‘THE’ question about Michael Jackson: was he a castrato?

I hardly ever follow ‘pop culture’:  as in, what the latest celebrities are doing, and so on.  Heck, I don’t even know who the latest celebrities are!

But it has been just about impossible to escape the recent ‘Michael Jackson’ media frenzy.  I must say, I was rather baffled by the amount of publicity this guy’s death and funeral/memorial generated.

Even usually sane talk-shows waded into these waters.

And people were calling in!!!  Ratings went up!!!  Curious…

SOOOOO much was being said…  And no matter where I tuned in, I could not escape some MJ coverage.

These are the things I heard people say about Michael Jacksom.  I don’t know how true they are… But, they were said by many different people, and seem to be ‘accepted’ as ‘general background’, and even a simple search of the internet will get lots of hits about these claims:

  • Michael Jackson had the mind of a 12-year-old boy – he never really grew up mentally. This is something I did not hear before – and the trigger for my ‘chain of reasoning’.
  • Michael Jackson hated his father.  His father, Joseph Jackson, was mentally and physically abusive of him (actually, he admitted abusing of all of his children).
  • Michael Jackson was so afraid of his father, that he would vomit upon seeing him (that is what he said in the famous Oprah Winfrey interview).  Just how horrible was the thing Joseph did to Michael, to evoke a response this extreme?
  • Some people have even gone so far as to suggest that Michael Jackson’s many plastic surgeries were a direct response to his father’s abuse as well as an attempt to be as different from his father as possible.
  • Joseph Jackson was (and still is) obsessed with becoming a ‘part’ of the music business:  he did not balk at using fear, intimidation and physical violence to force his children to practice and to perform…. When he lost control over Michael Jackson and his career, he still found ways to exploit his son’s fame for his own profit (behind Michael’s back) – and has really been cashing is since his famous son’s death.  He’s even voiced ideas about getting Michael Jackson’s kids on-stage, now that Michael is dead…

Add to this:

  • Michael Jackson had build himself a residence that was part amusement park – and called it ‘Neverland Ranch‘.  It was named for the place where Peter Pan lived:  a place where boys who cannot grow up live…
  • He also had a series of inappropriate relationships with boys – about 12-year old ones, to be precise.  While some people think these relationships were Platonic (in the true sense of the word:  sex between males), others claim them to have been platonic (as the word is currently popularly used:  an asexual relationship).  Either way, it is not ‘normal’ for an adult male to ‘best relate’ to pre-teen boys and to actively seek friendships with them in the manner Michael Jackson did.
  • Michael Jackson’s children are not biologically his.  They were conceived through artificial insemination, using sperm from a donor.  (OK, there were times he claimed otherwise – but this has since been shown to be false.)
  • During a ‘normal’ man’s life, his body changes proportions.  Of course, there are individual variations: these changes are more noticeable in some men than in others.  Still, most men – once they hit puberty – exhibit some physical changes, and not just in their genitals.  The chin (can’t tell with MJ’s surgeries…), the hands, the Adam’s apple, the chest/shoulders, and so on.  Still, Michael Jackson’s body retained the proportions of a pre-teen boy, including the flexibility needed for his famous dancing style.
  • If you listen (or, are forced to listen) to Michael Jackson’s singing, his voice does NOT sound like the voice of a grown man.  It is unusually high…

Do you see where this is leading?  Is THE QUESTION ‘jumping out’ at you? I find it unavoidable!

Was Michael Jackson a castrato?

Did his father (the man who did not shrink from violence to force his children to perform, and who, for his whole life, has been obsessed with being ‘in the music business’) think his young son’s voice was too precious to loose to puberty?

Did Joseph Jackson arrange to have Michael ‘altered’, so his voice would never change?!?!?

Have a listen to the only known recording of a true castrato voice here.  You can just about hear the same voice belting out:  “Billy Jean is not my lover…”

So, what do we know about the castrati ad their lives?  (Castrati are different from eunuchs, who are castrated after the onset of puberty.)

  • There are colourful tales of the ‘castrati of the past’ and their various sexual ‘quirks’…
  • Typically, castrati have long, slim limbs and retain unusually high levels of flexibility….
  • And, of course, there is that legendary castrato voice:  it is not the voice of a child – it does undergo some changes.  Still, it does not sound like the voice of a grown man, nor that of a woman, but is said to have the best qualities of all three, enchanting audiences with its universal appeal.

And what does science have to say about this?

  • At the onset of puberty (10-12 years of age, for most boys), the release of testosterone into their bodies actually causes a physical re-arrangement of the brain.  (There is a similar effect on female brains, due to the release of estrogen.)
  • Anyone who reads ‘Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology’ will certainly recall Volume 26, No. 3-4, which includes:  ‘Pubertal hormones organize the adolescent brain and behavior’:

“…  Converging lines of evidence indicate that adolescence may be a sensitive period for [testosterone/estrogen] steroid-dependent brain organization and that variation in the timing of interactions between the hormones of puberty and the adolescent brain leads to individual differences in adult behavior and risk of sex-biased psychopathologies.” (The emphasis and [insert] were added by me.)

Peter Pan, after whom Michael Jackson named his ‘dream home’, lived in a place where young boys could not grow up – even if they wanted to.  They had to leave ‘Neverland’ in order to grow up… but, perhaps, Michael Jackson did not have the choice to leave – perhaps he was stuck there, for ever.

I ask again:  is it possible that Michael Jackson was a castrato?

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Aspergers and ‘painting music’

Over the last few decades, there have been very big changes in classroom attitudes – at least, in this part of the world.  Many teachers are of the opinion that academic rigour stifles self-expression, and in an attempt to foster creativity in their students, they have systematically dismantled structured teaching.

This might work for some students.  Yet, many students do not do well in this new environment, do not learn well using this new method.  Yes, I do focus on kids with Aspergers, but they are not the only ones who are having difficulties.  Many ‘normal’ kids find this ‘unstructured’ method of teaching makes learning more difficult.  The Aspie kids get completely lost in it.

Let me give you an example:

During a series of grade 3 art classes, the teacher played different types of music.  The assignment was to ‘paint’ the music while the students were listening to it.  I thought this was the height of idiocy:  no skills were being taught, and precious school time was being wasted.  But it was explained to me that I was being boorish, that this ‘exercise’ is scientifically designed to stimulate different areas of the brain to synthesize information, which is what kids at this age need more than anything else.

Please, do not misunderstand me.  I don’t have anything against art classes in general:  to the contrary.  My mother teaches art, and I have a deep love for it.  However, I think that kids actually get more enjoynment out of art if they are actually taught about it.  They will derive pleasure from drawing if some of the rules of proportion, or different  fun techniques are broken down into steps for them, so they can master the skills.  Once they have understood the rules, it will be more fun to ‘bend’ them to express their own artistic talents (and no, I don’t mean after years of study….rather, teach a specific skill, rules that govern it, and how to bend them and have fun with art).

Well, my son was in this particular art class.  He was in it because that teacher had gone to receive specific training on how to teach kids with Aspergers.  And then she got angry with an Aspie kid for ‘not being able to paint the music’ he was listening to????? 

Of course, what she was expecting was just non-sensicals colourful swirls – but she would never tell the students that.  With a prim smile, she insisted they ‘paint what the music makes them see’.  Questions of ‘How?’ were met with ‘That is up to YOU!’

Just before setting marks onto the report card, she called me to warn me that my son is about to fail art…  Let’s just say that I found it somewhat difficult to keep my temper.  (The problem was the frustration he experienced in being asked to complete a task he did not have the tools to perform, asking for help and being denied it, then penalized for failing by a bad mark.)

I explained to her that in that case, by her own standard, my son should have received an A+ for his artwork:  the music did not make him ‘see’ anything, so that is what he painted.  Or did not paint.  Either way, the result was accurate, and that he made a bold artistic statement by leaving the page blank.  Quite literally, he ‘drew a blank’!  In other words, I tried to ‘out-pretentious’ her.  It did not work – I’ve never been very good at it. 

However, the teacher said that if my son does 3 of these paintings and hands them in by Monday, he will not fail art.  So, we were left with the task to ‘paint music’.  My son and I talked about it, and it became clear that his frustration level was higher than usual.  But I came up with a solution I am still proud of!

Selecting a Physics textbook which had a good, simple explanation of ‘sound waves’, we read it over together and I explained all the diagrams to him.  Now, here was ‘sound’, represented visually!!!!  We were making progress.  Yet, many Aspies are sticklers for rules – my son could not paint the different types of music the same way!!!  And I was ready…

Rummaging around in the basement, I dusted off our old logic analyzer and brought it up.  Then I set up the display to emulate an oscilloscope, and we played the different types of music.  It worked!  The different sound waves made the oscilloscope display different curves.  Lifting his brush, and dipping it into the green paint (the display was green), my son went and happily painted the different types of music!

His teacher was thrilled!  She told him she knew that if he tried, he could paint music!  He told her they were ‘music waves’ and that he saw them.  I did not tell her that he saw them on an oscilloscope screen – somehow, I did not think that would please her.  Why spoil her pleasure? 

Aspergers and ADD

As promised, this the second one of my very personal perspectives on living with Asperger Syndrome.  If you have missed my introduction, you can find it here.

Not being professionally trained in these fields, I can only offer the most basic observations.  Many people diagnosed with ‘Asperger Syndrome’ are also diagnosed with one or more of other ‘problems’, such as ‘Attention Deficit Syndrome’ (ADD).  I wanted to link the ‘ADD’ bit to some good site that defines it, but, well, I could not find one that reflects reality.  My reality, anyway!

Contrary to popular belief (and the focus of most ‘ADD’ articles and treatments), this does not denote the inability to pay attention.  Rather, it denotes difficulties in contolling one’s ‘concentration’.  It’s like the ‘focus switch’ is very, very deep:  it takes a lot for something to trigger it, but when it does – it is just as hard for it to get un-triggered.  This is a much more complex thing than just being unable to settle down or to control one’s impulses. 

Rather, these are possible symptoms, not the causes of the problem.  Yet, it seems that no professional seems to want to see , discuss, treat or, indeed, acknowledge anything other than the symptoms…which is why they usually are not much help at all.

This is my personal suspicion of a small part of the causes:  it has a lot to do with ‘filtering’ the stimulae we are constantly bombarded with.  It’s like the ‘light’ and ‘medium’ filters are completely missing.  So, the only options the brain has is to use the ‘extra-strenght-don’t-let-anything-through’ filters, or no filters at all…

For example, I have a problem with my hair:  if it is cut short (or if I have bangs), the areas of my skin which are touched by the ends of the individuals hairs are constantly being stimulated.  I cannot, no matter how hard I try, control this continuous input.  It is constantly rubbing and I cannot block it.  The continuous stimulation to the skin results in a physiological response – exczema.  Mine is not a reaction to any hair product – this was tested for. 

It is a response to the constant, minor yet unceassing stimulation due to the hair-ends rubbing against my skin and it is something that fails to be filtered by the brain.  My only solution is to have hair long enough to pin up or tie back, so it does not touch my skin….then I have to rearrange it often so the ‘position’ of the hair does not become painful.  To other people, it looks like I am always fidgeting with my hair – like a nervous habit or a mannerism.  Yet, I am only relieving built up pain.

Compare this to a ‘normal’ (or, as many ‘Aspergers pride’ people refer somewhat condescendingly to the rest of the population, the ‘neurotypicals’, or NTs) response:  after being exposed to a repetitive stimulus for several minutes (less for some individuals), their brain automatically compensates.  An example is ‘getting used to’ the cool temperature of the lake, or the hot water in a bath.  The skin sends initial signals informing the brain of the new stimulus, but after a while, the intensity is decreased. 

For many people who have ADD (and most ‘Aspies’ do have some form of it), this ‘filtering’ does not always happen.  You are always aware of the clothing that is touching you.  You are always aware of even the minutest breeze rubbing your skin (I, for one, I experience even a tiny draft in a room as intense pain on my skin – I could never understand how people could stand in front of a fan, or go outside in the wind).

For me, it’s my skin (well, that’s one of my ‘things’).  Other people can have other things that they have trouble filtering out.  Bright light can make them feel blinded or anxious, or the light contrast between the digital display of a clock in a dark room can trigger such anxiety as to prevent one from being able to fall asleep.  Falling asleep in front of a TV would be unimaginable for these people.

On the other hand, I know several people who can only sleep with the TV on:  the constant yet irregular changes in light and sound levels help block the regular cyclicity of the white noise of the heating system, air conditioner, and so on which seem to feed into the subconscious and cause bad reactions.  If the TV is turned off after they fall asleep, the cyclicity of the white noise will be enough to trigger some feenback loop, which keeps buildig up until they get an axiety attack while they are sleeping!  Not a pleasant way to wake up…

And don’t even let me get started on the rustling of leaves, crickets chirping or wind chimes!

On the other hand, when my brain focuses on something – and I mean, really focuses on something – external stimula have about zero chance of breaking through.  People can talk to me – and claim I made responses – yet I am not aware of it…not even a little bit!  Little things, like fire alarms, can go completely unnoticed.  And I am not alone! 

When my younger son was only a few months old, we became worried because there were times – but only some times – when we could make a very loud noise, directly behind him – and I mean LOUD – yet it would produce absolutely no response in him whatsoever!  Not even the tiniest twitch!  His brain was being used in processing something else – so it paid no attention to the audial input.  The physical reaction was the same as if he had never registered the stimulus at all!  I must admit, I am also guilty of this – as are both my husband, and my father….

But, here comes the interesting bit:  and yes, my father, my son and my husband all display this:  sometimes, you speak to them, they hear what is said and their brain stores it in some sort of a ‘buffer’ – but it never gets to the bit of brain that actually processes it.  They are completely unaware of whatever it was that was said, and appear oblivious to having been spoken to.  But, if you ask them to go back, they can ‘replay’ the message from the ‘buffer’ in their brain and ‘listen’ to it.  ‘Oh, yes’, they say, ‘I get what you want now!’

Hopefully, this will help give people a little bit of understanding of what is happening in those of us with ADD.