Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Universal grief & the Michael Jackson memorial

When an icon dies there’s often a wrenching twist to the heart & stomach, with a realisation of our own mortality, and the passing of our youth. The icon becomes a totem for each loss one has suffered, plastered across the world’s media.

It happened with unprecedented intensity after the Princess of Wales was killed and, again, this past week after the sudden unexplained death of Michael Jackson, this seeming desperate sadness, and a recognition of universal grief. Yet.

Yet. It’s not really grief for the icon, is it? And watching the news packages of the memorial service for this complicated man last night it seemed that the audiences worldwide were luxuriating in a tempest of grief that seemed wholly shallow. The people interviewed in the street, distraught, literally renting their clothes, puffy eyed and snotty nosed. They weren’t crying for Michael. They were crying for themselves. And I’d bet good money that many of these emotional wrecks with their disproportionate reactions were exactly the same people who bayed for Jackson’s blood back at the time of the child abuse accusations.

Jackson’s music was extraordinary. For many it did change the world around them, gave them, at the beginning at least, an African American role model in a disprportionately white arts & media world. He provided a soundtrack for the lives of millions, including myself. But I don’t make the mistake of allowing my passion for his glorious music to override the fact that this was a tormented, unhappy man.

A man who spent the last years of his life shunned by the very people who have lined up to give sound bites about how much they loved him. I can’t remember who it was last night who said that Jackson gave up his childhood for me, for all of us, and I thought, no he didn’t, he gave it up for money and for fame, whether or not he was too young to make that decision.

The memorial service was in such bad taste that I could barely stand to watch. Memorial services should be hyperbolic: they are there to celebrate not to judge, but this seemed less of a celebration and more of a showcase for many of the stars who flocked to get on the Jackson bandwagon.

Stars like Usher who seemed to think it was all about them, the Rev Al Sharpton who seems to believe that Michael Jackson is a candidate for sainthood for the cause, regardless of the fact that Jackson hated his African American heritage so vehemently that he endured constant plastic surgeries and raised three children who looked nothing like him. Brooke Shields was the only person to speak of him as a real person that she knew well & loved.

But most shameful of all was that Jackson, who went to such complicated ends to ensure the privacy of his children, must surely have been turning in his grave to see his attention hungry family parading his confused, and sometimes terrified looking children in front of a global audience. It was a travesty.