I suppose every other blogger in the world is writing something about Michael Jackson right now, and why should I be any different. But I’d like to think that I’m taking a somewhat different approach. Rather than focusing on blah blah blah no matter what you thought he was an influential icon blah blah blah, I’d like to share some thoughts about what kind of impact that his death (note I didn’t say “tragic” or “early” or “unexpected”, as I suspect these all may be disproven in weeks to come) will have on our popular culture from this point forward.
Not that I’m an expert on popular culture. But in this case, I happen to have written a novel (okay, technically two, but in my mind and heart it will always be one) about celebrity and popular culture, and even though nobody read it, I still feel obligated to expound here. So bear with me. Or go top your coffee off, because this should be over quickly.
The Coffee Shop Observation. If you want to know what’s going on in America, where opinion’s at, what the populi is voxing, go into a coffee shop or doughnut shop early in the morning and listen to the bunches of older folks gathered around a table commenting on the previous night’s news. I’d have given up doughnuts long ago had I not discovered that there’s a lively crowd at the mom and pop chain that I stop at once every week or two.
However, this morning there was a crowd of populi at a Starbucks that I rarely go to – but my wife was driving this morning and goes her own way, as the song says, so that’s where I went for this morning’s Frappuccino. It surprised me to see a bunch of boomers in there conversing, but there they were, and as the conversation about Shaq coming to Cleveland petered out, someone said, “How about Michael Jackson?”
Someone else said. “Yeah. All that money sure didn’t help him, huh?”
Then they started in on a more interesting and long-lived subject: Farrah Fawcett.
Mood in America: Outside of Newscasters with ratings to earn and that ever-shrinking base of fans who believed that MJ was pure as the driven snow, MJ interest is tepid at best. “What? He died? He was young, wasn’t he? Hmmm. Now what did the Cavs give up to get Shaq?”
1. The Joke Question. I don’t know about other countries and their cultures, but part of the way Americans deal with tragedy is to laugh at it.
It’s true. I was in a blue collar job earning college money on the day Elvis died, and I remember when I head the news. It was the end of the day and I was sitting with rest of The Crew, as we were called, doing our traditional thing of spending the last 15 minutes of the day eating sunflower seeds and drinking Coke. The announcer on the local radio station came on and breathlessly annonced that the King of Rock and Roll had died. And most of the guys in the crew broke out laughing.
That was an odd, surreal moment. And it was my first close-up look at that cultural phenomenon. There’s something about the American psyche that requires humor to heal (“What kind of wood doesn’t float? Natalie Wood!” “What does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronauts!”).
So my question is, when the jokes begin, will they be a rehash of the ones that surfaced when Jackson was in the middle of the child molestation imbroglio, or will they mine cruel new territory? Part of me doesn’t want to know the answer. Another part of me can’t wait to find out.
And there’s another part of the question: had Jackson not died, would we be getting Farrah jokes? And were she still around, would there have been Ed McMahon jokes? Or weren’t they high profile enough to earn that?1
2. The Elvis Question. Speaking of The King, I’m wondering how much of the remains of Jackson’s fan base will go into hardcore denial once the smoke has been cleared and the remains have been disposed of. Will we start hearing rumors that Michael wanted to get away from it all and start life anew somewhere else? Hey, we know he was no stranger to facial plastic surgery…
Will there be Michael Jackson sightings? Will there be rumors of a surprise comeback in, oh let’s say 2012 because that would give him two-and-a-half to recover, and according to the Mayan calendar the world is supposed to end then anyway2 – it would be an appropriate sign of the apocalypse3.
Note to the Jackson Family: If you know what’s good for you, don’t cremate. Make sure there is something left over for a future DNA test. And whatever you do, make sure that the name of the deceased is spelled correctly on the tombstone.
While I’m on the subject of Elvis. You know how it seems that Presley has put out more stuff dead than he did while he was alive? Look for that to happen with Michael Jackson. The reason is directly related to the next question…
3. The Survivors Question. My final question – or is it actually a third observation – deals with interesting times ahead (in the Chinese sense) for the Jackson family. And no, I’m not talking about the three children Michael leaves behind – although part of me says that, at this particular juncture, they may actually be the three luckiest children on the planet.
I’m talking about Michael’s sibs – LaToyah, Jermain, Marlon, Nip, Bink, Tuck, Hoover, and Frito – whatever their names were. All of them except perhaps Janet. What will happen to them in the wake of Michael’s death?
See, even though he was technically broke, people kept putting money into Michael’s coffers, largely because of his potential income – which was mostly an unrealized income given Michael’s latter-day record of putting together money-making projects and then busting out of them (his London comeback shows were shaping up to be that way big time – apparently MJ had attended only two of the 45 rehearsals that were held up to yesterday). This in mind, it’s sad to note that of all of Jackson’s “potential income”, the most lucrative thing in his possession is probably his ownership of the catalog of Beatles songs.
Anyway, Michael had a steady income from ill-advised investors that made him the big moneymaker in the Jackson family. Because of this position, rumors were always rife that Michael used money as a bludgeon to keep his sibs under his thumb, going so far as to put them on salary so their show-biz aspirations didn’t upstage his own.
Bizarre, if true. So don’t be surprised if the following months bring odd news from the ranks of the Jackson family. And if Bilbo and Frodo suddenly become famous again, then maybe there was something behind all of those weird rumors.
The Self-Proclaimed Title Observation This is just something I want to get off my chest. You might have noticed that not once in this entry have I referred to Jackson as “the King of Pop.” I will never refer to Jackson as the King of Pop. Ever. First of all, it sounds silly to my writer’s ear. It’s attaching an inflated title to something of little or no substance. Think about it. That title is about as substantive as saying that you’re the Shah of Cotton Candy.
Besides, I have no respect for that title because he didn’t earn it.
I’m serious. If you recall, he issued a press release bestowing the title upon himself. Apparently he couldn’t wait for his adoring fans to come up with a title for him like Elvis’ fans did for him. I mean, c’mon. The Beatles never held a press conference declaring themselves to be the Royal Family of Rock and Roll4, right?
In my book, you don’t write titles for yourself (something our elected officials might want to make note of). If someone else wants to dub you something, fine. You thank them, then you don’t mention it yourself. You don’t go giving yourself accolades just because you think somehow you deserve them. We don’t deserve anything in this life. Just this little thing I have with a concept called humility.
One Bonus Prediction. In days to come, Michael Jackson’s death will be revealed to be not all it was initially reported. Shocking or saddening revelations will follow, along with a lot of finger-pointing by various factions. And the press will eat it up, because they’ve got to have something to fill their time with, and they sure ain’t gonna comment on the President’s bumbling. No special insight here on my part. I’m just sayin’.
- As I go to post this, one has surfaced on Facebook this morning: “Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. Two white women in one day!” I call that a twofer.
- I don’t know what allegedly gave the Mayans special insight as to when the world will end. Those who say they are “experts” say that it is because the Mayan calendar ends in 2012. Funny, I thought it ended then because that’s when they ran out of room on the rock they carved it in. Hey, my desk calendar ends in December. Does that mean there’s no 2010?
- Remember, the world was supposed to end as the calendar flipped from 1999 to 2000 (c.f. Prince) – and 2000 was supposed to be the year Elvis made his back-from-the-dead comeback (because his shows always began with the “Theme from 2001” – never mind that this was not actually the name of that particular piece of music).
- Although John apparently declared that Paul was the Walrus. Or something like that.