Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson: The Memorial Today

I've been struggling to understand what it is about Michael Jackson that his premature death has been allowed to dominate the media for the past... what?  Ten days?  

I'm in no position to judge his talent.  I do not have much of an ear for music, though from a broadly cultural point of view I can understand that he ranks somewhere up there with Elvis Presley as a pop icon.  Was Beatlemania any different, I wonder, from the Presley worship that verges on idolatry?  My sense is that even John Lennon, whose assassination was a tragic reminder of the insanity of gun violence in this country, has not been sanctified in quite the same way as Elvis.  Michael Jackson, though, seems headed in that direction.

It's not just a matter of hero-worship.  We do need heroes, especially in a world where each one of us risks being lost in the crush of humanity around us.  We like to have heroes with feet of clay, and Jackson's--to put it nicely--oddities with regard to his physical appearance, his racial and sexual ambiguity, his unhealthy predilection for the company of children lent his life story a drama that was an endlessly fascinating source of public controversy.  He needed, and attracted, those who would rush passionately to his defense.  

He also cultivated the image of himself as a Peter Pan, a child who did not wish, or was not allowed to grow up.   As such, perhaps, he spoke to the child in his fans--the child in each of us--in a world where the gap between the innocent dreams of childhood and our experience of life as adults gives rise to so much dissatisfaction and unhappiness.  Those who loved him with such intensity were surely seeing some part of themselves in him--the part that dreams of wild success, universal love and admiration, along with unimaginable wealth and the illusion of freedom that accompanies it.        

And yet the illusory nature of this pop idol's success became sadly evident in his obsessive habits, including an apparent inability to nourish himself properly, his dependence on powerful drugs to kill the pain, his isolation and reported paranoia and his erratic behavior patterns--all suggest a man whose life was far from a fulfilling one.  Perhaps his death and the surrounding hoopla will serve, at some deep level of consciousness, to make us all aware of the discrepancy between the illusion of celebrity and the reality of a profoundly unhappy life cut short by self-destruction; and remind us of the need to look for true happiness elsewhere.

If I believed in an afterlife, I would wish Michael Jackson a far happier existence than the one he was given to experience this time around. 


thailandchani said...

I admit it. I don't get it. Maybe people need some kind of distraction right now from the general malaise.. but to choose someone like him makes *no* sense.

There are other things happening in the world. Not that we'd know about it since the entire media is obsessed with this musician.

He was an okay musician. Nothing spectacular. I enjoyed "Thriller" in the 80s but know nothing beyond that.

He's not a "hero". Not by any definition I know.


Twilight said...

I've just watched the streamed on-line version of the MJ Memorial service (or show) to try to understand what's going on. I'm all but ignorant of MJ's talents, apart from a few pop songs from years ago.

The memorial was moving in parts, and I do understand why the African American community revere MJ so much for breaking down some barriers. How he did it is still something of a mystery to me. I'm of the wrong generation, I guess.

The nearest thing to this that I've seen before was what followed Princess Di's death. But even that was a subdued affair compared to this.

robin andrea said...

I'm with you and the other commenters here, I just don't get it. I'm actually appalled that he is being given hours and hours of live coverage when more urgent and pressing matters get short shrift. This is the most dumbing down of "news" I've ever experienced. A simple farewell and a shovel of dirt would suffice.

Cardozo said...

As a child of the eighties, maybe I can shed some light.

Between about 1983 and 1992, almost every kid in America had a Michael Jackson song committed to memory.

Trying to mimic MJ's dance moves was a common way to pass the time.

He was not just a star but a mega mega mega star.

Also, for our generation he was the first widely popular African American musician. Before Michael, every black person I knew of played professional sports.

Lastly, his was a pure and authentic voice in an age when phony celebrity-ness was becoming depressingly commonplace.

YesBiscuit! said...

Although not nearly as publicized as his other aspects of his life, he was a great humanitarian. He frequently hosted sick children at Neverland, visited injured soldiers, did many charitable works in Africa - on and on. He raised awareness for many people about global problems and especially the welfare of the world's children. He inspired a very "me" oriented generation to a wider, more selfless view.

John Torcello said...

Michael Jackson was but a few; creative individuals and performers; people who look at their surroundings and utilize the existing frameworks for finding ways to benefit and bring joy to others. With regard to 'pop' music, Michael Jackson gave us a lot; and, we took it. We are a nation of 'takers'; consumers...

Money, influence, celebrity were his too; yes, a consequence of the confluence of doing what we do well, what we want to do and what we can be paid to do; the nature of the entertainment/recording 'business' as he inhabited it. Because we liked what Michael did for us, money was generated; lots of it; and, much of it back to him and his entourage.

Mostly, we were consumers of what Michael gave us; for free. That's how most of us knew him. News stories, water cooler talk, free-radio play, MTV videos, his memorial...We gladly took what Michael offered; and mostly, we liked it...As a society, we were quick to judge him when the possibility of our perceptions of his personal eccentricities reached into areas we personally found problematic. That criticism, that judgment, was 'free' for us too; and, we took the opportunity to savor it.

All of this had a cost; to him; his health, his psyche; his life...he was driven, for whatever reason, to continue to display this talent and skill; it was what he did, what he did so well.

Damn those who accept and take freely from those who feel the need to give; and then, with their voices, and in their actions; so freely judge. Damn them; those so seemingly secure in their own insecurities...

I am hopeful Michael may now be free to accept the grace of his own sharing with us and that he can take the time to smile down upon us...

mandt said...

America was peaked for a sacrificial purge, what better offering than the child-man MJ?

sudarshana777 said...

"his unhealthy predilection for the company of children"

OMG! This is it! I'm absolutely appalled.
What's healthy for your then?!

His "predilection" for children is nothing more but pure heavenly innocent LOVE. It's a shame that you didn't get it right.......

Michael Jackson is not a man, he is an ERA. He's done more good to this world than many so-called spiritual leaders and gurus - the true experience of magic bond between Divine and human.

God bless Michael!