Saturday, June 27, 2009

Standing in the Shadow of MJ

By now the death of Michael Jackson has started to sink in for many people. Yes, he really is gone forever. Yes, it was far too soon. And yes, it's normal to feel a little guilty for our collective roles in hastening his late career demise.

It's that last part that makes his death a little more melancholic than it should be. This was a man who was arguably the most famous person on the planet for a good 10-15 year span. His music not only broke sales records, it obliterated them. Without him, music videos would merely be promotional vehicles for hit singles, rather than short films with the potential to be canonized in pop culture forever. He was a pop star who was many things to many people. An incredibly gifted performer who had a once-in-a-generation voice, who was a prolific dancer, possessed superheroic stage charisma, and even had the looks (in the early years) to match, so why did so many of us feel like he was a prisoner of his own loneliness?

I don't know the answer to that question and not many people do. It's been widely reported this week that Jackson didn't let many people into his private life and therefore had very few friends. It's also obvious that his childhood stardom scarred him for the rest of his life. Perhaps the pressure to always be America's (and later, the world's) favorite entertainer caused him to live up to a version of himself that he knew was impossible to achieve. I really have no idea because I can't imagine what super duper stardom feels like and there's maybe five people on the planet who can understand what Michael must have felt like.

I suppose that's the point. When you get to a level of stardom that is unprecedented, how in the hell are you supposed carve an existence that approaches anything resembling normalcy? What if there was never a point in your life when things were 'normal' enough to even have as a point of reference? How are you even supposed to know what that word means?

Michael Jackson never had these luxuries that you and I take for granted. Instead, his 'luxury' was being the biggest star in the world and constantly being asked to keep our interest by increasingly upping the ante with each spectacle. When you ask someone to be a superhero, how can you be surprised when his life starts to resemble a comic book? Yet, as soon as things started getting bizarre many of didn't hesitate turning him into a punchline and never once stopped to consider how this would affect a man whose obvious (in hindsight) insecurities were on display for the entire world.

It's really a sad saga that amplifies the tragedy of his passing more than it needed to be. It seemed like all he wanted was acceptance, not as an entertainer (which he had in spades), but as a human being. Perhaps if more people had shown him that compassion he would have never strayed so far off the deep end and he would still be entertaining millions of people all over the globe.

My Favorite Michael Jackson Songs of All Time:

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