“Leave Me Alone” by Michael Jackson is the first music video I remember seeing, as a 4 year old, lying on our off brown, ‘flower’ patterned sitting room carpet. “Sledgehammer” also blew me away, but Peter Gabriel wasn’t an ubiquitous presence—he didn’t suggest the everythingness, the implicit importance, the
shiny, luminous liminal image of the ‘King of Pop’.
Michael Jackson lives down the stairs in a basement flat. Sometimes he ventures up into the outside world—I see him, I’ve got a good view—and will pick up a pint of milk. Rumour has it that, like Jerry Seinfeld, he’s very fond of cereal. He likes to watch TV quiz shows and re-runs of Cheers...
I am being incredibly obscure, I know. But, bear with me, there is a sort-of point: Michael Jackson is a perennial stranger, an eccentric character with an upbringing which dwarfs any Philip Larkin-esque conception of the fucked up. A weird guy subject to the gaze of popular culture on him for his entire adult life, his talent and his marketing elevating him to a media phenomenon.
He was responsible in part for some of the greatest pop music and, more importantly, the creation of Justin Timberlake. He was an icon and now he’s dead. But why does it take a death to kick off this frenzy? Are these just reflex responses or proper reflections? In a year’s time, will we care? After the 2 minutes grief is up, do we just revert to normal and continually poke a different person who—by choice or by coincidence—is famous and very strange? Smiling sadism is a peculiar result of giving a human life the narrative of a soap opera.
Jackson was no innocent, either. I mean, the mores that go along with an adult—a naive one—doing most of his socialising with pre-teen kids are pretty clear. It ain’t too cool. People talk, joke, gossip, sue. In the end what we’re left with is the music, some of which is fantastic (Off the Wall), some way too cloying and self parodic (Dangerous), and a collage of ephemera from a hypermediated life—images of music videos, awards ceremonies, tabloid headlines, blogs, and words, words, words…
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