Friday, June 26, 2009

Ding dong, the king is dead.

I hadn't wanted to write a Michael Jackson post. I mean, the man was one of the best dancers ever, and a helluva singer, and a spotty songwriter, and he sold a lot of records, and... y'know, whatever.

But I'm finding myself indignant over all the "burn in hell, pedophile" posts. Granted, the serial incompetence of the L.A. prosecutor's office, which results in a string of celebrities walking out of the courtroom free, does little to reassure people that his acquittal was for real. But the fact is, the person who first made the accusation really does seem to have been a fraud out for the money, and those who know say nothing ever happened.

Jackson was a weirdo, no doubt about it, and I mostly agree with Chris Rock's "I wouldn't let Michael Jackson watch my kids on television"---not because he was a pedophile, but because he was a six-year-old. But the evidence really does point to Jackson being an entirely asexual child obsessive, who would be as horrified by the idea of sex with children as he was by the idea of sex with anyone. The crotch grabs of his adult career always seemed as performative---and phony---as the girl-pining of his childhood singles.

As a number of music writers have noted, the thing that always was bothersome about Jackson was that he was always a performer, never a revealer---his incredibly fluid body distracted from his shadowy face. If nothing else, his whole career has been a reminder that you don't actually need to feel emotions to communicate them in art---I don't believe the little boy singing had ever felt the things expressed by "I'll Be There" or "Never Can Say Goodbye", and he doesn't actually need to. But it's jarring to be reminded of that, especially in America's authenticity-obsessed music culture.

Maybe that's why the glee at his downfall in the 90s---people always resented that someone who attracted so much adoration gave so little of himself. Jackson's combination of hugeness and unrelatability made him a perfect hate object---he was famous enough that hating him felt like revenge, he was vulnerable enough that you felt like a big man, and he was distant enough that you never had to worry about an actual human being being hurt.

But god, it's ugly! Michael, Brittney, Lindsey---there's this terrible urge to crush children. And all of them were children, child stars sufficiently coddled that they would have been completely unprepared for the vitriol suddenly turned on them. I've actually known a child star or two, and they all confirmed that being a child singer is a bizarre combination of being shielded from anything real and being constantly provided with performance-enhancing substances and the occasional hooker. South Park, in one of their more insightful moments, accurately summed it up as some kind of pagan Corn King ritual, wherein a young 'un is made king for a year, then sacrificed. I don't know if Michael Jackson committed child abuse. But Epic Records *definitely* did.

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