He may have given something to language, to assist language in imagining somebody who can somehow simultaneously authenticate the many terms and descriptions that can be used to talk about that person: strange, ridiculed, brilliant, innocent, utterly humane, angelic, outrageous, tortured, mystical, mysterious, generous, pure, genius, love, and much more. He wasn’t a god, but more personification of myth; indeed, it’s not easy to imagine what he could do, did, had, and would’ve yet been through.
The way the media-saturated eye watched his physical transformations was not mere fixation, but rather qualifies as public meditation on the human body’s possibilities—through one person’s life-span—a meditation through awe, that, because of fame, tissues of courage to transform his face evolved and were nourished, courage that had filial alliances with pop-stardom’s restless sense of vanity. Sometimes it’s not easy to locate the child prodigy and genius musician in those transformations, as though what constitutes a stellar career is only prelude and financial support for his body’s desired transformations.
Questionable or not, there’s proof that a skin condition had changed the color of his complexion. But almost simultaneously, as his skin-color lightened, his facial structure and features went through transformations as well. And because of this dual and concurrent physical evolution, critics accused him of doing what should’ve been impossible for the human body: morphing the body’s appearance to the point where he was accused of somehow changing the race in which his body was once categorized.
And yes, he couldn’t ignore the insinuations and blunt accusations leveled by critics for this perception of him, and he was very hurt. But the depth of these opinions was no match to his understanding of the plasticity of human form—that, by any means, it can be modified and made to obey one’s will. On the other hand, these physical changes may not be mere modifications, but can be viewed, I think, as attempts at composing and tirelessly sculpting a visage, a face that suited not his moods, but rather an ever-changing sense of himself in his performances, on-stage, his music.
In this regard, he understood how the public eye and its senses had perceived him. He understood the illusions and fantasies the public wanted to imagine and become a part of in his art, especially the shocks and surprises that public eye wants to be thrilled by, because of the way he raises entertainment beyond the limits of mere performance. There are many pop-stars who can elevate entertainment to higher levels of theater, but for him entertainment aspired to religious ritual of sorts, ritual that could be translated into public spirit itself.
In many ways, he aspired to be catalyst for world peace, and we understand he meant the world that contains billions of people. But no doubt, this aspiration also underlined the world of conundrums in his life: aspects in his childhood he couldn’t escape, public perceptions about his relationship with children and animals, his family life, his lifestyle, the molestation charges, and, certainly, the forms and deformations his face had been through.
Because of this chaos, we can respectfully say, “May he rest in peace now,” but if we view ‘rest’ in a different light, we may have already witnessed him resting in peace, before our very eyes, when he was still alive, in his years as artist. The stage, his music, his art, and his performances all constitute spaces of restful peace for him, because in them he found his center, and soared high in harmony with himself, as music itself, for and in the world. And then off-stage, of course, was his other stage: realities he had to go through which gave his art and music dimensions that hit some of the highest notes of universal accessibility. That’s why there is no final resting place for Michael Jackson, because the world cannot afford him to go there, because the world cannot stop playing and being in his music.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.