Who Mourns for a Pop Star?

Michael Jackson died five years ago today. At the time, I was a contributor for the now-defunct Critical Mess.Net. This is what I had to say on the topic.

michael_jackson2My esteemed, inimitable colleague Rocko Jerome has written a worthy, fitting tribute to the King of Pop.  And everything he says goes double for me.

I was just like him, choosing to watch Michael Jackson over ANYTHING else that was on television.  I gaped and gawked when the Moonwalk debuted, and slid across my kitchen floor for weeks in white socks and black penny-loafers, trying desparately to recreate the work of a dancing magician.  I got a sequined glove for my sixth birthday, and it became one of my most treasured possessions.  I used to strut around the house in it, using a toy magic wand as a microphone, and lip-synch to the entire “Thriller” album.  ALL.  THE.  TIME.  Hell, EVERYONE in my grade was a fan, because he was Michael Jackson and he was the epitome of awesome, and if you had a bad word to say about Michael, you probably got beat up.

I loved him.  Absolutely, unconditionally loved him.  And a part of me has always loved him, even during the strangeness of the last sixteen or so years of what would be the final chapter in the too-short life of the King of Pop.

Being a life-long fan of Michael Jackson (even if I’ve kept that fact somewhat on the downlow since high school), it was thus inconceivable to me for the longest time that there could, in fact, be people in this world who did not feel the same joy and nostalgia every time “Beat It” or “Billie Jean” would come on the radio, or who wouldn’t try to do the freaky zombie shoulder shuffle every Halloween during the umpteenth playing of “Thriller.”

Turns out I just had to look to the children.  The next generation, you see, does not quite think Michael Jackson is as bad as I do.  Apparently they thought him rather dangerous.

This perception of Michael Jackson from the younger end of the generational divide is shocking to me, and makes me sick.

alfonso_ribeiro_michael_jacksonjpgThe kids we have working at the farm packing blueberries range from 17 to 19.  The oldest one was born in 1990.  They don’t know what it was like to watch “Thriller” for the first time, are so used to the Moonwalk that they have NO idea what it felt for the entire WORLD when it was premiered during Motown 25, never wanted to own a sequined glove, didn’t envy the fuck out of Alfonso Ribeiro because he got to dance with MJ (Cousin Carlton?  Really?  He can dance?), didn’t completely jazz out with the morphing technology (and then get really confused as MJ masturbated on top of a car he just smashed) during “Black or White” (which, sorry, Rocko, premiered after “In Loving Color,” not “The Simpsons”)… They don’t know any of this.  Half of them never heard of “The Wiz.”  They don’t even remember when he was black.  All of that is ancient history to them.

michael_jacksonThey only know him as the weird hermit who looks like a monster, has a kid named Blanket that he dangled off of a balcony in Germany, used to be somebody, and fucked children.  The fact that he was acquitted — an act that used to MEAN something in this country, damn it, before the Court of Public Opinion got so fucking big — means absolutely nothing to them.  Many of them were happy that he died, because now the world is a safer place.

Can you imagine that?  They think the world is a better place because Michael Jackson is dead.

They can’t even fathom the impact that he had on the music they listen to and the dances they feebly try to emulate.  Christ, Fred Astaire (yet another person these ignorant imbeciles have probably never even heard of) once stated that Michael Jackson was the greatest dancer he’d ever seen, but the world is a better place because he’s dead.  His inluence on popular music paved the way for virtually every single pop act in the last twenty years, and many rap and R&B acts, most of whom cite MJ as a major influence, but the world is a better place because he’s dead.

The family of the first child he was accused of molesting settled for an undisclosed amount of money, but I guarantee it was beyond ten million.  I’m sorry, but I’m of the opinion that no amount of money would be enough if someone molested your child.  You’d want to see that bastard’s head on a pike.  Instead, they settled for a large amount of money.

And the second instance…?  There was obviously not a necessary preponderance of evidence in order to eradicate reasonable doubt.  And isn’t that one of the basic tenets, one of the core foundations of the American legal system?  If there is reasonable doubt in a case, then the accused MUST be found not guilty.  And Michael Jackson was found not guilty, which means that there was NOT enough evidence for a conviction, and that there was reasonable doubt.

Acquittal

He was found not guilty.  I can NOT stress that enough.  He was found not guilty.

Mugshot__michael-jacksonBut that doesn’t matter to so many people.  They know better than the jury that acquitted Michael Jackson.  They were not in the court room, they were not presented with the prosecution’s evidence, they didn’t hear the case, but he LOOKS like such a freak, he must be guilty.  He was charged with the crime, so he MUST be guilty.  He’s a reclusive, mysterious celebrity who dresses strangely, acts strangely, and loves children, so naturally he MUST fuck them.

Who cares if he was found not guilty?  Celebrities are always found not guilty, they can get away with everything.  He did it.  He had to have.  Just look at him.

The world is a better place because he’s dead.

It is entirely possible that Michael Jackson truly was a living representation of the best of us.  It is entirely possible that Michael Jackson was something unique, something extraordinary in the world.  A man who genuinely, innocently, and whole-heartedly loved children just to love children.  It is entirely possible that he wanted to protect them, and nurture them, and make them happy, and give them all better lives.

No, surely that’s impossible.  No grown man could possibly think of other children like that.

neverlandIt is entirely possible that Neverland Ranch was actually a place for a select group of lucky kids to be catered to, and pampered, and made to feel important and special; a place that celebrated all the wonderment of childhood; someplace that Michael Jackson himself dreamed about as a child, while his father was mercilessly beating the shit out of him.  It could have been someplace that Michael Jackson wished desperately he could go when he was young, to get away from the abuse, and just be a child… something that he NEVER got to do when he was ACTUALLY a child.  It’s possible that Neverland was actually all of those things, and not some crazy-assed multi-million-dollar magnet for kids that Michael Jackson wanted to fondle.

But it can’t be.  He was a freak… just look at him.

The world is a better place now that he’s dead, right?

jacksonkidsBecause none of that can be true.  It simply CAN’T.  Because if it is, if one man is truly capable of all of that… the selfless love, the musical prowess, the mind-altering dancing ability… if all that can exist in HIM, why can’t it exist in ME?

I can’t do all of those things, and I certainly have no desire to help the children of the world — children of strangers, children in foreign countries, children I’ll never meet — so neither can he.

If I can’t do it, nobody else can.

BULLSHIT.

I retract what I wrote earlier.  The negative perception from the younger portion of the generational divide doesn’t make me sick.  It makes me sad, and it fills me with pity.  Because these people, so convinced that there is one less monster in the world because television called him a monster, have no idea what we’ve lost.  They have no idea who he was and what he represented before he became what gossip columnists turned him into.

They think the world is a better place because he’s dead.

And for that, I feel nothing but pity for them.

Rest in peace, Michael.  For whatever its worth, I always believed you, and believed in you.

jacksonshrine

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About Joseph F. Berenato

Joseph F. Berenato obtained a B.A. in English and spent four years as the entertainment editor of The Hammonton Gazette before returning to his roots at his family's blueberry farm in Hammonton, NJ. In 2014, Joe conceived, edited, and contributed to New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics. He also co-edited three books examining Star Wars and two books examining Planet of the Apes for Sequart with Rich Handley. Joe wrote the introduction for IDW Publishing's Star Trek: Gold Key Archives Volume 3 as well as retrospective essays for that company’s Star Trek #50 and their Star Trek Gold Key 100-Page Spectacular. He also contributed to ATB Publishing's Star Trek anthology Outside In Boldly Goes. He holds a Master of Arts in Writing from Rowan University, and is an adjunct professor with Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing, NJ, where he teaches freshman composition and serves as advisor for the school’s student-run newspaper, the Atlantic Cape Review. You can find Joe at jfberenato.wordpress.com or at www.dinernation.com, and on Twitter at @JFBerenato.
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2 Responses to Who Mourns for a Pop Star?

  1. Meredith says:

    I’m a bit late in commenting on this, but it echoes my sentiments exactly. Particularly the part about keeping the fact of being a fan on the down-low since high school. I didn’t start admitting it until after he died, but since then I’ll freely tell anyone who asks that I love Michael Jackson.

  2. Terry Erdmann says:

    Michael Jackson seems to have been a victim of sorts, not having been allowed a real “childhood” of his own, and controlled in his every childhood action. I’d have to do some research and writing to “prove” that premise, but having watched his life from early on (I was an aware 26 year old in the music business in Hollywood when “ABC” hit the top of the charts), I recall hearing conversations about concern for the young artists. Did he become freaky? Yup. Was he a genius talent? Yup. Did he abuse kids? Nobody knows the truth. At any rate, the music and videos stand, and stand tall. Does that make his later actions okay? Again, nobody knows the truth.

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