Friday, June 26, 2009

Obligatory Note on Michael Jackson

Like the rest of the world, I was shocked by the sudden passing of Michael Jackson. I have always been fan of the man's music, whereas my views of him have ranged from reverence to the point of imitation, to disbelief and mockery, to a brand of indifferent pity. One of my first formal introductions to the King of Pop came courtesy of either the mini-series The Jacksons: An American Dream or a "Best of Motown" CD featuring The Jackson 5's "I'll Be There", which I listened to who knows how many times. I was instantly taken by the fact that this boy was the lead singer of a wildly successful band at the age of 11, not too much older than I was at the time. One thing confused me, though, and that was Jackson's transformation of appearance. My mother recalls that I asked her why Michael Jackson used to be a little black boy and now looked like an old white woman. Her answer, now, is irrelevant; what mattered was that even at an early age I realized there was something odd about him, but as like most children, I instantly forgave these misgivings and concentrated on what I liked: his music, and it was everywhere. Dangerous had just come out, "Black or White" was a smash hit, he performed during halftime of the Super Bowl, and we were singing "Heal The World" for my brother's 3rd grade graduation. I loved listening to Thriller on my Walkman, and even went through a (very) brief stage where I would don a single glove in an attempt to be more like him. Julia told me to never tell anyone that fact, but she's not the boss of me. As you can see, I've grown up quite a bit.

As I got older I came to appreciate the genius of his music and tried to ignore the eccentricity of his personality. Jacko became Wacko, his face became more emaciated and plastic looking and the accusations of child molestation appeared to be more legitamate, causing a new generation to come to know him as a crazed pedophile, the Peter Pan who violated his lost boys. The court of public opinion swayed decidedly against him, and not without merit, while the legal system acquitted him or any criminal charges. Talking heads and other personalities in the media, the same ones who are lauding his revolutionary legacy, absolutely skewered him. That, to me, is one of the most interesting elements of his death. Now that he's not around, everyone seems to have pardoned his sins. Obviously no one wants to spit on the memory of someone recently desceased, and we always try and remember the best about people after they die, but the level of post-mortem-idolization after years of brutally critical scrutiny remains hypocritical.

Amazing make-up or foreshadowing?

Another interesting point, which actually sets itself up for a (possibly weak) anaolgy, is his death coinciding with that of Farrah Fawcett, who had been ill for some time. She, too, was a good samaritan who did tons of work for charities and to fight cancer, but her passing has been completely overshadowed by the shock and awe of all that is Michael Jackson. This situation reminds me of how Mother Theresa and Princess Diana died within days of each other, and how the latter dominated the headlines even though both were global icons with similar goals. Granted, Fawcett's fame could never approach those of MJ, Princess Di, or Mother Theresa, and I understand how the media's market inscentives drive most of their decisions (read: Michael Jackson and Princess Di sell more news than Farrah Fawcett and Mother Theresa), but it's unfortunate when this kind of thing happens.

As I write this post, Michael Jackson fans have gathered here around the Obelisco here in Buenos Aires to celebrate his memory and collectively grieve his loss. There are speakers set up blaring his hits, with supporters, some dressed his likeness but all at the least wearing a shirt bearing his image, imitating his unmatched dance moves. Some are even crying. This same scene can be found all over the world, with millions mourning the loss of Michael Jackson across the world. My question is, who else's death inspires this same feeling of universally collective loss? How many global icons remain whose loss would touch people from all walks of life, all over the globe? We're not talking about superstars here, but rather über-super-mega-galactic stars who've been around long enough or done something so important that their deaths would resonate across the board. Here are some people who I thought would definitely make the list (in no particular order): Paul McCartney, Barack Obama, Michael Jordan, Nelson Mandela, and Madonna. Pelé and Bill Gates might make the list, as well as Bono and Elton John, but besides those five I couldn't think of any locks, please enlighten me if I'm being ignorant. Either way, the list is now one name shorter. Good bye, MJ.

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