Monday, June 29, 2009

Mommy, who is Michael Jackson?

One afternoon last week, judging by the special coverage on every local Los Angeles television station, you'd have thought someone had flown an airliner into a skyscraper. The actual news, of course, was that Michael Jackson had died suddenly, mysteriously, before the world could even learn if his comeback would be a success.

The concerts next month could never have generated as much money as the act of dying will. The extra positive media exposure and public forgiveness are incalculably large. What a great, if unintentional, career move.

However high his psychic apogees as the "King of Pop" his low points must have been frightening. His parents rode him hard and put him away emotionally wet. He spent his adult life searching for lost youth, questioning his fading talent, explaining his bizarre behavior and hiding his face from cameras - a living hell like that could be no worse than the imaginary fiery afterlife everyone seems to believe in..

But everything is different now. (I heard someone say exactly that on a TV news program.) Amidst the OJ-like media excitement over the as-yet unannounced upcoming Jackson funeral plus expectations of lawsuits, box sets, tribute productions, interviews of his children (once they turn 21), documentaries, made for TV biopics and, eventually, enough tell-all books to fill an elementary school library, America wants to know right this minute how the future will remember Michael Jackson.

Many people think Mike will end up at the top of the dead media legend tree next to Elvis. Hardly likely. My guess is that he'll end up several branches lower as the biggest name from the second-most relentlessly conformist and trivial era of popular culture ever. But the post-baby boom generation finally has its own John Lennon. Or is he their Tupac Shakur.

The important issue is whether Michael's fan base will replicate itself over time. When the current five-year olds who are listening to their parent's Michael Jackson albums grow up, they'll reproduce. Here's an imaginary conversation around the year 2040 between one of those kids and her tweener daughter.

Daughter "Mommy, who is Michael Jackson?"

Mom "He was a singer your Grandmother used to like when she was your age."

Daughter "Why does he look so funny."

Mom "Because he had plastic surgery to make him look younger."

Daughter "His eyes are sad. Why was he sad?"

Mom "Because he was so talented and so rich and so famous that he became unhappy."

Daughter "I thought famous people were always happy. Where is he now?"

Mom "He died a long time ago when he was fifty."

Daughter "No wonder he was sad. Fifty is REALLY OLD."

Mom "Don't tell your Grandmother. Now finish your bowl of Mr. Fizzy Mango Flavored Enviro-flax Sugar Treats and then you can watch that new show that you like on the 3-D Disney channel. Won't that be fun?"

Daughter "Oh boy!" Long pause. "Mommy, who is Miley Cyrus?"

The Michael Jackson Through The Year 2022 graphic came from here. Gessner Allee is, apparently, a theater in Zurich. The graphic is at least 3 years old.

Big Eye Tags: . . . . . .


Anonymous said...

I was expecting you to go hard on the little fella. I'm glad you didn't. A charming tribute in a off the wall kind of way. That graphic... heavens to Betsy!

David Ocker said...

I keep thinking up new lines:

I saw a Michael Jackson video and I thought "I didn't know you could do that with a human body". But I wasn't sure if I was referring to the dancing or the plastic surgery.

I hate his music with a passion but he sure could dance. In the end everything is subsumed by my feeling of pity and sorrow over his personal life.

ericnp said...

The music... I think it's like separating the music from many Broadway shows. It wasn't really about the music, it was about the performance. As freaky as what the man deteriorated into the guy was a great performer. I couldn't listen to the Thriller album but I certainly could watch the video and appreciate the music in that context.

Scott Fessler said...

start at 2:14

ericnp said...

On the money generated by the act of dying side of this...

I just went to's, Bestsellers in Music, The most popular items in Music. Updated hourly.

Michael Jackson has slots 1-10 (25th Anniversary album of Thriller is #1), then we skip 11 and 12 and he's back in there for 13-15 and 21.

Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus)
Hannah Montana, Volume 3 is number 24, by the way.