Tuesday, July 07, 2009

RIP, Mr. Michael Jackson

Is there anything that demonstrates the importance of funerals more than today?

For the last 15 years, Michael Jackson has been the butt of jokes, the source of an endless list of derogatory nicknames, and the subject of more insulting words than anyone else not convicted of terroristic threats on the United States. He has been accused of unimaginable crimes, and though he was acquitted in a court of law, he was convicted and condemned by the media and a public that is quick to judge and long to forgive.

With his death a few weeks ago, the world came to something of a standstill and divided itself into three camps: "I Love Michael", "I Hate Michael" and "I Don't Give a Shit About Michael, Get Back to the News." The "I Don't Give a Shit" folks have gone about their business with little more than a sigh and a shake of the head when MJ is mentioned, his song is played...again...on the radio, or an argument between the first two groups takes place. The conflict between the Lovers and Haters has been something of a...spectacle. So to speak.

I'm fascinated by Michael Jackson. Absolutely fascinated. I loved him when I was young, wondered about him when I was a teenager, and he fell off my radar through most of my twenties...except for the occasional tune where I would remember my youth fondly and think "man, he's one hell of a musician." And yeah, I heard the bad stuff too. The allegations, the bizarre behaviors...and of course I saw his face, right? But what a fascinating, unique, tragic, gifted man. There has never been, nor will there ever be, another soul like him in the universe.

Michael Jackson is (was) a walking, talking representation of the ugliest parts of our society. Who cares if you're brilliant? If you changed the face of music? If you singlehandedly broke a color barrier stronger and higher than the Berlin Wall? If you sacrificed your childhood, your very life, to provide music and joy to the world? And yes, you got paid...but not nearly what it cost. We hear that you slept in bed with a boy. Villian. Nevermind that you never had a childhood. Nevermind that you were famous, almost literally, from the moment of your birth until the moment of your death, and the psychological ramifications of that. Nevermind that the people who accused him of molesting their children decided to take a cash settlement instead of seeking "justice"--how much is your kid worth? I'm not saying he didn't do anything wrong--maybe he did. Maybe he molested kids all over the place. But, if he did, well, he certainly left the world far more than most other child molesters do.

Back to the funeral, though, and the importance of memorializing our dead. What an opportunity. Did you know that Magic Johnson ate fried chicken with Michael Jackson? There is nothing more beautiful, most poetic, than laughter of joy at a funeral. All of the memories that were shared brought the world back to the "old" Michael--the Michael we all fell in love with, who changed our world, and who disappeared (or got stuffed away) behind a freakish mask of solitude as the world decided they didn't need him anymore. The fact that SO MANY musicians and other celebrities came out to share their memories of Michael Jackson, to laugh and cry together, and that somehow his daughter, Paris, still managed to see enough of the real man in her father to be simply devastated... well, that speaks far louder to me than an accusation from over a decade ago. And was it a spectacle? Of course. He's always been a spectacle; we made him that way, and we wouldn't have it any differently.

The Haters--they can go ahead and hate. The Lovers know that Michael is okay with that--he always has been.

1 comment:

Leah said...

Hm, that gave me both chills and a great perspective. I'm too young to really know Michael Jackson, and I chose not to get involved in any of the groups. I'm not one who's quick to judge either way, so I never chose to form an opinion on him. Thanks for writing this! And I watched the clip or Paris. She was absolutely so sad to watch. He clearly meant a lot to her, and I thought her level of grief and even the few words she said spoke volumes.