But Michael Jackson has passed away at the age of 50.
The media frenzy (reminiscent of Princess Diana's funeral) is at once baffling, in the face of much more important issues--Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, U.S. health care, etc. But the constant coverage and over-the-top spectacle are certainly predictable, if not understandable. It was a bit of a shock, and aren't we all just the tiniest bit curious? What made this strange, sad man suddenly drop dead? Are we finally going to get the exclusive, tell-all details? Of course, it's all none of our business, and the tabloid-consuming public is complicit in many ways in his ultimate madness and downfall, I'm sure. But if you're my age, Michael Jackson most likely meant something to you at some point in your childhood. And you may find it's still possible to love the old hits while watching in dismay as his face corroded and he was accused of molesting CHILDREN, for Christ's sake.
I am of an age where Michael Jackson was one of my first celebrity crushes--I was about seven or eight years old when "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" were all the rage. My best childhood friend--the neighbor boy next door--had Michael Jackson albums that we would listen to religiously after school. He was grounded once when a nun caught him trying to moonwalk out of church. I remember being at the baby shower of a family friend when the "Thriller" video premiered and how everyone at this baby shower--young and old alike--stopped everything just to watch this video. I remember watching MTV for hours, waiting for Michael Jackson videos to play. ("Darn it, it's just Prince again.") I loved his infectious pop songs, his dancing (before all the crotch-grabbing), his singing (before all the interjections of "SHAMON!"), his sense of style that had everyone looking insane in the 80s, emulating him with single white gloves and "Beat It" and "Thriller" jackets. So much childhood can be conjured up just by listening to those songs.
And then there was the realization that my peers and I had left childhood behind, but Michael never had. This man grew older and stranger-looking and clung to tree-climbing and amusement parks and petting zoos, which I guess wouldn't have been so awful if it weren't for the "slumber parties" that were frankly sinister. He had been robbed of his innocence long ago and didn't understand that you can't recreate it. He didn't understand that LOTS of people are robbed of an idyllic childhood yet turn out okay, because he had lived his *entire life* in a narcissistic celebrity bubble. And although I can't say for certain what went on behind closed doors, he may have damaged some children along the way. Or even damaged them by association...once molestation charges are levied, how do you think other kids and adults would react by finding out you hung out at Neverland...even if nothing had actually happened? I certainly hope that none of it was ever true, but his legacy will never shake those suspicions.
A lot of the tributes and public mourning are totally hypocritical. All of the current stars wailing about Michael Jackson's music and legacy--I don't remember a lot of them sitting at the feet of their master in recent years. All of the news stations covering his death and funeral arrangements 24-7...these were the same media figures that reveled in his bizarre antics.
When I think of Michael Jackson, I reflect on the sadness of his life...a young boy abused, a great talent exploited, a beautiful black face willingly mutilated. But I can't give myself over to hysterical mourning because well, a) I never knew him and b) I feel uncomfortable lionizing someone who may have left child victims in his wake. I guess the kindest thing to do is to try to remember the good about him, to remember him in his prime, when he really was the King of Pop, when I thought he was totally, totally cute.
Remember him like this: