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Tell 'em that it's human nature

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Tuesday, Jun 30, 2009

Am I weird? I don’t get Michael Jackson, any more than I get Britney Spears or the Jonas Brothers. I don’t quite get why he was such a big deal, and why the nation needs to mourn him collectively by playing his mostly mediocre music. (From his solo career, what is any good other than Off the Wall and “Billie Jean”?) I do get that he sold a zillion albums and was among the two or three most famous people on the planet, but what of it? Because of his fame—because, intentionally or not, he crossed some sort of line into a level of stardom that shouldn’t be reached—he had ceased to be a true object of human sympathy, because no one could know his experience. Bob Rossney (via Boing Boing) explains this well:


It strikes me that it never even occurred to me whether or not to forgive Michael Jackson.  In my mind, he was so far away from normative that the question of forgiveness seems totally irrelevant.  Not that his no longer really being human in any meaningful sense justified his actions, or mitigated the harm he did, but that it makes no more sense to judge the morality of his actions than it would to judge Henry Darger’s.  Their creepiness, sure. But this was a man (it’s a mark of how profoundly damaged Michael Jackson was that it feels strange to call him “a man”, just as it feels strange to recognize that when he died he was older than the President of the United States) who spent every day of his life embedded in a matrix of perverse incentives.  The terrain of his personal landscape was unrecognizable. I can understand the choices that my cat makes more deeply than I could understand the ones Jackson made.


It seems as though people are trying to resurrect the legend after the fact, as if to excuse the way our adulation destroyed him while he was alive. As Generation Bubble puts it:


To borrow the words of Z-Man, the villain of Russ Meyer’s immortal Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, pop superstardom was Michael Jackson’s happening, and it freaked him — as well as us — out.


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