Thursday, July 9, 2009
CNN Presents: 14 Days in a Glass Casket
For a multitude of reasons I haven't posted anything since February. I might go into them later, but they can mostly be guessed from the usual list of reasons bloggers quit blogging, at least for noticeable time periods.
However, the one thing that could shake me from my laziness/disinterest/false starts was the untimely death of Michael Jackson two weeks ago, which happened to fall on my mother's 41st birthday, a birthday already sort of going to shit vis a vis disappointing loved ones and collapsed plans. She sort of moaned in horror when I yelled to her that Michael was no longer in a coma but, as AOL and TMZ were reporting as of a quarter to 6pm, dead.
Initially things were a bit odd, but nothing hit me. I got a few phone calls of people shocked but I was really not that shaken up about it. I wore my Thriller-zombie Michael Jackson t-shirt out that night as tribute, and got a bunch of stares, but it wasn't until around 1 a.m. while walking around Times Square and the huge video screens of Mike and all the people standing around in tribute that it really hit me that the motherfucker was gone and things started to feel surreal. Really, he had been gone since the late 90's, out of sight and passed over as passe following all the shifts in pop during the 90's (although really, who wouldn't rather listen to Dummy than Dangerous?) Part of the ease of existing as a punchline and an oddity was the decreased level and quality of his musical output. HIStory definitely had some jams on it but I remember a universal skepticism and feeling of "Why bother?" when Invincible came out. Coming onstage for an Nsync* performance at the VMA's was just sort of underwhelming. Every public appearance and attempt at reinserting himself into American cultural relevance (because clearly the man was still God outside our landlocked Walmart encrusted shores) seemed like a waste of time. We had already decided that, baby-dangling and South Park episodes be damned, we were more interested in the plastic surgeries and assorted labia of chart-topping celebrities.
Maybe that's why it was so easy for the guy to disappear off to Dubai after his failed attempt at black militancy in reference to Tommy Mattola. "Ghoul" is an Arabic word and appropriately that is the only pre-Voldemort description of his 00's appearance. Its also why it took me hours to really get a feel for the loss. He was the celebrity. Not only was he a global superstar but he was also the most successful black person in the history of time in getting to that position, although definitely aided by his shifting his racial makeup every 5 years (he had maximum appeal that way). It was never really that he was forgotten, because he refused to ever really go away for more than two years, it was that the level of return had diminished past the point we would all collectively give a shit. So as a culture we all decided to ignore him, except when he did something foolish like give birth to the phrase "baby-dangler", yet still offer up measured reverence, only curbed by molestation accusations and people's very...um..."Middle American" hysteric belief that he did in fact bugger children. (Or as Norm MacDonald put it "...the man is a homosexual pedophile").
Its sort of a tired point, but I've had to reiterate it several times, especially as many people have prefaced or conditioned their eulogies or commentary with the phrase "love him or hate him", which is odd because you'd have to be an asshole or entirely too self-righteous to "hate" Michael Jackson who last I checked never cost you your job, repealed your civil rights, or committed a genocide. The man was never convicted.
Let that sink in.
Knee-jerk responses usually go along the lines of "that doesn't mean anything, he's a celebrity, blah blah cliche". That might've applied to R. Kelly who, now that after 8 years I managed to find a copy of part of his sextape and man, that really is him fucking those girls, but if you recall, the LAPD forced Michael to strip naked and have his genitals photographed. The motherfucker was put through the works, regardless of his stature and fame, maybe, you could argue, in defiance of it as if to prove some sort of point.
But still, idiots always come out the woodwork. I waited two weeks (although it was originally meant to be one) just to see how awful the aftermath would be. I figured there would be about 4 days grace period where everyone would be permitted to mourn and there would be a moratorium on dwelling on the uglier aspects of the man's life, or at least until the ratings on the 24-hour news networks needed boosting. And surprisingly, despite the usual deluge of post-90's internet babies and forum trolls trying too hard to be edgy IRL, there were only a few jokes told. Part of this can be explained by the nature of the death.
There's a simple formula for whether a death is sad; age+method=empathy. The younger the death, the sadder as the youth are supposed to precious and innocent, and frankly, cuter than the rest of us and dying before our twilight years is seen as an unfortunate missing of opportunity, a spit in the face of out needlessly long human lifespan.
"Frank Sinatra fucked up because he didn't get to hear Get Rich or Die Trying"
But method always modifies the level of tragedy. Grisly murders, rapes, political executions, genodices, misadventure, plane crash during a video shoot, suicide, etc. They all exist on an unspoken ranking level of "OMG that's terrible!" in our brain. The same part of us that thinks it'd be best to die peacefully in our sleep isn't at all fucking impressed when a celebrity does it at the ripe old age of 79. Life goes on, we enjoy their work again if they were important, and then move on.
Mike dying suddenly on an unassuming June evening right before his final comeback tour and at the age of 50 is amplified by a third hidden factor, which is his Christ-like (or Muhammad-like in terms of sheer numbers these days) levels of ubiquity and love in the minds of people on this planet with access to recorded media. I never cared when Mother Theresa or the Pope died because they were flawed religious puppets and, really, never made any catchy songs or danced cool. Really, this was a ghost dying, like if someone pulled a 2Pac on Casper.
Now about the spectacle. The coverage, in particular, CNN and Larry King's, has been awful. The impotence and vapidness of the news networks has always been evident and isn't worth rehashing, but has been spectacularly embarrassing of late. Freak show as he became, Michael Jackson's life was still clearly tragic and almost pathetically sad. But when I caught a bit of Larry King's post-funeral broadcast coverage (part of his two week personal autopsy of every banal minutiae of Michael's life) where he badgered John Mayer (who as a human being is always funnier, smarter, more self-aware, and classier than you'd expect from someone who makes adult contemporary elevator pop for a living) about whether he twittered the funeral as Mayer tried to remain somber and respectful considering how unrelated he was to everyone at the proceedings.
In addition to the "Michael Jackson Cribs" shows that NBC has been doing and that Jon Stewart already did a great job of pointing out how ghastly and tasteless the whole thing is. I mean, you've got to really be fucking up when BET starts outclassing you.
The day I heard the news, I immediately dreaded the day that the Nancy Grace's and OK magazines of the world would get pictures of his corpse and emblazon them across the sky. So far that hasn't happened, but with the speed of the internet and how it has warped our attention span, I still expect it any day now that so many other details have leaked. Though we'd like to focus on the pre-dethroned Michael in his Puerto Rican glory, there are clearly a lot of ugly details that should remain in the summary of his time on the planet. One of the most unfair things you can do to someone, especially the deceased, is to parse over or even suss out the rough edges or unfavorable aspects of their life. It's all important, moonwalks or molestation jokes. I prefer to remember Michael smashing guitars with his sister or me being so freaked out by "Thriller" that I would fast forward through the song on cassette whenever Vincent Price's rap came up. But I also want to remember the Michael that spanned my 21 years on this earth, summed up with humanity by Dave Chapelle: