Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Memorializing Michael Jackson (WTF?)

So, like just about everyone in the known universe, I watched at least part of the memorial service for the self-appointed King of Pop. Something kept bothering me about the whole thing, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Finally, I figured out that it wasn't just one thing, it was a whole cornucopia of things. So, another spoiler alert here: Michael Jackson is somewhat God-like in how people look at him, so any sort of criticism or perceived criticism is likely to draw some boos. Well, it's not really Mr. Jackson himself I'm necessarily critical of here, but I do have some issues with how we deal with the legacy of people who have died too soon, particularly famous people. So, here goes...

First of all, I had to leave in the middle of the service to take Mother to the dentist, so I didn't see all the speeches and performances, but of those I did, can I just ask someone to explain to me why Mariah Carey is considered such a huge talent? And did she really have to Diva it up and have a black sequined microphone? For once, couldn't she have had a regular microphone like everyone else? Okay, there is my catty comment for the day.

But more to the point, I think I was bothered by the fact that suddenly, with his death, Michael Jackson's reputation is becoming, if you will pardon the unintentional pun, white washed. I wondered how many people in the crowd at the Staples Center had used the derogatory "Wacko Jacko" at some point. More than a dozen, I'm willing to bet. I am not sure personally I ever called him that particular name, but my reaction to the last interview I saw him in - I think it was 60 Minutes a few years ago - was, "Wow. He is OUT there." And then the stuff about him making Barack Obama possible. C'mon, really? I think Barack Obama made Barack Obama possible. But, I'll grant you that African Americans as entertainers broke a barrier and melted racial lines in a way that more traditional civil rights activists could not. But, to single-handedly anoint Michael Jackson as that One Entertainer that made that happen is an insult to all the others who played their part. Michael Jackson is a part of the whole, there is no doubt. But, so are a whole lot of others: Chubby Checkers, The Supremes, Sammy Davis, Jr., Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and so on and so on and so on. For my family, it was Redd Foxx in Sanford and Son. I used to watch it, and it made my dad crazy. Dad, whether he knew it or not, was a racist. He ranted and raved that African Americans should have equal opportunity, but that didn't mean he should have to watch them on television. (Yes, he seriously said this.) But, I would catch him watching it with me. He would wander in after it had started as if I wouldn't notice. I remember one episode in particular - something about them having to pick up a grand piano - that had my dad laughing until he was nearly in tears. I knew I had him then. Barriers were broken that way and White America was made more comfortable with people of various ethnic backgrounds by first being entertained by them. Sad, maybe, but true. But, again, that was not an individual effort. I heard a few too many people give him a bit more credit than he earned over the last few days.

And then, what's up with all the platitudes being thrown to his parents, the father in particular? From everything I ever heard, it's pretty clear Michael Jackson's sundry issues had a genesis in how he was raised. I get how much pain his parents feel: trust me on that one. But, that doesn't suddenly make them saints. It doesn't erase the past. Related to that is the sudden sharp turn the press is taking on all the molestation rumors. Now they are quick to point out Michael Jackson was never convicted, and I've heard some even excuse all of that to misunderstanding his child-like nature. Give me a break. Ask any one of those reporters about it 365 days ago, they'd have told you he was as guilty as OJ.

Oh, and then, I thought California is bankrupt. Who then gets to pay what surely is an enormous bill for all that firepower I saw yesterday? I've never seen that many uniforms in one place outside of movies about D-Day.

All of this sounds harsher than I really mean it. But, I am troubled by our culture's tendency to gloss over the fact that people are complex and generally neither all good nor all bad when it comes time to eulogize them. In this particular larger-than-life man's case, that contrast is enormous. He was an amazing talent. Who among us doesn't have some Michael Jackson on our iPods? But, I for one cannot name a more troubled and complex psyche either. The fact that he died doesn't change that. And, I worry that massaging someones reputation in the face of an untimely death has consequences. In this case, if he really was guilty of molesting those kids, what does that do to them to have that brushed aside now? What does the adulation he's receiving post mortem tell the next troubled star?

I have a Dime Store Psychologist's theory about why we do what we do, which is that it's survivor's guilt. We feel guilty that they're gone and we're still here, so our gift to them and/or the cost we are willing to pay for our survival is to gloss over the complexities and shortcomings of the deceased.

Anyway, I chewed on all of this all day yesterday and, of course, it gave way to reflections on my own loss. What I finally decided is that I have to keep all aspects of Kelsey alive - even the less pleasant ones. I think the danger for us is to gloss over the bad times; the conflicts, the worry, the tension, the despair we all suffered, most of all her. I think that would do her a disservice actually. If all we remembered are the happier moments, it would belittle the battle she did with her disease. And, my goal is to take her struggle and go forward and use it to help others. If I downplay or lose sight of how rugged and awful living with the eating disorder was, I lose my ability to want to fight it in others. And, if I can't do that, then her life loses meaning, and it's important for that not to happen. Conversely, I cannot only dwell on those times. I need to remember there was a kinder, gentler person trapped inside. And I have to allow that she had some happy moments in her life too. And we had genuinely happy moments as a family. In short, I need all of her to stay with me. I don't want a white wash memory. So, I guess that's what I'll worry about and work on - and I'll stop worrying about what other people do or do not do to Michael Jackson's legacy now that I got all that off my chest.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVED Michael Jackson, however, I agree that all of this was blown WAY out of proportion, but that generally happens when the media is involved. Remember the media frenzy when
    Anna Nicole Smith died? The media even had the
    balls to compare Michael to Anna, in my opinion,
    those two names shouldn't even appear in the same sentence.