Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson, Finger 5, and the Aquatots

The recent death of Michael Jackson has naturally sparked a lot of discussion about his influence on pop music, but most of the discussion has focused on the influence of Thriller, instead of how influential the Jackson 5 were. One sign of the massive of influence of the Jackson 5 was the massive number of families in the 1970s who tried to find a similar goldmine in the hopes of turning their children into a pop group. The phenomenon was so widespread that it even reached Japan, with the mid-70s heyday of the Jackson 5 soundalike group, Finger 5. Here's a catchy video of their big hit Love Call 6700:

Like the Jackson 5, Finger 5's appeal hinged on puppyishly seductive lyrics being sung by a prepubescent male lead singer whose voice hadn't even changed yet. According to a recent comment post on Metafilter about Finger 5, the group broke up shortly after the group's manager unsuccessfully tried to convince the 13-year-old lead singer to take hormone shots to prolong his ability to sing soprano. If not taking hormone shots is enough to make a 13-year-old an entertainment industry has-been, Michael Jackson's self-mutilation and body modification suddenly becomes more understandable.

Unfortunately, that's not the worst historical example of child exploitation for entertainment value that can be found on the Internet. According to true crime writer Johnny Marr, one of the most notorious child abuse cases of the 1950s was The Aquatots, a high-diving act that featured two preschoolers under the age of 6. Marr writes,
Back home in Miami, the Aquatots returned to their usual routine of training and performing until a tragedy in 1953 exposed the dark underside of parental ambition. Kathy, now five, was practicing dives from the 33-foot tower under her father's supervision. A particularly difficult one ended in a brutal bellyflop and Papa Tongay decided that was enough diving for the day. Besides, it was time for swimming practice. He took Kathy to another pool to swim some laps. Even after she vomited her lunch, he forced his badly-bruised, tearful daughter to swim a short workout. It would be her last. She died the next day from a ruptured intestine and internal bleeding.

Police suspected Tongay of beating Kathy to death. His heavy-handed coaching was a local legend. Aquatots training sessions had been banned at several hotel pools after guests complained about a little girl crying, "Please, Daddy, don't make me swim anymore." But after grisly testimony about the dangers of platform diving, Tongay got off with 10 years for manslaughter. He was later declared insane and committed to the state mental hospital.

1 comment:

  1. I notice the writer compares this case to Jessica Dubroff's story. I don't think there's the analogy there that he thinks there is.

    My pilot dad knew several young children who wanted, and got, flying lessons. Although they could not be called 'pilots' until age 16 when they were eligible to take the test for their license, they could become very accomplished. He believed Jessica wanted to do this. Flying can get into one's blood very early and you start eating, sleeping and breathing it.

    But the decision to take off that morning was not and could not have been Jessica's. She was just a passenger who was getting some flying lessons. It was the responsibility of the pilot in command (her flight instructor), who handled all the take-offs and landings. Three people are dead because he decided to take off and try to fly in an overloaded plane in bad weather.

    He wasn't a very good pilot either. My dad had been watching it live, and sent me a highly technical letter explaining exactly how and why the crash happened.

    "It's better to be on the ground and wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground."

    "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots."