Woman biologically speaking, but she doesn’t bear any of the traits of the feminine. It’s not that she’s manly either. Really it’s more that she is merely there. She is free of sexuality. She’s a rectangular block of slate blue and grey.
Larry is narcoleptic and it’s not uncommon for her to fall asleep mid-conversation. It can be maddening to see her moistened eyes drooping as decisions about the Paleozoic era are being made. In part because of her narcolepsy, but also due to the fact that she just doesn’t care about her appearance, Larry always looks like she just woke up. Sometimes she falls asleep while writing and when she re-emerges she has ink marks on her clothes and face. If you point this out to her – “Larry, you have ink on your face” — she just shrugs it off, mutters a halfword and smooths back her disheveled hair.
Her specialty is microscopy. She is expert in the art and technology of imaging that which is invisible to the naked eye. Larry quests to make visible that which is unseen. Her whole being is directed towards it. It’s only when the unseen world comes up that her eyes brighten. I think she sees the microscopic before her in a real way. She traces the edges of atoms with her mind’s fingers. She becomes intense, baring her teeth and quietly slurping. Larry’s extends her pursuit into the real world by looking into its surfaces as deeply as she can. And, in that gesture she disappears into the ether. She leaves her body and femaleness behind.
I am not like Larry. My experiences are grounded in the here and now. My femininity is far from typical, but I retain a certain womanliness. Still, I have to balance my ardor with the constant knowledge that I have crushed men to death between my thighs during moments of inattention and fits of unhinged ecstasy. Most men would say that’s a great thing, but they haven’t yet tried me.
When my parents got together they destroyed a city. Theirs was the Hiroshima of lovemaking. I don’t mean that metaphorically.
Let me tell you who I am not.
David Rains Wallace wrote a classic book on evolution, The Klamath Knot. He makes the case for the existence of Sasquatch — you know, Bigfoot — as a creature that is more highly evolved than man. He argues that Sasquatch is on a parallel evolutionary path with human beings, and that it is ahead of humankind. He argues that Sasquatch is a creature that is more in tune with nature — and in that way is more untethered to the physical world.
Communication for Sasquatch is unmediated. Yes, as in a Sasquatch’s consciousness and communication is transmitted directly. When I speak to you, sound is transmitted through the atmosphere we share. It travels between us. There are no such barriers for a Sasquatch. I speak directly, but not as directly as Sasquatch. If Sasquatch were here, and you had questions for him, if, for instance, you were to ask him exactly what he is, he would tell you like this:
I, DOK stares directly at the audience, eyes widening. She strains to communicate with each audience member directly. The stage lights change colors. From behind the skeleton, a man wearing drab clothing that vaguely seem to be from a bygone era slowly makes his way forward. This is JM. Music begins to build in volume. MJ, JM and I, DOK begin to get into place. The music builds, and there is a dance staged amongst the featured three. At some point the music changes dramatically into the Jackson 5’s “Dancing Machine.” MJ sings live. I, DOK is the featured dancer from this point on. She takes off her smock and has disco attire on, and we see her fur covered arms and back. It would be ideal if she could breakdance at some point doing shoulder rolls, headspins, etc.
As the music ends, all characters return to the places they were prior to I, DOK’s monologue. We catch Michael Jackson relating the end of a story.
MJ: And, so I looked at Bubbles, and I just told him, “Bubbles. I’m starting with the man in the mirror.”
A2: And Bubbles is your chimp, right?
Everyone nods seriously.
I, DOK: I feel like I can relate to your pursuit. Many would say that you don’t need to have John Merrick’s bones in your home in order to commune with him. But, I appreciate the desire for proximity and presence.
A2: I may go to dental school, and see if I can figure a way to become a kind of dental hygenist slash therapist. I think I could help people to get a handle on how their dental care relates to their emotional sense of well being .
A1: I don’t want this to sound strange, but the last few times that I went to see my dental hygenist, it’s turned me on. It’s terrifically intimate to have someone’s fingers and various sorts of instruments in your mouth for an hour or so. It’s gotten to the point now that feel wistful and exhausted when the cleaning is over.
The man wearing clothes from a bygotten era walks from center stage down to center stage up.
JM: In my time we didn’t have what all of you call “social networking.” Twitter, Facebook and all of that would have been so great for someone like me. I was no genius, but I was full of all sorts of pithy shit that you could digest in a matter of nanoseconds. I was a funny fucking guy. I got jokes. You know, and I am sensitive, in that disinterested sort of way that all of you display these days.
But, of course, that was all lost on my insanely grotesque physique. I admit it, I was gnar gnar.
I saw someone’s profile, and it says right there, “The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity.” That’s some deep shit. And, it’s true. And, this guy gets to wear it like a badge of honor on his Facebook page. It becomes part of his identity in a matter of seconds. I needed something like that to precede my meetings.
If I were online, I would have cloaked myself in a myriad sayings that revealed the facets of my identity. Dylan Thomas, John Ashbery, Ovid, PJ Harvey, Black Sabbath, Michael Jackson. I would express myself through my consumption of culture. It would have been so much easier for me to overcome my physical appearance in another era. I could have wooed women – and men – I wasn’t bisexual, but you know, I was bi-curious… just like everyone today. I really was born in the wrong time.
There was an American philosopher, Kenneth Burke. He defined the human animal as — I quote: “the symbol using, making, and mis-using animal, inventor of the negative, separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy, and rotten with perfection.”
Huh? Pretty good, right. Tweet that shit.
I bring it up because I want to say something about this idea of perfection. He was an interesting guy that way, Kenneth Burke. He said we were rotten with perfection. We strive for it. We use representation to cover up the blemish. Representations always leave something out, and most people tend to use representations to describe the major thing, that main part, and leave out the minor part – often the mistake.
I was nothing but a blemish.
For most people, it’s that thing, that minor imperfection that is the source of beauty and humanity. A tiny birthmark on the shoulder is so sweet. Someone’s crooked nose is the source of so much joy. Everyone remembers the Brady Bunch episode when Marcia gets hit in the face with the ball. It’s endearing when someone has an ailment, a weakness. There’s nothing as disarming as a black eye or scar.
Still, in my case, my fleshly self reminded people too much that they too are of this world. We like to feel that we have one foot in the heavens and one on this earth, that death is something more than an end, but a calling to become our true selves. This earth has too much here-ness with its inability to be described fully, perfectly.
My body was that way.
We are “rotten with perfection.” It’s not really right to say it that way, is it? I mean, OK, I’m not saying I get what Kenneth Burke means when he says, “Rotten with perfection.” Maybe he means that humans are rotten with the pursuit of perfection. That makes sense to me. Idealizing things. Closing them off. Grand theories that capture everything. “The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity.” The quote cuts both ways. It’s about how tyranny forms, but it also implies that complexity – a properly complex theorization of the world might capture the nature of things. But, there’s always something missing. Something aberrant or in excess, isn’t there?
I don’t believe in God. Why should I? There’s enough in nature – enough beyond our ken – to account for the anomalous. Or blemishes on the world like me.
I used to. I used to believe in God. It was difficult not to when everything around me was about His presence. And, there was a long time when I retreated into God as a way of explaining what I was to myself. Many people explained me as God’s test. For them, I was put here to test humankind. And, I felt tested myself. Who are you when you face a monstrosity? Who are you when you are monstrous?
No doubt you have guessed by now, I am not really the Elephant Man. Yeah. I’m just some guy that was asked to say a bunch of shit that he might say if he were here today. In fact no one here is the person that they play. I have something here from Michael Jackson’s attorney’s office:
The following performance, recording and/or event contains materials that belong solely and wholly to the presenters of such performance, recording and/or event. The personage of Michael Jackson is owned by the MJ Bubbles Partners, LLC noted hereafter as MJBP, LLC. MJBP, LLC retains all rights of copyright, trademark, aura, original stamp, territorial influence and monetary and attorney powers on the word, name and body of “Michael Jackson.” Any subsidiary, publisher, curator, impressario, huckster, flim flam man and/or other wishing to obtain rights in part, whole or any other way must make explicit requests in writing to MJBP, LLC. Responses will take from 4 months to 12 years. Make check payable to MJBP, LLC. The person heretofore known as “Michael Jackson” is neither said to nor not to bear resemblance to the figure referred to as “Michael Jackson” in present performance, recording and/or event. If we can prosecute you for singing a song, we will. Sing at your own risk. Use outdoors only. No responsibility for songs sung is to be borne by MJBP, LLC. And further, singer bears sole responsibility for results of songs sung. Visit us on Facebook and become a fan of MJBP, LLC.
You don’t need to experience something directly in order to have an inkling of it. The mundanity of experience is something to contend with certainly. My body and the dailyness of it is something much different than its imaginary. So much is produced out of that rub between the imaginary and the real. There’s something beautiful and unexplainable that comes out of that confluence of imagination and reality. It behaves like a delta. Out of it flows individual streams, fauna of all sorts – marshes.
Usually the results are incredibly mysterious. And while these mysteries can be very specific, often they are simultaneously quite abstract.
The border of our bodies can be that way. Where I end and you begin depends a lot on what we say you and I are. I know exactly what you are thinking right now: “I totally should have smoked pot before I came here tonight.”
Some of you will want to know whether my bones are housed at Neverland Ranch. Does it really matter? Isn’t it enough to imagine what it would be like if I were there?
Here’s how I want to end this. In 1969, when Michael Jackson was 11 years old, he recorded an incredible song of heartbreak, loss, regret and jealousy. There is a sublime beauty to the song. It’s difficult to imagine MJ comprehending these emotions at that age. But, his voice speaks volumes of frustration and a recognition of the beauty that accompanies pain. You may know, he was horrendously abused and terrorized by his father. He may have been perfect purely out of fear, out of the rottenness of the human condition. Or, perhaps he appealed to that minor part of himself, and he kept it back from his jailer. We can try to fathom Michael Jackson and everything he is – his scarred body and imagination, his pain and his talent. But, at the end of this night, I want to bring you back to this room in this very moment – I want to house you in your own body. Take the next four minutes and one second to simply listen to what’s there. This is not about endurance. Give yourself up to listening to this recording for exactly what it is. Nothing more or less.
The lights lower. “Who’s Loving you” plays. A slide is projected with two parts. At left is an image of MJ as a young boy. At right is one of him today.