Monday, June 29, 2009

King of Pop Rocks

As 95% of the world has facebook-status-updated, twittered or read about at this point, Michael Jackson is dead. Lynn Crosbie, naturally, is feeling pretty blue.

I've previously called out Leah McLaren, another Globe columnist, for being a boring narcissist, but I've never had any actual contact with her. Lynn and I, on the other hand, have had an email spat. It involved the proper definition of the wifebeater tank top and culminated in her accusing me of being "old." Since she's, oh, twenty years older than me, it naturally got my back up.

In any case, I take umbrage with Crosbie because her favorite game is comparing Hollywood celebrities to Greek tragedies, which is a metaphor that was old when Elizabeth Taylor made Cleopatra - coincidentally, a product also created in 1963, much like Lynn. It just seems so trite, and obvious, and annoying. She also has a major hate-on for OJ Simpson, which makes her whole MJ thing so bizarre.

See, in Lynn's final words to Wacko Jacko, she mentioned his childhood, his tragic relationship with fame, his crazy adult life, and his metaphorical relationship with fame, especially his marriage with Lisa Marie Presley. You know? King of Rock 'n' Roll, King of Pop? Yeah. Throw a little King of The World in there, and you've got the whole she-bang. But nowhere in her flouncy little piece does she mention the fact that Michael Jackson turned from a black child into...well, certainly not a black man. Lynn's piece never mentions race.

There are "reasons" for Jackson's metamorphosis, including lupus and pancake makeup. However, there are also "reasons" like plastic surgery and skin bleaching. It's possible that the biggest reason might the fact that Jackson was a person who straight-up loathed himself. The Jackson Five released their first single when Michael was only nine years old, and Jackson admitted to Oprah in 1993 that he suffered beatings and humilations at the hands of his father from a young age. It's not a total shock that the man turned out to be freaky. As Britney proved, young fame can equal the crazy. As thousands of destroyed adults can attest, childhood abuse ain't no stroll in the greenery.

Now, keep that equation of monstrous childhood fame + insane childhood trauma in your mind as you cast yourself back to the 1970s and 1980s. There was no Obama back then. There was a film genre called blaxploitation, for christ's sake. Jackson, being a child star, was practically castrato. On the other hand, Jackson, being a black man, was "supposed" to be sexually potent. On the third hand, Jackson was an alleged anorexic, falling into a category of folks who aren't known for their self-acceptance. On the fourth hand, he has been accused of being gay (not to mention having an affinity for young boys) for the past 15 years. (On the fifth hand, I've turned into a mutation and need to stop this handsy business.) Michael Jackson was a man who just did not turn out well - mentally, physically, or emotionally.

Lynn Crosbie chooses to open her memorial by quoting Shelley's poem "Adonais," which seems a bit cruel. She follows up that stunner by moving on to the great poets of the 20th century. Any guesses? Air Supply. Yup, Crosbie can't live if living is without Michael Jackson. What is that? Look: I was never an MJ fan, since I was a ten year old girl when he started running into trouble with ten year old boys. His cultural relevance peaked the year I was born, so my memories of Jackson aren't of a musical and dance genius, but of a man who was dodging rumors and pulling publicity stunts.

However, Crosbie would have been 20 in 1983, and would have been a part of the massive take-over Jackson enacted on pop music. She would have been around for both the black and white versions of Jackson, and should have been able to toss off an analysis of his racial imbroglio without a second thought. In fact, given her writing about OJ Simpson, she should have zeroed in on that. And...she failed. Her memorial, with the Air Supply and the Adonais, with the Elvis comparisons and the Blanche Dubois shout-outs, was superficial.

Lynn: Michael Jackson was a tragedy. Not a Greek tragedy; a modern mess that is embedded in our time's obsession with race, fame, childhood, sexuality and the bizarre. Michael Jackson - the true MJ, who was successful and powerful, who fed an adoring audience amazing, world-changing music - died years ago. We've been watching his ghost for years.

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