Sunday, June 28, 2009

Don't Stop Til you Get Enough

I started off my morning today as I do most - hitting the snooze button repeatedly with the TV blaring. Unlike most days, the channel was tuned to music videos rather than morning news. I woke up today to the now-ubiquitous sounds of Michael Jackson's greatest hits. This morning, MTV2 ran several hours of Michael Jackson videos, beginning with the Jackson Five performing ABC on American Bandstand in the seventies. Two things struck me immediately as I watched this performance. First, it's remarkable to see Dick Clark - whose appearance showed few signs of aging for thirty years - standing next to Michael Jackson - who became unrecognizable as the young vocalist standing next to the Bandstand host. By all indications, Jackson may have become a different species while Clark appeared to be sleeping in a cryogenic chamber. It's entirely possible that there may have been a supernatural force at work. Something like The Picture of Dorian Gray, but with Dick Clark putting a curse on the pre-pubescent Michael Jackson and stealing his soul to secure his own eternal youth. It may sound outlandish, but the visual evidence supports this possibility.

Other than considering Dick Clark's gypsy curse to seal Michael Jackson's destiny and ward off crows feet for a few years, the other striking element in watching this tribute was the same fascination I have had since Jackson's death. It has been so long since I have associated the name Michael Jackson with his music. Sadly, as much time as I spent listening to the King of Pop as a kid and trying to imitate his dance moves, his talent has been completely eclipsed by his bizarre behavior, lifestyle and appearance. With the shocking news of his passing, I have heard very little from media sources about anything other than rave reviews of his immense talent. In recent years, descriptions of "Wacko Jacko" have included words like "pedophile," "freak," "Criminal," and "rapist." After his death, they have been replaced with the descriptives "genius," "innovator," and "Ground-breaking talent." No one has mentioned Bubbles the Chimp or the Elephant Man's bones lately, but all news sources instead highlight the sequined glove as they count of the number of gold records and Grammys Jackson earned.

Whether speaking of his talent or his outlandish behavior, there is plenty to elaborate on either argument. The man had an abundance of both.

Perhaps this will sound terrible, but I can't help but wonder what would have happened had Michael Jackson died ten years ago. There is something profane about this love-fest the country is having after the death of Michael Jackson. Clearly, the guy has always had issues but the train wreck that is Michael Jackson has reached a whole new level in recent years. I understand that the Jackson family had a closet full of skeletons but coming of age as a celebrity in the 70s and 80s is nothing compared to today's reality-TV obsessed culture. America loves crazy people and the media loves to exploit celebrities. I make no assumptions about the accusations against MJ. I don't know if he's a child molester or not, but all molestation charges aside, the guy had issues. I can't imagine why anyone would leave their child unsupervised with this guy even before his name became a punchline for jokes about little boys.

If the current media coverage is any indication, Michael Jackson's legacy as a talented musician will supersede his reputation as a child molester and general all-around weirdo. His music and his talent have been praised non-stop since the news of his death and his albums are selling quicker than they can stock the shelves. As fascinating as this person is - in his abundance of talent as well as his disturbing behavior, the thing that disturbs me the most is the media. I suppose it's too easy to simply blame the media, the problem is more deeply embedded within our popular culture. I should not be surprised by the praise and adoration being heaped on someone who is more commonly recognized for his bizarre and allegedly criminal behavior and personal life. It's what we do in this country. At some point in the last 15 to 20 years, watching mental illness and instability under the microscope of celebrity media and paparazzi has become a form of entertainment. Americans can't seem to get enough of watching celebrities whose lives are more screwed up as our own. At the same time, we're not total heathens. We know better than to speak ill of the dead. That's rude.

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