David B.




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July 2, 2009

Michael Jackson: Manufactured Grief for a Manufactured Man


There is little that is worthwhile to say about Michael Jackson, and there hasn’t been for many, many years. His immense musical talent offset by utter incapacity in virtually every aspect of his mad, miserable life, Jackson did precisely what crazed savants have almost always done: Peak early, decline dramatically and kick their own buckets prematurely.


Since his debut as the horsewhipped child star at the center of the Jackson 5 in the late 1960s, there has been nothing about his machine-made career or dismal and unwholesome personal life that has not been wholly predictable. Anyone who didn’t think him doomed to die prior to a mythic, prescripted “comeback” engagement at London’s 02 Arena simply wasn’t paying attention.


What is worthwhile to note is America’s response to Jackson’s readymade implosion. Within milliseconds of the moment his diseased heart stopped beating, the web and the airwaves were awash in expressions of plasticene shock, sorrow and dismay. Sensing the arrival of their allotted 15 minutes of fame, a succession of distant Jackson associates lined up for interviews, offering their vapid individual perspectives on Jacko’s crash to Earth while interviewers and anchors solemnly nodded, a Greek chorus of readymade mourners certifying his death as a bona fide Event Of Great Importance.


As ratings-friendly spectacles go, we hadn’t seen its like since Princess Diana’s Mercedes kissed a concrete pillar at 100 miles per hour. Like Jackson, Diana of Spencer had long since been eclipsed as a human being by the mammoth media-generated CipherDiana that surrounded and engulfed her – a waving blonde tabula rasa upon which the world’s proles could project their affections, aspirations, hopes and ideals. When the “People’s Princess” met her grisly end, transatlantic convulsions of horror and grief oozed from every television screen and collected like filtered toxins in countless millions of individual consciousnesses. All the world, it seemed, mourned a woman it had never known and never met as her larger-than-life public personage collapsed like a captive balloon in a Macy’s parade.


And thus it is with Jackson. Forgotten is the malignant voyeuristic drooling that accompanied his child sex scandals, the mockery that met his disastrous plastic surgeries and erratic public behavior. With his demise, we have come to meet a new, improved media-generated SuperMichael, the misunderstood and tragic Tormented Genius of Neverland, somehow scrubbed clean of his psychoses and malfeasances, magically transformed into the same sort of sainted blank slate that the tens of millions who’d long since ceased buying his records could suddenly use as the focus for their pent up frustration, sorrow and pain.


When Michael Jackson evolved from universally-popular King of Pop into carnival freak in the early ‘90s, it was as if he had betrayed the entirety of MTV-worshipping planet: We didn’t mind quirkiness, eccentricity or arrogance in our music stars, but deranged vulnerability was beyond the pale. Thriller posters and single white gloves were discarded en masse, to be replaced by eagerly-thumbed copies of supermarket tabloids documenting various facets of the Jackson malaise – financial failure, alleged pederasty, sham marriages, physical deformity. Jackson remained a product. He was simply sold to the public in a different package with a distinctly ugly aftertaste.


His inevitable rendezvous with the grave has transformed him yet again – the sainted phantom of Neverland, the eternally lost little boy-man devoured by his own success. This, too, is a media-made myth, a cipher wrapped around a cipher wrapped around a cipher surrounding an empty core and enfolded in that most becoming celebrity shroud – death. Death is Michael Jackson’s biggest hit of all, a top-of-the-charts classic that resonates across class, language and culture, uniting legions in the universal language of manufactured grief for a manufactured man. Humanity looked at this “Man In The Mirror” in the ‘80s and saw acrylic-coated cool. Seeing its reflection now, only oblivion stares back.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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