June 29, 2009
I say this without one speck or irony, sarcasm, or hyperbole: Michael Jackson will go down in as the most tragic figure in American history. Not just for the circumstances surrounding his life, but the callousness with which we have treated his departure.
It wasn’t even an hour after the death was announced that scores of snarky Facebook and Twitter updates flooded the internet. I was disgusted -that’s not a word I use a lot – with the quickness of the heinous things being said about the King of Pop Music. His body wasn’t even cold yet and the writers at Jimmy Kimmel were already coming up with jokes that they knew would make their audience groan. Yet again, we see that a blurry line separates offensiveness and cleverness.
I had a sense of indignation through all of this. Who the hell were these people to be disrespecting him? Anyone who made jokes at his expense should realize, then and now, that they stand squarely in his monstrous shadow, tiny and completely irrelevant by comparison.
But he was a freak right? He slept with little boys! Well here’s the only problem with that: a jury never found him guilty of anything. So unless you want to buck the time-honored tradition of innocent until proven guilty, I’d rethink that argument.
But he settled out of court! That means he did it!
Think first about the parent’s side of this. If some freak had molested your kid, wouldn’t you want that scumbag thrown in jail where a more gruesome justice would be meted out by the inmates within the walls of the prison?
Plus, there was no way he would receive an objective ruling in a court of law. From his interview with Diane Sawyer:
“I asked my lawyer, ‘Can you guarantee me that justice will be prevail?’ They said ‘Michael, we cannot guarantee that a judge or jury will do anything.’”
So everyone in the country had been reading tabloids that only told one side of the story, reiterating the one testimonial that damned him, while ignoring mountains of exonerating evidence, would you think that you could get a fair trial?
“The imaginations of the mind, looked at in themselves, contain no error.” – Spinoza
We let our imaginations run wild with the notion that he was a devious child predator, even though countless people came to his defense. I personally think his soul was clean, but again, that exoneration is in the imaginations of my mind. And I was not in the majority.
So he banished himself to the confines of his Neverland fortress, away from the lashing tabloids and paparazzi. He faded into obscurity on the music scene. In his absence, the pop landscape crumbled both musically and morally. You could stand up Usher, Soldier Boy, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga and Nickelback; put all of their collections together and they would still never be as cherished or beloved as the bass line from “Billy Jean.”
His songs were powerfully catchy yet always had a positive message:
“I’m looking at the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”
“You’ll always be my baby; it don’t matter if your black or white.”
The most aggressive lyrics were for “Scream” with his sister Janet: “Stop pressuring me. Just stop pressuring me. It makes me want to scream.” It’s a far cry from today, where rappers frequently make death threats and Brittany Spears’ top song has the lyrics, “All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to F-U-C-K me.”
The only lesson that we can perhaps take away from this grisly business is that we should be ourselves no matter what. Jackson consistently altered himself to fit what he thought people wanted him to be. His dad made fun of his big nose, so he changed it. He was dark skinned and people made fun of it, so he changed it. These alterations started to pile up until we couldn’t recognize him physically or mentally.
As I watched the 20/20 recap of his life Thursday night (it was as if the producers had already compiled his death montage footage, you know, just in case) a segment came up that posed the question: “In an age without YouTube or MySpace, how did Michael Jackson become so popular?”
Because he had talent. This notion has somehow got lost in the past few years. Talent is the key to success. And no amount of viral marketing or social media should ever take precedence over that. He didn’t need MySpace friends or Twitter updates. He wasn’t the “self-appointed” King of Pop. He was an elected monarchy of music. Check the album sales.
It’s ironic (and contradictory) that I use a YouTube clip to show just how popular he was. The following clip is from a concert in Australia. Watch the crowd. Michael Jackson whips them into a frenzy by not moving a muscle. The people so desperately want to see him do something, anything at all, that their screams reach a zenith. And his head turns.
And one more clip from comedian Jon Lajoie who really does expose the 180 turnaround the media did after his death. Not exactly the most eloquent way to say it (lot’s of F-bombs), but it’s still perfect. They ate the orange and left the peel. And we watched the whole thing.