29 June 2009

Michael Jackson, martyr ?

Someone has to die for their beliefs to be a martyr. Drudge pointed to headlines last Friday saying that Jackson's was a "Death by Showbusiness". So in the sense that Jackson seems to have died for his belief in celebrity, yes, he might be called a martyr.

I never got Michael Jackson. Thriller didn't thrill me at all (Now Noel Coward, that's another story). But I did get a bit of a kick from seeing others get him. He was boppy and catchy and slick, as well as monumentally fluffy and hugely impaired.

What I struggle with is the apparently massive consequentiality of fluffiness and impairment like Jackson's. What is the fuss about the passing of a semi-talented song and dance weirdo from decades past?

Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, has had a stab at explaining it to we mystified souls who struggle to get with the programme. He reckons it's just like Princess Di.

And I agree, to the extent that I was almost as unprepared for and dumbfounded by this spectacular outbreak of mawkish sentimentality over Jackson's death, as I was by hers. But does the public really regard these super celebrities as martyrs, as Boris suggests?

He reckons "...in a world dominated by a demoralising canon of physical perfection, he [Jackson] was the patron saint of dysmorphia."

Dem's big words. What I think he's saying is that many people sympathised with Jackson's exaggerated dissatisfaction with his appearance because they are dissatisfied with their own appearance. Boris says:

...[Jackson] was a martyr, in the sense that Diana was a martyr. Her death evoked an astonishing response, partly because she spoke to every woman who has been let down by a man, every woman who has worried about her weight, every woman who feels the system is unfair to women. That is a lot of women.

I think I'm beginning to get it. These pop idols are an opiate for the masses in a world in which the established religions have become terminal. God really is dead. The pastor can't tell us what to think or who to believe anymore, but it's still too hard to figure it all out ourselves. So instead we reach out to whatever is presented to us out there that seems to correspond to our own emotional confusion. And, if we perceive such a display as being even slightly genuine, then we can draw some comfort from it.

So, whilst some of us see these celebrities as idiots flaunting cheap emotion and superficial gossip, others of us see them as a source of rationalisation for our own emotional inadequacies and thereby provide some meaning to our otherwise trivial lives. And because these celebrity folk are shallow enough, shrewd enough and narcissistic enough to wear their petty emotions on their sleeves for all to consume, the public has a real appetite for their exaggerated self indulgences because the desire for meaning is not being nourished elsewhere. By appreciating authenticity in vulgar displays of celebrity emotional shallowness, we can elevate our own emotional pettiness to something significant.

But as another Marx said: "Honesty and Integrity are the most important qualities of all ....
if you can fake them, you've got it made".

And Jackson both died for celebrity and was killed by his belief in it. He must truly enter the pantheon of martyrs alongside Joan d'Arc, who both died for the church and was killed by it.

But, because they are martyrs, conventional wisdom has it that they must also have been insufferable. And, for once, I agree.


Tracy said...

Actually you don't get it at all. Michael Jackson was a household name for 45 years. He gave hundreds of millions of dollars to charity. So much so that he is in the Guiness Book of Records for it. He has helped thousands of sick and disadvantaged children. The fact that you don't know this is proof that the tabloids' 2 decades of character assassination were successful in crafting a completely false narrative about him.

By the way he had vitiligo which caused him to lose all of the pigment in his skin. So if you ever made fun of him for that - congratulations on mocking a disibility.

Bob Goldie said...

It hadn't occured to me before to "make fun" of Jackson for suffering from "vitiligo", but now that you mention it, I can see vast uptapped potential in such low hanging fruit.

Can my false narrative crafting match yours? Let's see:

"Vitiligo" a nasty but common condition in Hollywood that causes someone who holds a record or is famous for something ugly, like say dangling a baby out off the highest balcony ever seen on television, to lose skin colour when mocked for claiming fame or records for doing nearly the opposite. You know, like having paid web crawlers claim in comments on obscure blogs in other countries, after he has died, that this same person he is the world's greatest children's philanthropist.

Who do you reckon is winning the false narrative contest here?