Michael Jackson, The Whole Man
Friday, June 1, 2012 at 11:10AM
Elena Taurke in Atonement, Belonging, Dance, People of Color, PsychoZen Meets Life, Racism

Is it good manners?   Is it out of some sense of politeness that every column I've read about Michael Jackson makes a brief bow to the latter half of his life, then moves on to massage every detail of his splendid, brilliant early career?   As in: whatever you want to say about the weird thing he became, you have to appreciate how he electrified the world with Thriller.*   Is it good manners or is it that we don't want to face what his gruesome demise might say about us?  About our culture, I could say, except we can't just dis the culture without taking some responsibility.

How do we understand what happened to him?  Watch "Scream" or "Ghost" to see how he plays with his intense relationship with us.  He gives us what we want and punishes us for it.  Don't we love that?  White man dances, then gets spooked by enormous ghoulish Michael.  And yet he tells an interviewer (Robert Hilburn) that he would sleep on the stage if he could.  It's safe there.   And it's not lonely.

Anyone who has performed knows exactly what he means.  There is a profound intimacy in live performance.  Better than religion, it is the embodiment of oneness with the universe.  The electric plugged-in version.   Just thinking about it gives me a rush.  

But then the show is over, and with it the connection.  People like to say that performing isn't real life.   So, what is the real thing?  Mowing the lawn, chatting over coffee, raising children?   yes, and yes, and yes, but it doesn't feel like enough.  

How could it?  Every message in our culture--billboards, magazines, 'news' shows--- tells us that we are not enough.   Michael, a preternaturally sensitive man, heard what we all hear.  Of course he tried to transform himself into a sweet looking unthreatening white boy.   Tried so hard to please, then was mocked for it.   Contorted, deformed, mangled himself, yet failed to get approval.

It always fails, that effort.  Approval will never fill the need for acceptance.  Fame will never substitute for belonging.  They are tastes, sideways glances of the real thing:  Intimacy.  

There is a poignant moment in minute 3 of "They Don't Care About Us," where a person from the crowd tries to dance with Michael.   He becomes overwhelmed, falters, and actually falls.  Leading the dance, he is sure footed, but live contact unsteadies him.  

Live contact cannot do anything but unsteady us.  Who could help Michael Jackson?   He was surrounded by other wounded celebrities and children who lacked the same resources.  And we were all too busy wishing he would go back to what he was, judging him for his efforts to please us.  No, I know it wasn't you, personally, but in aggregate we become our lowest  denominator.   We see in him our own doomed efforts to please, our lack of intimacy, our loneliness.  Dismissing him, we fail to heal ourselves.

June 2009


Article originally appeared on PsychoZen (http://www.psychozen.org/).
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