Yesterday, the world learned that Michael Jackson died at the age of 50 from cardiac arrest. Like many people, I was at work when I learned of his passing. In fact, I learned of his passing while I was attending someone else’s memorial. It was just a matter of time before the memorial shifted from the topic of who the memorial was for to Michael Jackson, who apparently in death became the only topic in the room.
Like many, I immediately started calling family and friends. I then learned of Farrah Fawcett’s death which I was unaware of. Within minutes of learning of her death, actor Jeff Goldbloom apparently fell off a cliff in New Zealand and died while doing a movie shoot… but then minutes later my cousin uncovered that the Goldbloom story turned out to be an internet hoax.
I then heard the Spanish speaking radio stations playing Michael Jackson’s music out of rememberence… and then THAT’S when it hit me… the man is gone.
But walking through the streets of New York, I was quickly jerked back into reality. I saw a few soiled homeless people screaming that Michael was dead, while appearing to look for cigarette butts. I saw some young tourist girls, who appeared to be from some mid-western school trip do an impromptu dance on the sidewalk to a beat box playing a Jackson tune. I then watched the girls quickly disperse when the vagabond street hustlers tried to manuver into their immediate space.
I witnessed CNN live at The Apollo Theater where people started to gather on the theater’s sidewalk singing Jackson’s “P.Y.T”… “pretty young thing”… and that’s when it hit me again… the circus of Michael Jackson.
My personal feelings on Jackson are conflicting. Though I loved his talent and presence on the music scene for four decades, there is apart of his character that I cannot reconcile.
When I was a child, I remember asking my mother what beauty was, physical beauty that is. I remember her referring to a Donna Summer cassette tape cover saying, “if I could look like anyone, I’d want to look like her.” I grew up in rural Minnesota. Girls like this did not seem to exist. Nonetheless, brown was beautiful… or as we characterize via race… black was beautiful.
So it was around the time of the “BAD” album, I had some interesting issues to ask myself. I noticed Michael’s appearence had changed… his skin, hair and nose. “Did Michael hate how he looked? Did he hate being black?” Those questions naturally lead to – “do I like how I look? How much is plastic surgery?”
So, through albums, videos, and costume changes – I stuck by Michael. Through odd stories of exotic animals and bizarre statements in interviews, I stuck by Michael. Through facial reconstruction and reconfiguration – I stuck in there. The constant jokes about his sexuality – I stuck in there. Whatever explanation he came up with for the skin bleaching, strange medical tests, or overly shy behavior – I stuck in there.
But then the allegations of child molestation started. Then the court cases were filed. Now it seemed clear to me that Michael was becoming something I couldn’t feel comfortable about defending and rationalizing anymore.
I, like many, turned to the personal networking sites to see how others were feeling on this day of his passing. I’d read the Twitters and postings: “forward this text that the greatest singer of all time is in our prays”, “the most giving singer on our planet is dead”, “the world mourns for their greatest legend”.
I remember Michael once saying he wished he could be young forever, like Peter Pan. I also remember him saying more people should sleep in bed with children to express our love for one another… even if it’s not our own children. I remember his infamous “Billie Jean” performance at the Motown Special. I remember him arriving to court in his pajamas.
So, I posted a status on my facebook… “His music will live on. As millions Twitter the fairytale, I wonder of the human condition that forgives the celebrity who leaves doubts as to his conduct with innocents.” Poor timing I suppose for many.
For me, it’s rather clear – YES, Michael was a great talent, but he was also a product. “Michael Jackson” was also made up of various writers, musicians, filmmakers, choreographers, lighting people, lawyers, doctors, publicists and a whole array of other artists out to make this guy their cash cow. Many unrecognized to the general public, but for Quincy Jones and a few others. To me, this is part of the fairytale. The rags to riches… part of the fairytale. Michael loves fairytales… whether it’s wanting to be Peter Pan or naming his child Prince, fairytales suit him like a glove.
Now look at our current celebrity climate. It’s a dark, twisted place. Our celebrities are now reality stars, junkies, porn wanna-be’s, and other reckless misfits. We have new manipulators of the medium… Octomom uses babies for celebrity and fortune, Amy Winehouse smokes crack and punches her audience memebers in the face, Ray J and Kim Kardasian ‘accidently’ make a home sex tape which is ultimately used as career launching… and the public eats it up!
It all takes me back to one of the masters, Michael Jackson. The allegations, the out of court settlements, the strange marriages, the sorted details.
Take away the celebrity, the setting… make it a small rural town…
I’m even more perplexed when I read that one Jackson is on public assistance, another works in a grocery store and I think, “who is this generous guy everyone is celebrating?”
I understand one should pay their respects when one passes on… but what does that mean, “pay respect?”
To some, paying respect is playing their favorite Jackson tune and dance up a storm. To others, it’s a time to reflect on memories. For me, the last decade of memories have been that of allegations and out of court settlements on child sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse left untreated and unresolved is emotionally crippling and psychologically damaging. This can lead to drug use, suicide and death. I’ve never personally experienced this, except for the pain of my friends, or others I have known. I have met the entire gambit, from victim to victimizer. It’s pervasive, relentless, and debilitating. Need I say more?
So, if I don’t seem to join in your wake, party, outpouring of gracious condolences, it’s because my value system tells me to be cautious… this story isn’t over and may have no resolution a majority will be satisfied with. In order for me to have my sense of honesty and integrity, I have to be true to it.
The next few months, if not YEAR, will be dedicated to all the unanswered questions to Michael Jackson. Forgive me if I startled you at the starting gate.
It’s gonna get dirtier. It’s gonna get nastier.