Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Michael Jackson Persona

A week ago Michael Jackson died and the world hasn't been the same.

On one hand tributes are being poured to mourn the loss of one of 20th Century's greatest entertainers and on the other hand there are serious discussions on the phenomenon that Michael was. Nothing surprising about all this since every celebrity death brings out this curious mixture of obituaries and amnesia. It's not that everyone has suddenly forgotten 'wacko jacko' or the oxygen tank or the pet chimp or the possible paedophile or the weird things he did but, somehow, all that is suddenly being explained with a certain degree of nuance. The context is amplified to condone the weirdness as if to say, it was quite normal except for... so and so reasons.

Now I don't expect the media to start lynching the late Michael Jackson so soon after his death but it makes me wonder... why was there so much of silence when he was still alive? If he was truly such a huge phenomenon whose quirks could be explained away, then, why wasn't it done when he was fighting a court case and fighting for his reputation?

I didn't exactly buy the paedophile argument because, somehow, he just came across -- at least, to me -- as a sad and immature and perpetually juvenile case. More weird than criminal. More insane than callous. More of a boy than a man. Thankfully, I haven't had a non-childhood like Michael Jackson and am sure neither did majority of people who disapproved of his lifestyle and the choices he made in life. Hence, we can't even begin to understand what it really means to live in a fish bowl since childhood, being under the glare of the media since the age of ten, being made aware of one's genius throughout one's life and to be constantly surrounded by people who delighted in taking advantage of you.

In some interview, he did comment that he preferred the company of children because they didn't 'see' him as the money making phenomenon that he was and accepted him just the way he was. And just the way he was didn't seem to be quite a pretty sight. The plastic surgeries augmenting some of the flaws he was reminded of. The elaborate wardrobe that seemed to hide the insecure child taught to suppress the boyhood glee. The grown up man unsure of his place in the company of his peers.

Now this is in no way a justification for some of the accusations or even a rationale to what Michael said about it being okay to sleep with little boys. I certainly don't think it's a good thing for any man to do whatever his or mental state may be.

It's just that the more I think of Michael Jackson as a human being, he seems like a truly tragic case. A sad spectacle of a man who was unable to live a full life despite having the resources to do so. Of course, his would be a perfect example of money's inability to buy happiness.

But then, again, if I really think deep into the issue... the obvious fact is, I really don't know Michael Jackson and, for that matter, neither does any of the scribes who have written loud commentaries on his life, his career, his legacy. What I know of him is what the media presented to me and to the rest of the world. We were given an image that we enjoyed and made it part of our lives. And now it is the loss of that image we mourn.

And for that matter, even the criminal Michael Jackson is an image that the media created and presented to us in ways that left many in no doubt about the man's leanings. Two images that were created, nurtured and sustained by a ruthless and insensitive media who saw a goldmine in Michael's rise, success, weaknesses and eventual tragedy.

The entire Michael Jackson phenonmenon -- the good and the bad -- was a media creation that we bought, believed in and made it an integral part of our consciousness. The image was manufactured and so was our response. We played into the hands of a cruel media monster who nurtured this phenomenon and then got bored of him and sought our help in bringing him down.

Unlike other similar casualties of media's cruelty, Michael Jackson had one thing going for him: he was incredibly talented. His music, his dance moves, the concerts and the videos provided a cultural and musical context to much of the 80s and the 90s. He was a one man music industry who was responsible for an album as unique as "Thriller". I'm not sure if any original album has - as yet - been able to surpass the magic of "Thriller" or any performer in recent times who can be such a powerful cultural and musical influence the way Elvis and the Beatles were.

But all that again is just one side of Michael Jackson. The only sad thing is that it is coming under greater scrutiny after his death when it is a little bit too late.

Better late than never, I guess.

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