Friday, June 26, 2009

Causing me to Pause

Yeah, Michael Jackson is dead. I briefly alluded to his "Thriller" in a Facebook comment; I also referenced a red pleather disco bag that a grade school friend had and I wanted. I can still see the likeness of his face etched on that bag, complete with the word, "Thriller." That memory has got to be at least 25 years old, if not older. I don't want to think about it.

Then my brother made a comment on his Facebook in regards to a writer's comment about Michael Jackson being bigger than Elvis. My first reaction was to disagree, and I wrote a long blog about it, and then I walked away from the computer to think about what I had written. Now I am back, with the benefit of four hour hindsight, and I think Elvis will always be bigger Michael Jackson. Yes, Elvis died of a drug overdose, and like so many other famous celebrities, painkillers became his drug of choice when the pressure of fame became too much for him to handle. Elvis did have some erratic behavior (the visit to Nixon in a sparkly jumpsuit), but at the end of the day, it was Elvis and his Memphis Mafia behind the gates of Graceland. If there was weirdness going on, it was a well kept secret.

Michael Jackson? To say his life was a carnival freak show is to speak ill of the dead, but a spade is a spade. If you look at the psyhchological parameters for abnormal behavior, Mr. Jackson is Exhibit A. The chimpanzee, the hyperbaric chamber, the plastic surgery and the disappearing nose. I have to agree with a radio commentator: I think the man was incredibly sad. As a result, he dulled the pain with behavior that most normal people could not understand. And then came the molestation charges. The trial ended before a jury could reach a verdict in regards to the accusations charged against him, and some saw the settlement as an admission of guilt, washed away with a pay off. Others saw the settlement as a wise business decision that would be cheaper in the long run. I think the spectrum of public tolerance is pretty wide, but when it deals with the abuse of a child, bar the door. A nose job? Forgiveable, everyone in Hollywood has had some work. The chimp? Meh, an exotic pet. A molestation charge? Damned forever. Even if he was found innocent, the specter would always loom: he got off because he was famous. I personally believe he got away WITH A LOT because he was famous. Remember the baby dangling incident?

And the more I think about Elvis, the more I think about how incredible the Elvis machine is in regards to marketing his likeness. Priscilla Presley was genius in handling her daughter's affairs, and if anyone has visited the vast complex across the street from The King's home, you know exactly what I mean. I personally don't need a t-shirt or a mug or a cookbook emblazoned with his likeness to show my admiration for the man and his music, but there are some who do. I only own his greatest hits. I know the man can sing, but I will probably buy some sort of memorabilia when I am in Memphis in a few weeks. A little taste of home, if you will, perhaps a magnet for my refrigerator, and I will justify my purchase saying that this enterprise is a testament to those who love Elvis, constructed by his loved ones.

Who is going to create the Michael Jackson machine? The living one certainly self-destructed a long time ago. Perhaps the better question is, will there be one created? Will there be a giant, vast complex across from Neverland Ranch where you can buy a t-shirt or a coffee mug or a stuffed chimp named Bubbles? Unfortunately, I think there will be. I am steeling myself for the t-shirts with his likeness and his birth and death date, because someone out there is going to make money on him, and in our world, that is all that matters. The insatiable need to peer at the train wreck, to learn his secrets, to twitter about the children will all translate into dollar signs for someone. It may be family driven, it may not be, only time will tell, and it will be measured by the volume sold.

Again, why does anyone want to be famous?


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