Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the death of michael jackson

Step aside swine flu. As far as over-hyped headline news goes, Jacko's death has no peer. The station bent over backwards trying to localize this mega-event. We got local Jacko fan reaction throughout the city immediately following his death. We got video of local mourners contributing flowers, letters and old album covers to a makeshift memorial set up outside the Mellon Arena -- the venue where Michael Jackson's last performed in the city. We got sound from a woman who had been at the show (back in 1990-something) and how it changed her life forever. We also got sound with a local DJ speaking about his iconic status and speculating there would never be an individual artist more influential in pop music. We also interviewed a couple who had tickets to see his next scheduled performance in London and how, with his death and the concert's cancellation, their year is now ruined.

Before Jackson's memorial service, we got our mike in front of Jackson's personal trainer, Lou Ferrigno, who just so happened to be in town for some sort of health-awareness event, but the Hulk was too distraught by the news to comment upon the tragedy. We covered Jackson's memorial service in Los Angeles live along with every other local news station, as well as live-streamed the video on our website. We got same-day fan reaction from university campuses and Hill District barber shops and from the owner of a guitar store who provided good video of an impressive collection of Jackson memorabilia. We got a before-and-after exclusive with a local resident who won the lottery for a ticket to Jacko's memorial service. Days later, she was still wearing the wristband needed to access the pen of humanity from which she viewed the memorial and, with tears in her eyes, told our reporter she had no intention of ever removing it.

Some might accuse me of being insensitive by referring to Jackson by his derogatory nickname "Jacko," and they might be right, but not because of any particular animus toward the King of Pop. Granted, I've never been a Michael Jackson fan, even before a team of plastic surgeons did his bidding and turned him into an effeminate, aracial marionette. Even before the pedophilia fly flew into his soup.

(I'd like to repeat what the comedian Ron White had to say about the pedophile allegations against Jackson. He told a stand-up audience that Jackson slept at night with a life-sized doll of a Boy Scout in his bed. White mentioned that if it became public knowledge that he (White) slept with a life-sized doll of a naked woman in his bed, people would think he was fucking it. And they'd be right.)

Even if I had been so thrilled by Thriller and dreamed so ardently of Billie Jean that I could look past his freakishness, I still wouldn't be a MJ fan any longer -- in large part because I am working on the front line of one of the networks responsible for over-sensationalizing his death, and I am more privy than most to the scope of the ludicrousness surrounding it.

Here's a fun fact -- for days after the memorial, we had a link up on our Web site to the Los Angeles Mayor's Office Web site where you could make a donation to help the city of Los Angeles pay for Jackson's memorial service. They received somewhere in the neighborhood of $19K in donations from Jacko fans via the Web site. Reportedly, it cost $47K just to provide lunch for those participating in the memorial service the day of the event. $47K for lunch alone.

When asked by co-workers if I donated money to help pay for the memorial, I told them I refused to on the grounds that the city had chosen to go with a 24 karat gold coffin for Jacko. If they had chosen a more reasonable 18 karat coffin, I said I would have been more amenable to making a donation.Oddly enough, there were some co-workers of mine who did not immediately perceive that I was joking when I said this.

To see how worked up so many people are about Jacko's death makes me think I am lacking something essential in my makeup. There is a capacity I apparently do not have, and perhaps if I did have this capacity, I wouldn't think our society is as flat-out demented as it is leading me to believe.

So I've sat and thought about Jackson and the phenomena that inspire all this grief. This thought process led me to scroll through Jackson's discography, back to the days before he was King of Pop when he was only 1 of 5, and I became conscious of the fact that a calendar year was attached to each album. Taken as a whole, his discography spanned the history of most of his fans' lives. The fans that prostrate themselves before his image at curbside memorials are those who grew up with his music and see their lives in relation to it. Each album in his discography is a dot plotted on their own life's time line. They are touchstones as relevant to them personally as they are collectively to his fan base. This is why album sales spike upon a popular musician's death -- not only is there an urge to relive the artist (now dead) through his music (which survives) but there is also the urge of the fan to embrace one's own historicity occasioned by the artist's death.

In this light, one can view the event as an opportunity for an individual to reflect upon one's life in a society that offers fewer and fewer of such moments of introspection. For a short while, the inexorable march forward of the present pauses, maybe even opening a large enough window of time to do something like write a poem. And that's never a bad thing, regardless how trite the poem might be.

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