Wednesday, July 1, 2009

We killed Michael Jackson.

In physics, the "Observer effect" is the idea that the simple act of observation, even without direct interference, changes the very thing that is being observed. While this is primarily seen in laboratory settings, it is also readily apparent in the media regarding cultural phenomena. The existence of symbiotic, even parasitic relationships between tabloid journalism and arbitrarily appointed "celebrities" can perhaps best be indicated by professional strumpet Paris Hilton and her ilk. The fame with which her contemporaries are met is a direct result of the economic reward given by the journalism that created them. These walking self-fulfilling prophecies exist only to be famous, and their notoriety comes from their notoriety, making a strange Mobius strip of press releases and "leaked" sex tapes; in order to make them disappear, we simply ignore them.

Michael Jackson was not this sort of celebrity. A musical prodigy, Jackson was famous since he was a young child, his vocal command and musicianship, which exceeded that of those several times his own age, shooting him to magazine covers and megastardom. As the years went by, his genius in the studio and on the stage began to be overshadowed by his eccentricities; rumors of Peter Pan obsessions, odd purchases (like the bones of the Elephant Man), and a bizarrely compelling marriage to the daughter of Elvis all fueled the fire.

This furor reached its pinnacle when Michael was accused of pedophilia, and overnight, the media that once proclaimed him the King of Pop turned him into a carnival attraction: half-dunk tank and half-laughing stock. Although the first lawsuit against Jackson was settled out of court, a result often mistaken for an admission of guilt, his reputation was forever cemented, despite no conviction and all criminal charges dropped due to lack of evidence. A subsequent lawsuit in 2005 again accused him of sexual abuse of a child, and Jackson was found--again--not guilty on all charges.

Michael Jackson was a genius. His influence on popular media is unmatched by anyone since The Beatles or his late ex-father in law, but this is all cast aside based on accusations that never proved to be of any merit. Why do we as a society tear these people down? Why do "magazines" like US Weekly or Star sell? Is it because we are terrified by the notion that someone can be so different, can see things in such a different way as to change the way that everything is done? Why are we so offended that giants walk amongst us?

What it comes down to is that we are responsible for Michael Jackson's early death and tortured life. Anyone that bought a magazine that mocked him on the cover, anyone that made him into a child-abuse punch line, anyone that chuckled at a mean-spirited Saturday Night Live skit is responsible. We wouldn't allow a man that was obviously mentally ill and underdeveloped to be so superior to us in some ways when he was so dramatically underdeveloped inferior in others, so we destroyed him with every joke about the pigment of his skin, the shape of his nose, or his naive innocence.

And you can keep your sad Facebook statuses and your depressed Twitter posts and your ineffectual blog tributes and your tired YouTube links because it's predictable and hypocritical. Weep and wail all you like. Go ahead and lie to everyone about how Thriller has always been your favorite album of all-time, even though you don't own a copy and can't name two other songs from it. Brag about how you tried to do the Moonwalk in tube socks on your parents' waxed hardwood floor when you were five years old. Buy the tribute magazines that exploit the innocent genius that you so ruthlessly mocked during his darkest hours. We'll never have another like Michael Jackson. He offered everything he had and placed it at society's feet. He put a song in our step and a smile on our face and we killed him for it.


Heidi said...

Nicely written. I agree with you. It always bothered me when people made jokes about him, and it still bothers me enough that I called out my coworker about one of the current jokes. Despite the eccentricities (and we don't know what demons he fought every day), he was a brilliant man who did not and does not deserve the hate.

Adam said...

I think you're spot on.

While I'm not a big enough MJ fan to even post a pseudo-depressed Facebook status update, I do fully realize his place in pop music history. If any other contemporary musician was to kick off today, there are very few (if any - Paul McCartney, MAYBE?) that would have people all across the world weeping, wailing, and building shrines.

Two thoughts:

1.) I think you're spot on the child molestation thing. He's the only one who knows (and maybe even he doesn't know due to the psychological scar tissue in that poor dude's head) whether it happened or not. Two cases - both from folks with shady reputations in the past of false accusations/money grubbing - neither of which had any proof that he actually DID touch them kids in a sexual manner - and all of a sudden, his reputation hits the gutter.

2.) Dangerous came out in 1991 - I was 9. For some reason, that is fully unknown to 27 year old me, I asked for that tape for Christmas - and got it. I have one memory of listening to it while playing Nintendo, and that's it. Out of curiosity, I downloaded it this week to see if I remembered any of the songs. Turns out I don't, except for Black and White - which I've heard recently. The fact that somehow the 9 year old me wanted that cassette is one of the strangest things ever. I have no idea how that desire got into me - which I think at some level is representative of Michael Jackson's stardom. It just happened to people of all walks of life somehow.

In closing, I thought this was a very, very interesting read:

kaylie jean said...

Very interesting, and also very well written. However, I don't necessarily agree with you on all accounts. I do agree that Michael was perhaps too harshly judged by the media and society at large; but that is, in fact, the life of a star as great as him. (As you already dictated.)

My thing is that I don't know Michael, for the good, or for the bad. Therefore, I don't participate in ironic jokes about his criminal background, but I also don't try to defend his character.

His music and talent are how I allow myself to view Michael-- his appearances in tabloids, magazines and newspapers have had no effect on this viewpoint. He is an incredibly gifted performer, and I mourn the fact that I will never be able to see him perform live. Tragic, really.

Anyway, thanks for writing. Very enjoyable. Sorry if it's weird that I commented.

Samantha said...

I don't agree with everything you've said, but as usual, I love your writing and the points you bring up. My favorite parts of this one was:

"Why are we so offended that giants walk amongst us?"


"We wouldn't allow a man that was obviously mentally ill and underdeveloped to be so superior to us in some ways when he was so dramatically underdeveloped inferior in others,"

These are stand alone quotes. Beautiful and thought-provoking thoughts.

Citizen Andy said...

Sorry-- spelling mistakes!

I can laugh at any of those jokes I want (esp the South Park - "Meet the Jeffersons"). His eccentric behavior he pushed himself-- even before the advent of the paparazzi media-- back in the 80s and 90s.

He was, however, messed up. That's what being incredibly famous and then everyone wanting a piece of you since you were 5 years old will do to you (plus an abusive asshole of a father). But, some of his most bizzare moments were self-inflicted (dangling Blanket out of a window?).

As for the child abuse, whether he diddled the kids or not is unknown, but he certainly had inappropriate relationships with them, including self-admitted sleeping in the same bed with them and giving them wine before bed.

My thoughts are best summed up in the eulogy for Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman: "Nobody dast blame this man. You don't understand. Willy was a salesman; and for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law, or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine; and when they start not smiling back -- boy, that's an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you're finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy; it comes with the territory."

And BTW, I would Never consider myself a "Michael Jackson fan" per se, but I think I can not only name but sing most of the songs off Thriller (but would never ever ever put it in the pantheon of my "favorite albums") and many songs from Bad, Dangerous and Off the Wall. One of my favorite songs, which I have never heard except for John Mayer performing at the funeral, was "Human Nature" and i still think is pretty. And lots of the Jackson 5, who I still believe made the greatest Christmas album EVER. Suck it, Bing Crosby!

But the only real reason I have to hate Michael Jackson is for buying all of the Beatles publishing rights, and then remaking "come together" and otherwise profiting off of the genius of those greater than even himself.