Friday, June 26, 2009
More than one person has remarked to me since yesterday: What's the big deal about Michael Jackson?
A fair question. He has been an irrelevant freak for so long, it's hard to recall what was so special about him in the first place. My bride-to-be had never even seen the videos for "Thriller" or "Beat It" until I showed them to her a few months back on YouTube.
Check out his legendary performance from the Motown 25th anniversary special. Yes, there was a time when these moves were fresh and unique. Yes, there was a time when he looked mostly human even if his talent made him appear from another world. Yes, he can hold a room entranced even while lip-syncing. When he moonwalks toward the end, part of the audience appears to spit out their eyeballs.
But even if you're not taken in by his voice, his dance moves or his undeniable stage presence, the numbers don't lie. The man reached a popularity untouched by anyone since Elvis and The Beatles.
I was never really a huge Jackson fan. I can recall someone at camp playing the "Thriller" album over and over again in the summer of 1983. Granted, I didn't have much taste in music then, but it didn't do anything for me. And there was even a point in 1984 when I was watching a Prince video on MTV (remember when they played videos?) and couldn't understand why Michael Jackson was so hairy.
And he was always so weird. The chimp, Elizabeth Taylor, the hyperbaric chamber, Neverland, the glove, the gay-military outfits, the Elephant Man's bones, Lisa Marie, the accusations of pedophilia, the high-pitched girly voice, the seeming desire to become white, the plastic surgury that eventually lopped off his nose.
At the heart of it appeared to be an arrested development triggered by an abusive taskmaster of a father who made his children into superstars only to watch them go supernova and burst into pieces. Andrew Sullivan has a pyschological/cultural take as worthy as any.
Michael Jackson was an international sensation, as recognized around the world as the NY Yankees' logo, McDonald's or -- once upon a time -- Muhammad Ali. On a list of the most prominent world figures whose death might spark as much interest, I can think of only Ali, the Pope (though perhaps not the current one), Obama and Paul McCartney. Frank Sinatra and Johnny Carson were pretty big, but mostly in the U.S.
But the question of why should we care is different from why we should take note.
We should not care as though we have lost a loved one. Michael Jackson was a celebrity entertainer, not our parent or child. But in the way our culture created him, chewed him up and spat him out, perhaps he's a symbol for a sick world. It appears Jackson wanted to remain a child. I'm not exusing him for the choices he made in his own life. And I ain't saying it's my responsibility, but someone really should take better care of such people.