On the flip side, we have the worldwide outpouring of grief for Michael Jackson. I don't think there's a sentient being in the inner Solar System who is unaware that the self-styled "King of Pop" died Thursday at the age of 50--and the tears, the sobbing, the rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth heard around the planet is deafening. Crowds of people massing in cities around the world moonwalking in the streets and celebrating his life, statements of condolence from notables ranging from President Obama and Nelson Mandela to Elizabeth Taylor and Donald Trump, from Diddy and Usher to Paul McCartney; anonymous people wailing, screaming, and generally losing their fucking minds on YouTube over Jackson's death, prisoners in a Filipino prison staging a mass performance of "Thriller" today in Jackson's honor, and even the internet itself slowing to a crawl as news of his passing swept the planet.
The circumstances surrounding his death are, typically for Jackson, suspicious and mysterious. Why did he have a live-in cardiologist? To what extent--because there is no doubt about it--were prescription narcotics a factor in his demise? But the real issue to me is the impact his life had on others, and the disproportionate amount of grief exhibited at his passing. You'd think that MJ was the Messiah, the Mahdi, and the Second Coming of Jesus all rolled into one, to listen to the crap on both the MSM and the internet! Somebody please tell me, what the hell did he do to really help people? Besides the usual crap of "his music made me feel good!" "His songs were my life!", and other such tripe. Did he ever go to Iraq to entertain the troops? Did he ever give a free concert for AIDS or breast cancer research? How about a donation to the United Negro College Fund, or to UNICEF? Yes, he did many acts to help children, but we know (or can guess) what that was really about. And how much more mileage can he get out of "We Are The World," anyway? That was twenty years and several noses ago! More importantly, did Jackson ever publicly admit his pedophilia and seek help?
Of course, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding "HELLL NO!" Michael Jackson was, in truth, an enormously rich, childishly irresponsible, self-indulgent, drug-addicted, self-hating, and sexually perverted individual, who pissed away literally hundreds of millions of dollars in the pursuit of self-satisfaction, and legal defense of his perversions. Could anyone else have his penis described in detail by a child, settle out of court, and not go to jail? Could your average person--hell, your average multimillionaire--have so many plastic surgeries that they no longer looked human, yet be accepted and adored by millions around the world? Could anyone else walk into a high-end jeweler or automobile dealer, and walk out with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cars or jewelry without paying for it, never pay for the goods at all, be sued for them, and then be able to repeat this performance over and over again?
Yes yes yes, I know: the privileges of fame. And Jackson was not alone in this behavior (*cough* MC Hammer), although he was one of the most celebrated examples of it. And before you call me a Jackson hater, let me say that I too grew up on his music, and enjoyed his songs and performances. But being an entertainer, in my mind, does not nearly compare to the contributions that a teacher, a doctor, a scientist, or an educator make to humanity. Michael Jackson may have spent nearly as much money on cars, clothes, real estate, jewelry, and "toys" (such as his own private amusement park, complete with elephants) as the dictator of a small banana republic, but what did he really give to the world, besides transient entertainment and lifetime employment for an army of lawyers?
The manner in which popular culture idolizes, acclaims, and obsessively tracks the lifestyles of the rich and famous is an old target, and criticizing the disproportionate attention given to media stars can make the speaker seem like a cranky, jealous curmudgeon. However, the old saw about "a coarsening of culture" has some truth to it. Celebrating and excusing the egregious, even criminal behavior of some music and movie stars, disproportionately glorifying them out of all bounds and continuing to support their behavior through the purchase of their products, their music and movies, does nothing for the common good, and makes despicable behavior seem common. People, please--he was just a singer and dancer! An enormously talented one, true, and a ground-breaking performer, but does anyone remember exactly what he did with his fame? Besides his victims?
Bill Wyman wrote yesterday in Salon:
In the obituaries, writers will savor Jackson's talents, which were unquestioned; his ambition, which was otherworldly and a thing of awe; and his heyday, which lasted really just a few years, and encompassed perhaps two and a half albums. Others will reflect on the tragedies visited upon him and those he visited on others.A suicide, yes, but an assisted one, I believe. When I compare the pleasure his music gave to me and others to the damage he caused in his life, I can come to no other conclusion than this: MJ was an enormous talent, and a gigantic asshole. And as for our society, which idolizes and excuses individuals like him, that makes us all assholes, too.
I think it's fair to classify Kurt Cobain's death as one brought on by medical problems, specifically the roiling interaction of depression and addiction. Jackson's death is in this sense more purely a suicide, just as Elvis Presley's was some three decades ago. Like Presley, Jackson at some point stepped through a door, closed it, and turned the key. What went on behind the door we'll never know.
A reader corrects my assertion that Jackson made few donations to charity; apparently, at one time he actually set a record for the most charities supported by a pop star, donating to 39 separate organizations and foundations. However, I believe in noblesse oblige, the idea that "with wealth, power and prestige come responsibilities." The fact that Michael Jackson donated some of his enormous wealth to charity is an expectation for me, not a reason for praise.