Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Eating Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

When it comes to Michael Jackson, we won’t stop ‘til we get enough. And it seems we can never get enough, especially now that he’s dead and we don’t have his troubled life to choke us as we gorge on the myth.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve followed the Michael Jackson death coverage so closely. I’m not the biggest fan of his music, though I can’t help but join in the dance when I hear it. I don’t follow celebrities, though you couldn’t take your eyes off this one, whether his image was moving through space in the freedom of dance or in a wheel chair immobilized by some great pain of the body or spirit.

His talent was enormous. But that doesn’t explain the fascination.

James Baldwin wrote an essay, Here Be Dragons, about Jackson in 1985.
The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael.

All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; the blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair–to all of which may now be added the bitter need to find a head on which to place the crown of Miss America.

Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are treated–in the main, abominably–because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires.

I’m hardly the first to wish that Jackson had avoided the man-eating jaws of the money-and-fame machine. But to do that, he’d have to have stepped aside from those who fed on him. He couldn’t seem to do that.

I wonder what it would be like to see Michael Jackson as he was, matching his terrors and desires to our own. But we won’t. Instead, we’ll remember the pretty parts, the MTV triumphs, that Billy Jean bass line. We'll say sanctimonious things about cousins and aunts and uncles as his children are sent into the cauldron that burned him, the household of his father.

It would be well to remember where we really stood with Jackson before his death absolved us. As blogger Jeff Chang wrote:

But as an audience, we were insatiable and ruthless. Years later, after the satisfaction and ease of his 20s, after he had been broken by self-mutilation and bizarre scandal in his 30s, Michael Jackson would reveal a tragic, bathetic emptiness, pleading, “Have you seen my childhood?” By then, many of us had either turned away or turned on him. The transaction was done.

In the end, he lost even his voice, autotuned first by lawyers and other keepers of his dissipating wealth, consumed by Mickey Mouse-sounding paid-TV defenses and overproduced songs, before finally going silent forever. Time will restore the greatness of Michael Jackson’s artistry. May it also cause us some revulsion at our complicity in his fall as well.

Many of us are called to recreate ourselves in a time where there seems to be less of the stuff of invention. Like Michael, we’ve lived half a century, and it seems unfair to ask us to dance like our younger angels.

Still, with nothing eating me but time, I take some strength and comfort from these words of Jackson’s:

The awareness is expressed through creation.
This world we live in is a dance of the creator.
The dancers appear and disappear
at a glance
but the dance is still living.

So it has always been, and so it will be. The dance continues, onstage or off.

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