Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An Observation

I was just a year older than Michael Jackson. So I remember being aware of him and singing along with his songs for most of my life. I can’t say I was a huge fan; a true fanatic. But I did enjoy his music, was captivated by his videos and his dancing. The bloom began to come off the rose for me as Michael altered his physical appearance. I couldn’t connect with the way he wanted to modify his features from what I perceived as him being a beautiful child and a handsome young man, into something increasingly damaged, disfigured and bizarre.

To my recollection, the spotlight never really left Michael - from his first appearances as part of The Jackson Five, to his casket at the Staples Center yesterday. But as Michael became more unusual; as he slipped further to the edges of the bell curve, the media spotlight intensified. The glare became harsher; the rumors became accusations. What had once been popularity and celebrity, morphed rapidly, seamlessly into notoriety and, at times, infamy. Scandals became headlines. An allegation was settled financially and perceived as a guilty plea. A courtroom drama unfolded as circus; the acquittal on all charges eclipsed by the sideshow carnival of fans, paparazzi and international media with microphones standing in front of satellite uplink trucks and Michael himself in pajama bottoms.

Michael married, divorced, remarried and had children, divorced again and had a third child. In summary form, it reads as falling within the bounds of what we see in Hollywood and in our own communities - not fully approved of by society, but not unheard of. But when Michael Jackson, his ongoing physical metamorphosis and that unblinking media spotlight got thrown into the mix, it was all just too, too weird - unseemly, inappropriate, suspect, even creepy. We learned that he was likely abused as a child. At the very least he was pushed aggressively by a domineering stage father, into a tough industry fraught with peril for child stars. But even that revelation couldn’t mitigate the uneasiness the non-fanatic felt looking at the garish tabloid covers and the headlines on the entertainment pages.

Yesterday, I listened to people from many walks of life speak from the heart about the loss of their friend. For a few hours we heard in unedited form from people who actually knew Michael Jackson, many of them for decades. The more I listened, the more I began to feel I had been sold a bill of goods; that I had been seduced by the media hype and bought it hook, line and sinker. These friends spoke passionately and with humor about an undeniably talented individual, who lived an extraordinary life. Obviously, a memorial service is a time to eulogize, to focus on the positive aspects of the decedent’s life and to comfort the grieving family and friends with one’s words and reminiscences. But if Michael Jackson truly had been the pariah the media made him out to be, why were these folks testifying so publicly to the esteem in which they held him and the magnitude of their loss?

I suppose it could have been just crass publicity seeking; a desire to be part of the international event; the final act under the big tent of the circus which was Michael Jackson’s life. Yet as the memorial service continued, I became more convinced that those closest to Michael knew something I didn’t: that he was, at his heart, kind and well intentioned. Seeing his three children sitting in the front row with their father’s family, I reinterpreted the way Michael had kept his children veiled and masked. What had previously seemed crazy, now seemed sensible and responsible. Now that they have been revealed; thrust prematurely into that same all consuming spotlight, it seems unlikely that they will soon find peace.

Was Michael Jackson troubled? Yes. Was he strange, eccentric, odd and peculiar? Yes to all. Am I left wondering why he was able to persist in his self destructive behaviors despite being surrounded by people of influence who apparently cared deeply for him? Again, yes. But I also began to get an uneasy feeling that I had participated, almost unconsciously, in a sort of 21st century witch hunt.

Am I certain? No. But yesterday’s memorial service gave me sufficient pause, that in all good conscience, I must now consciously reconsider the totality of my opinion of Michael Jackson. Before forming a final opinion, I must look at the whole gestalt of his life and not allow myself to be distracted or disgusted by lurid headlines nor put off by his strangeness nor beguiled by his dazzling talent.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lee - great post.

It is certainly a challenge processing a personal (virtual?) association of 40 years with such a popular figure.

For Black folks, MJ came on the scene in an age when we would call up our family and friends whenever a person of color came on TV! It didn't matter - we starved for seeing our people in any media.

MJ was such a MAJOR TALENT that we adopted him like we adopted Tiger Woods when he broke through in golf (Tiger's my cousin we would say, lol). Black Pride, Black Identity, Black Self-esteem. MJ is ours. White folks can have Elvis.

What if MJ didn't have the skin disease? Or, what if he chose to make his skin color go to dark rather than to light (if that was clinically possible)? If he did nothing, his stage career would have been over a long time ago, in my opinion.

Perhaps his altering of his appearance ultimately failed; but his talents and influence rose to enormous heights.

We might have to regard his personal life as a disaster in the making from day one; something he couldn't harness and control.

Maya Angelou wrote "We Had Him". I think she was referring to our specific right to cultural claims. He was ours, he wasn't trying to be white in the sense of denying his people; he never left us.

I felt sad yesterday because, in my heart, I sensed that the 'media' graciously gave time and respect to the memorial but were chomping at the bit to get back to the business of reporting the dirt on MJ - IN THE FACE OF ALL THE PERSONAL ACCOUNTS OF WHAT A GREAT PERSON HE WAS!

I'll stop now. MJ was my cousin...

"Guided by the Ancestors"

Anonymous said...

The reason I have not really mentioned or blogged about Michael Jackson's death is that I too feel this uneasiness. I always feel that people suddenly turn someone into a saint when they die. The same people that accused, mocked, and terrorised him (the press) are now the ones who have not a bad word to say. As you so rightly say, in death the positive acts should be highlighted.

But there is still that 'thing'.. that discomfort, that uneasiness. I am terribly sorry for his children and family and the people who did love him. Also, the music industry has lost a true and real talent second to none.

As a person? Will we ever really know?

One thing that was mentioned by a local radio presenter which I think is very true.. Say what you like about the man, but he never had anything but love for everyone else. Have you ever heard him or even a report of him slandering or putting anyone else down? Never. The only words that ever came out of his mouth were those of love. That has to count for something.

I truly mean it when I say.. May his soul now rest in peace.

Ronnie x

Pink Granite said...

Hi George -
Thank you for providing such an important and personal perspective on MJ. Your words hit home when you wrote : "we starved for seeing our people in any media". You went where I could not go. And you articulated something I wondered about.
- Lee

Hi Ronnie -
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate knowing that I am not alone in struggling with trying to sort fact from fiction in putting Michael Jackson's life into some perspective.
- Lee

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee,
thanks for the nice words about Michael....I too was not a fanatic fan----I did listen to his music and had some favorites but now I that I have watched credible accounts of his life I am NOW a fanatic fan !!! so thanks for the summary.......Linda (carrie's friend)

Anonymous said...

I agree with your post Auntie Lee. I have always been a big fan of MJ growing up with his music. I watched the memorial too and was touched by all the heartfelt words of his family and friends. Yes he was eccentric and weird but if you grew up in that household...mmmmm Carrie

Pink Granite said...

Hi Linda -
It's so interesting that the recent flood of both information and music coverage drew you more powerfully to MJ after his passing.
Thank you for stopping by and for leaving a comment.
- Lee

Hi Carrie -
I share your thoughts about the family MJ grew up in. That really struck me when I saw his children unveiled - exposed if you will - apparently by their father's family. Perhaps it is the right decision, but it seemed to occur at a terribly vulnerable moment in their lives.
Thanks for sharing.
- A.L.