Monday, June 29, 2009

Violating the Corpse
I've been tempted to post something about Michael Jackson, but there isn't a lot I could say that presumably hasn't been said elsewhere, probably better. Watching NY1 Friday morning, as they were conducting person-in-the-street interviews near the Apollo Theater in Harlem, I was struck that every interviewee was African-American, and every one expressed nothing but love and admiration for the deceased King of Pop. That Jackson obviously had huge issues with his own blackness--the dude dyed his friggin' skin, after all--evidently didn't do him lasting harm in the African-American community. (Though I do wonder if anybody talked to Keenan Ivory Wayans, whose "In Living Color" I think it was that rhetorically asked the question "If it doesn't matter if you're black or white, why are you trying so hard to be white?")

My only other thought was that "Thriller" might have been the last near-universally appreciated piece of entertainment in our culture. I'm sure there were some cultural rejectionists in downtown Manhattan who poo-poohed it, and if I'd been five years older at the time maybe I would have done so myself. But as is, I defy you to find five people in a hundred who didn't enjoy something on or pertaining to that album--one of the videos at least. It's almost impossible to think of anything in our irreversibly fractured culture today that would generate as much love across lines of class, race, and tastes.

Of course, Michael Jackson lived for more than a quarter-century after "Thriller," and most of that didn't go so well. James Howard Kunstler, in one of the more spectacular speak-ill-of-the-dead performances I've seen, disses the late entertainer and draws a parallel that I think is overstated but still more than a little disturbing:

Eerie parallels resound between the sordid demise of pop singer Michael Jackson and the fate of the nation.
Like the USA, Michael Jackson was a has-been. He hadn't recorded a song worth listening to in over two decades. He had done almost nothing but spin his wheels, hop around the globe from one place to another at enormous expense, and make himself available for award ceremonies to stoke his ego (and give advertisers a reason to promote some televised award show). He existed strictly on image, an anorectic figure nourished by moonbeams of attention, famous for saying that he loved his worshippers when the truth was he merely sucked the life out of them. In his last years, he even looked a bit like Nosferatu, the personification of the un-dead, and his fascination with ghouls was the basis for his biggest hit way back in the last century. A zombie nation deserves a zombie mascot.

He was a poseur, vamping in weird military outfits as though he were a five-star general in the Honduran army, or a character from a melodrama by the reprobate Jean Genet. He once materialized during halftime at the Superbowl in a shower of sparks, thrilling the multitudes while grabbing and stroking his sex organs, as though that was a heroic activity -- and indeed the nation seemed to emulate him as its culture became dedicated more and more to acting out masturbation fantasies. America was a fat man jerking off on the sofa watching a vampire of no particular sex vogue deliriously on the boob tube.

More than once the authorities tried to pin charges of child molestation on him for suspicious activities at his boy-trap, Neverland Ranch, with its carnival rides, private zoo, video game galleries, and inexhaustible supplies of sugary treats. The first time he settled with the alleged victim's family for $22-million. They just walked away with the loot and happily shut up. The second time, he moonwalked out of a court-of-law while weeks later jurors mysteriously went on TV to say, well, they did kind of think after-the-fact that he really did those things he was accused of, but, you know...
When he dropped dead last week, the nation's morbidly maudlin response suggested a cover story for the relief of being rid of him and all the embarrassment he provoked. One CNN reporter called him a genius the equal of Mozart. That's a little like calling Rachel Maddow the reincarnation of Eleanor Roosevelt. A nation addicted to lying to itself tells itself fairy tales instead of facing a pathology report. Yet, like Michael Jackson, the undertone of horror story still pulses darkly in the background. The little boy who grew up to be the simulation of a girl was really a werewolf. The nation that defeated manifest evil in World War Two woke up one day years later to find itself stripped of its manhood, mentally enslaved to cheap entertainments, and hostage to its own grandiosity. Maybe in grieving so exorbitantly over this freak America is grieving for itself. All the loose talk about "love" from the media and the fans gives off the odor of self-love. America is "the man in the mirror," the gigantic, floundering Narcissus, sailing into the stormy seas of history.

Of course, Kunstler fits every current event into his constant we're-going-to-hell-ever-more-quickly narrative (which I find fun in some perverse way). And his reminders of Jackson's sordid conduct, irresponsible spending and truly spectacular narcissism probably provide some helpful balance to the orgy of look-at-me grieving in the mainstream. Still, I wouldn't want the guy writing my obituary...

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