Try as anyone might, this Michael Jackson stuff isn’t going away anytime soon. I think there’s a reason. A host on radio show that I won’t name (other than to say that it’s an affiliate of a network that I badmouth from time to time), said that all this Michael Jackson stuff is a “distraction”. Well, clutch the pearls! Duh! Is anyone really saying that it isn’t? BESIDES AL SHARPTON. What I think is this: all of this hoopla isn’t so meaningless as it’s been dismissed by those who insist that we discuss “serious” topics. I’ve found that behind every act of seeming stupidity, there is an earnest attempt to make sense of something. For some people, I’ve observed, especially the masses collectively referred to as “fans”, they aren’t so much mourning the loss of a beloved cultural icon, as what they are mourning is the loss of themselves. Listening to a lot of talk radio, listening to callers led me to this conclusion. There was something that I realized that all of the callers had in common: There’s an age range for whom Michael Jackson was (is) a pretty big deal — so-called Generation X (those folks, like me, that were born between 1965 and 1981). We were the MTV Generation. The first to experience the magic and majesty of the 24-hour video channel. It was pretty awsome back then. It’s especially more awsome to remember when MTV actually played music videos. The deal is, is that with many of my generation, we can relate nearly every moment of our early childhood to something we saw on MTV. A first kiss to a Duran Duran video, learning that Milton Berle had a career before he was in those Ratt videos, the value of a great pair of Hammer pants… Really. Try this one out: ask your local Gen-X’er what was the first video they saw on MTV. Make sure that you have plenty of time to spare, because the answer is bound to include such non-interesting details as rememberances of grade school dodgeball misshaps, and the halloween that I, I mean, they dressed up as Prince, and when music videos were actually filmed on video (this is kind of like those old farts who call themselves film purists who say that the only good porn was when porn was shot on film. Apparently, these people have never seen the fantastic work of Ben Dover). Anyway. For the record, the first video I saw on MTV was Bryan Adams’ “Cuts Like A Knife”. I’ve hated him ever since. For my generation, so much of our childhood memories are dominated by memories of Michael Jackson — watching the video “Thriller”, watching the Motown 25 special and seeing the Moonwalk for the first time, the Pepsi commercial, seeing Captain EO at Disneyland, that episode of The Simpsons with Michael as that fat dude who says he’s Michael Jackson and sings that really sweeet birthday song to Lisa… Weird Al. I remember the first movie that ever really creeped me out as a kid was The Wiz — co-starring Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. The second, by the way, was The Dark Crystal. I don’t know what kids Jim Henson had in mind when he made this movie, but I think that he didn’t like them very much, because the only kids I would show a movie that disturbing to would be to a bunch of kids that I didn’t like. I swear that’s not a kids’ movie. It’s freakin creepy! What I think is, and why so much of our memorializing if Michael Jackson is so focused on the pre-molestation allegation Michael is because, nostalgia, in general, tends to set the past as clearer than it was. we only see the good. Back before all that he-touched-those-kids-and-we-all-know-it business, Michael was good. He was clean. You can trust your grandma and your dog with the guy (as opposed to say, someone like Prince, who you know would do any warm-blooded, breathing, female within fifty miles, if given the chance). The Michael that we grew up with is symbolic of a simpler time. Death, fortunately or unfortunately, amplifies the symbolism. Death washes away the bad, the things that we don’t want to remember. I remember when Richard Nixon died. Sure, there was a lot of thank god he’s dead, but there was also quite a bit of ‘now that we look at it, he wasn’t such a bad president’ going on. The same with Reagan. I remember hearing people that hated Reagan giving him a prop or two after his death. It’s because when we die, it’s all over. We can forget (or at least temporarily ignore) that Michael Jackson was a more than mildly creepy guy, who looked frighteningly like Japanime (Ash from Pokemon gets my vote). We’ll forget that the guy had become a joke, a punchline. He was the target of a running joke in at least two Scary Movie movies. Michael Jackson was Carrie at the prom. We’d dumped the pig’s blood on his head and now we were having a good belly laugh at the freak. I figure now, when Paul Rubens dies, that we’ll elevate him to the greatest commedian ever platform — totally ignoring all that pulling his pud in a porn theater stuff. Death washes away the brutalities and unpleasantness, which is exactly what we’re bombarded with every day on the internet, on the radio, and on TV. Things are so damned unpleasant out there, who wants to focus on the now? Over the past six years or so (and I’m not blaming Bush exclusively), the world has become a much more unpleasant place to live. It’s really gotten much more Hobbsianesque. Life, for many people is nasty, brutish and short. When I was a kid, the Soviets were the bad guys. We were always in danger of being obliterated at any moment. Living near a military base made that possibility much more probable. There were movies like Red Dawn, Wargames, Russkies and Moscow On the Hudson, that made the point of scaring the ever-loving poop out of people as to what war with Mother Russia might be like. Sting asked if the Russians love their children, too. Frankie Goes to Hollywood told us what will happen whent two tribes go to war, Falco warned us about “Der Kommissar”. But as long as war with the Reds meant mutually assured destruction, we could count that a real war was unlikely. The Russians may have been crazy, but they weren’t stupid. Attack would mean suicide. (if you kill a planet, is it geocide?) But with our present-day enemies, killing themselves seems to be a part of the plan. Our enemies are everywhere, we don’t know where they are. And they’re always plotting against us, we’re told. Dirty bombs, terrorist sleeper cells, bio weapons, IEDs, suicide bombings, religious extremism — all a part of the daily who-hates-us-now update. This kind of everyday bad tidings makes one kind of nostalgic for a past when all we had to fear was being vaporized by crazy Ivan. We had the luxury of knowing where the Russians lived, what the looked like, and that they could be reasoned with. Today, we have enemies that jsut don’t seem to be in the mood to accept the fact that we exist, let alone be open to any sort of reasoning. It’s quite easy to understand why people would drown themselves in the mythos of a man who represents a good and simple past. And who better to symbolize that blissfully simple past than blissfully simple Michael Jackson? Michael liked climbing trees, for goodness sakes! Since we tie Michael Jackson to our own childhood memories, we see his end as an end of our childhood. Like Michael, our childhood is gone permanently. I’d heard the same thing go down about focusing on the trivial at the expense of the important some time ago when we weren’t paying attention to what was going on in Somalia. I can’t remember who said it, but who did said it on that aformentioned unnamed network. The person said that Americans were suffering from a bad case of Mogadishu-itis. All the coverage of the war and destruction was sensory overload. I think the same is going on now. I mean, think about it: we’ve got wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan (neither going as well as they should), Pakistan is on the brink of collapse every other week, Iran’s no better, North Korea seems determined to start something, let’s not forget the Israelis and the Palestinians, the economy is in the shitter, there’s H1N1 (that always looks a little like the nine inch nails logo to me at first glance), global warming is worse than we ever dreamed of, not to mention all the everyday shit that goes on — it’s too much. I used to watch the same movie alot. Every day. It sucked, but I watched it. For years. I’d get home, and pop it in the DVD player (if it wasn’t there already). I realized that watching that movie, as stupid as it was, was kind of like a blankey. It was a nice, warm place where I could snuggle up and not worry about the world. It made me feel good. It made me feel happy. There were days when I would watch it more than once — just to feel better. I think that’s what’s going on here. Michael Jackson, however strange or distracting it may be, has become our collective blankey. Even though what we’re doing is snuggling up to death. But, it’s not about Michael at all. It’s about how we feel. I heard Ted Koppel lamenting on NPR that all this Michael Jackson coverage (and other sensational “news”) takes away from what we should be paying attention to. Does anyone know what Obama and Putin talked about? Does anyone notice that the economy is collapsing? Yes. They do. It’s called multitasking. It’s not that people are stupid (because people aren’t), or that people don’t care about what really matters. It’s that we can focus on more than one thing at one time. For some people, thinking is dichotomous — it’s an either/or. You’re either with the president or you’re with the terrorists. You’re either a lover of freedom of a lover of the New World Order. (I suppose you can guess which side they’d say that Michael Jackson fans are on). Maybe some people are incapable of of doinf this, but I know that I can appreciate the music and influence (and cultural significance) of Michael Jackson and worry about instability in the world’s financial markets at the same time with the same brain. Besides, I don’t see all of this as such a unnewsworthy or trivial thing as other people do. There is much to be learned from all of this. Why do we care or seem to care more about Michael Jackson than we care about what’s going on in Islamabad? What does all this say about what kind of people we are? I’d say it shows that we are thoughtful. Roseanne Barr said that this Michael Jackson stuff (she probably wanted to say something a little harsher, but she was on radio and there’s a FCC out there) is like an OCD. She said that it has nothing to do with reality (I’ll quibble with what “reality” is later), and that the people who are upset by Michael’s death and following all the coverage should “get a life”. I don’t doubt that there are some people who are simply lookie-loos who are enraptured by the celebrity. But I also say that, when someone offhandedly dismisses an event like this as unworthy of attention and calls those who are genuinely heartstruck “stupid”, that they are the ones who are missing the point. A little bit of thinking would inform those who do not see any purpose to any of this(the haters) that this has very much to do with life. I know that watching these past two weeks, I have thought a great deal about race, gender and sexual roles (in particular as those roles relates to the representation of African-American men in popular culture), what is justice and was it served during the Jackson molestation trial?, the significance of music and celebrity and how each plays a part in what we think is the meaning of life (mine in particular), was Martin Bashir the true moral fiend (in his interview with Jackson) and did he set Michael up?… I’d say that’s quite a bit of thinking squeezed from such a trivial event. So now that I’m in such a nostalgic mood, what I’m wondering about more than anything, is where the hell is Mark Goodman?