Friday, June 26, 2009

Celebrating Michael Jackson Day

Today was most obviously a national holiday. A holiday filled to the brim with music.

On the cover of the rapidly going downhill Baltimore sun, was Michael Jackson, pre-total redo of appearance, shouting expressively into a microphone. The article went on to describe the life of Michael Jackson in full, multiple page glory, focusing on the highlights of his pop music career, and celebrating his contributions to our culture. Multiply this by every local newspaper in every city, and nearly every television station.

The explosion of appreciation of Jackson's work did not stop with the media. I work at a summer camp, and remembering the pop legend seemed to be at the top of every other staff member's agenda. Hits like Billy Jean, ABC, and Thriller blared from every set of speakers around camp. The teacher of the art class that I assist with tried to teach the moonwalk to campers as they entered the classroom. And I felt proud to already possess the knowledge that Michael Jackson was indeed the small one in the Jackson Five.

But just days ago, didn't we laugh at this man whose memory we now revere? Didn't we, old and young, shake our heads and crack joke, ruthlessly perhaps, about how weird, crazy, and perhaps criminally creepy he had become, how far he had fallen? Wasn't he accused of, and tried for child molestation? And didn't it not really matter to us that he was acquitted of those charges? Wasn't he featured in an Eminem music video, jumping on a bed with little boys, with his nose falling off? We carry these memories in the pits of our stomachs, brewing, wondering whether it makes us cruel.

This afternoon, a fellow counselor quietly mentioned the bizarreness of Jackson's late appearance to me, and I announced, almost triumphantly, that he resembled Lord Voldemort. The words felt ugly on my tongue, yet somehow, they relieved a bit of the tension in my chest.

"Still too early to say that?" my co-worker asked.

"Yeah," I agreed.

Whenever someone attacked any part of Jackson's history today, someone else stepped in to defend him. I wish that people were so loyal after everyone's death. . . But then, they are in most cases, aren't they? I wish that people we so loyal to each other before anyone has to die.

I believe that when Michael Jackson died, a basic instinct was set into motion in all of us. Our disdain for the strangeness of what Jackson has become, was overwhealmed by the need we all felt to save the man who had created the songs we sing along to, the dance moves we cannot even hope to replicate. Or at least, we wanted to save his memory.

Last night, immediately after Jackson's death, when I checked the New York Times online front page, the Times featured a story similar to that on the front page of the Baltimore Sun, celebrating Jackson's life, and mourning his death. I had no doubt at the time, as the shock of the news filled me, that this was the appropriate way to handle the event. But tonight, as my own doubt settles into all of my being, the Times website instead features an article examining the facts of Jackson's death, and whether misuse of drugs or medications was involved.

Eventually, we'll try to understand the full picture of Michael Jackson's life, as we attempt to after the death of any person who in any way touches our lives. We'll acknowlege his great accomplishments, the reality of how his life fell appart, and the fact that he was not entirely free of blame for what he became. For the first time, now that he is dead, we will perhaps see him as truly human. As for me, I feel right now that I'd rather just hold onto today's feeling of awe at a life full of brilliant accomplishment. I'd like to believe that these feelings make us better people, and that each of us has the ability to see the positive each other where we deserve it, and when the occasion calls for such understanding. Maybe it's still too early for the rest.


Thanks for reading everyone, and please comment and/or follow. Because you know it makes me oh so happy to know that you're reading this blog.



  1. I completely agree with everything you said. You put what I've been thinking into words much better than I could have.

    The whole drug conversation is what I feel like I must comment on. While a few days ago I saw MJ as a weird guy who wrote wonderful music before he messed his life up, today I see him as a tragic figure, a man whose life was ruined by his own fame. From the age of five or six, his dad forced him to go on tour, in addition to supposedly beating him. Between being in the public eye his entire life and all of the abuse from his father, it's no wonder things went downhill. Personally, I blame his father's actions for some of Michael's decisions with children later in life.

    Public life typically makes people feel like the imperfect humans they are. Because of their vast monetary resources, celebrities think they can buy perfection through changing skin color, drugs, etc. This is what happened to MJ, and when they didn't help, he developed anorexia, which increased the effect the drugs had on him, since he had less body weight. The right mix supposedly killed him, but I don't blame him for his death. I blame his strange upbringing, and the millions of us fans who expected him to be super energetic forever.

  2. That's all very interesting. I focussed more on how the public changed in relation to him when he died, and what that says about all of us, rather than whether or not he was actually responsible, so thanks for this comment.

    Although I recognize that MJ was in large part a victim of his upbringing and public life, I do have a hard time believing that someone can create so much damage in his own life, face, and body, without some sort of personal responsibility, whatever it is driven by. I guess we'll never really know

  3. "Just because it's in print doesn't mean it's the gospel."
    Michael Jackson

    Aren't we all guilty of believing what we read? MJ, adored and vilified. He could end up being larger than Elvis.