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So, one thing I've been meaning to write about: the death of Michael… - CERisE's Testing for L

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June 29th, 2009

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11:00 pm
So, one thing I've been meaning to write about: the death of Michael Jackson.

There's three reasons why it's of interest to me. The first of which is that while death tends to be a very emotional topic for people, it's rare you see the sort of outpouring which happened when Jackson died. Secondly, I'm very interested in public perceptions of people -- especially people like Jackson who essentially never had a life that wasn't in the public eye.

Thirdly, of course, I was a fan of his music. A very long while ago, I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Sherman Oaks Galleria -- the very same Galleria which Frank Zappa made famous.

I used to hang out with a musician who used to play gigs in Lancaster every so often -- he lived across the street from us. Inevitably, as we were packing everything up, we'd start bullshitting with the other musicians and the regulars who were still hanging out at the bar. One of them once said to me that "C'mon now. Everyone loves Michael." -- I wasn't so sure. This was during his second trial and there wasn't a whole lot of positive sentiment towards him.

Ultimately, the response that people had to his death proved it. It's magical when people feel the need to gather for an event like that. They gathered outside the hospital where his body was -- not because they'd see anything, but because they felt that they had to be around other people.

To be honest, I'd forgotten about all the things that his music had accomplished until then. It seems almost quaint now, but he was the first black artist on MTV.

Anyway, as one might expect, there have been a lot of jokes about the child molestation charges. Our criminal justice system is by no means perfect, but it's better than most of the alternatives. Jackson was definitely a weird character -- spending that sort of time in the public eye puts me in mind of a certain South Park episode to say nothing of his upbringing.

Still -- if a man is subject to two criminal trials and acquitted in both, shouldn't we pronounce him innocent?

There's exceptions to be fair -- O.J. Simpson, for example, spent at least $4 million for his defense in the criminal and civil charges of the murder of his wife. That behavior smacks of wealthy patrons buying indulgences from the Catholic Church. We preserve the right of anyone to be defended in a trial, but could anyone demand the defense team that O.J. had? It's partially that reason which makes it seem like a miscarriage of justice -- that and the DNA evidence against him.

But there really was no such evidence against Jackson. Do we believe it because he was weird? Certainly anyone who looked through the auction catalogue of effects from his ranch would think he was a bit off kilter.

Is that why we've indicted him in spite of what the justice system says?

To be honest, I don't know. But I am glad that -- in whatever capacity it exists -- he's at peace.

Postscript: I found out about his death when I came home from work that day. A friend of mine had commented on Rachel Maddow and I was persuaded to see one of her shows and judge her brand of journalism for myself. As it happens, it was pre-empted by the coverage of Jackson's body being taken to the morgue. One clip they kept showing was the transfer of his body from the helicopter to the coroner's van -- something that Keith Olbermann commented on: This otherwise larger-than-life celebrity had the same end that we're all fated to have at some point.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 30th, 2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your eloquence in expressing something I've felt. He was weird. He was different. He was a great man who brought a lot of change and a desire for a better place. He was also crucified. I hope he knew that even now despite all the negative press and expressions, he was also loved.
[User Picture]
Date:June 30th, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)
I don't know if I believe MJ to be completely innocent of all charges - money can buy a lot of things - but it can also leave one open to a lot of attempts at extortion, so I'll leave it at that. He was a very talented individual, and while I enjoyed some of his music, I must admit I don't feel the emotional connect going on around much of the world. He deserves some respect, but I'm tired of the new hijacking, thank you.

[User Picture]
Date:June 30th, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC)
I hear you on the emotional bit. The main reason I felt compelled to write about this is because in this day and age, it takes a lot to bring people together. How odd that the death of Jackson should be the thing to do it. That part feels almost like something in a fairy tale to me.

If I were any sort of writer at all, I'd dream up some story where the death of someone past their prime drew people out of the woodwork like that.

It's probably better for the world that I'm as useless with fiction as I am with art.
[User Picture]
Date:June 30th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
That should have been 'news hijacking'.

I'm not sure if I agree with you on the 'drawing people out of the woodwork like that'. Because it seems to me this happens a lot anymore, when an 'icon' dies. I was not surprised by it happening at all when I heard about Michael Jackson's death. The same happened w/ Princess Di. I imagine the same will happen when someone of similar fame passes away, such as Johnny Depp, or Madonna, or anyone who has enough fans. It's the cult of personality in my viewpoint. It might not even have to do with how talented they are, or how many movies they made/albums they sold, but how much they are in the media at some point.

Media saturation + prettiness/weirdness (something for people to associate/connect with) = outpouring of sorrow?

Perhaps I'm too jaded or something.
[User Picture]
Date:June 30th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
I agree to an extent, but I can't think of anyone except Princess Di in recent memory who caused that sort of event. The closest I guess would be Heath Ledger -- frankly, I didn't understand THAT one -- but even he didn't get quite the same attention. Just a bunch of internet yammerings.

The only other time I can really think of is when power went out in New York like 5 years ago and everyone gathered out in the streets to try and figure out what to do in the meantime.

(On a sidenote: While I was in SF (and listening to a ton of Michael Jackson), it hit me that we've arrived at the point in our lives where we should start expecting to hearing of people like Madonna, Matthew Broderick, and Boy George kicking the bucket.)
[User Picture]
Date:June 30th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
Also, don't say I didn't warn you about the post. ;)
[User Picture]
Date:June 30th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
Actually, it's not 'bad' at all, very well thought out!
[User Picture]
Date:July 5th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
I was a big fan of Michael Jackson as a young child, and I have so many memories. I still remember being taunted ruthlessly in 5th grade for doing my biography assignment on MJ (this was shortly after the first child molestation allegations started flying) and bringing in an MJ song when we had to analyze song lyrics for a class assignment. I practiced dancing as a child by trying to follow (mostly unsuccessfully) his moves in "Black or White", probably my favorite song when I was about 6 or 7. This man's dancing was incredible. If you look at videos of Justin Timberlake such as "My Love", you can hear and see the tremendous influence of Michael Jackson and yet, when you compare the two side by side, Timberlake's dancing looks downright slow and sloppy next to Jackson's. On the subject of "Black or White", since this is the earliest exposure I had to MJ that I can recall, I remember hearing a lot of jokes about him being a black man who looked like a white woman (these jokes have been around for 20 years now). I remember seeing a parody of "Black or White" on some sketch comedy show like "In Living Color" that was along the lines of "I don't know if I'm black or white". To my child mind, he did not seem like a man or a woman, black or white. I thought he was in a class of his own, one of a kind, too cool for labels. He was like living proof that individuality is greater than distinctions of race, gender, age, and sexuality. As the scholar Donna Haraway once said of him, he is the representative from Earth in the Disney 3-D film "Captain EO" (the most expensive movie ever made on a per minute basis, directed by Francis Ford Coppola) because he is both man and woman, black and white, gay and straight, adult and child.

Also, he wasn't just the first black artist featured on MTV (interesting, I didn't know that). He is credited with turning the music video into a true art form with his video for "Thriller" and basically guaranteed the overwhelming success of MTV. Before "Thriller" came out, music videos were usually just shots of a band playing and were only seen as a promotional tool. He and Lionel Richie started the trend of celebrity philanthropy with the song "We Are the World". He was the first Western artist to play in Russia after the USSR collapsed. I don't recall seeing any of these facts on the accomplishments page you linked to, but they are definitely worth noting because of their cultural impact. Plenty of celebrities are remembered for popularizing some dance move, or for one hit song; MJ's list of accomplishments is a mile long.

I don't want to get too carried away with the sentiment here, but yes, I would compare his death to the death of Princess Di. It's tragic not just because he was an amazing performer or just because he died younger than we might hope, but also because he was about to go on his last massive worldwide tour--a tour which sold out faster than any other in history, with 700,000--yes, 700,000--tickets selling in four hours. That leaves a lot of people really disappointed. It just goes to show that even with all of the charges brought against him, all the gossip and all the crazy celebrity weirdness, he was hugely popular even when he was still alive.

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