Friday, June 26, 2009

The Death of Michael Jackson

Yesterday's sudden death of Michael Jackson brings a tragic close to a tumultuous life that was imprisoned by fame. The impact that Jackson had on music is undeniable and his songs will leave a legacy and provide a soundtrack that will provide an alternative narrative to the legal troubles that plagued Jackson in the later years of his life.

There is much that will be said over the next few days as news outlets and the entertainment media examine the different stages and developments of Jackson's life, but I just wanted to voice a couple of points are important to keep in mind. Jackson's childhood, (or lack thereof)where he was forced by his father to perform with his brothers, had a permanent and devastating effect on his mind and psyche. Jackson was trapped in a world where all he knew was fame and was never able to develop a true identity during his younger years. His identity became his persona and he spent the rest of his short life trying to find himself.

Jackson struggled to recapture some essence of a childhood by building the Neverland theme park, connecting with stories like Peter Pan, and finding friendships with children in a way that led him into court on charges of child molestation. Jackson changed his appearance through the majority of his career relying on cosmetic surgery to create an ambiguity surrounding his race, gender, and age and oddly enough, I agree that it is this behavior that widened his appeal to so many people. People could relate to Jackson and connect to some part of his persona through the epic music that he created and the image that he portrayed.

Juan Cole has a very interesting entry on Jackson and Islam today and makes this point:

Just as a stem cell can grow into any organ, Michael's eternal boyishness made him a chameleon. Increasingly androgynous, he expressed both male and female. A boy and yet a father, he was both child and adult. In part because of his vitiligo, he interrogated his blackness and became, like some other powerful and wealthy African-Americans of his generation, racially ambiguous. Toward the end of his life he bridged his family's Jehovah's Witness brand of Christianity with a profound interest in Islam. He was all things to all people in part precisely because of his Peter Pan syndrome. A child can grow up to become anything, after all.

In a way, the culture that loved Jackson also had a hand in destroying him. The fame and fortune that he received also imprisoned him. Michael Jackson altered himself to be everything to everyone while having no sense of self due to the his father's pursuit of fortune and fame. At the end of Juan Cole's post, he makes the point that the song that ties all of this together, is "Black or White" and I fully agree that this song fully relates to everything that was Michael Jackson.

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