VDH has a colum up about Michael Jackson. It is typically thoughtful, but I have some nits to pick. This observation is on the money:
In truth, almost everything about the Jackson persona proved to be fantasy — an Oz-like projection on the screen powered by a strange fellow behind the curtain desperately struggling with gears and levers.
How then will posterity assess Michael Jackson? Thriller remains the best-selling record of all time, and a number of his others were nearly as successful. His stage magnetism rivaled that of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. And yet few of Jackson’s hits are memorable in the way that dozens of songs of the Beatles or Bob Dylan continue to reverberate timelessly through popular culture.
I think Dr. Hansen underestimates both the music and its influence. The title song of that album is deeply embedded in the culture. In fact, I have a funny story to tell. At the WALL-E wrap party I heard there’d be a surprise at about 10:00 if I hung out in this one area. Meanwhile, I had noticed quite a few unaccompanied young women who didn’t seem to be with anybody in particular and didn’t quite fit in with the crowd. Well, at the appointed hour they formed up into a triangle and Thriller pumped out of the sound system. They did the whole dance, and then led everybody, Pied-Piper style, to the dance floor. Turns out they were the 49ers cheerleaders hired just for that gag. (I work with the best people in the world.)
There are other Michael Jackson songs which will be around for a good long while. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, Billie Jean, and Bad are all as instantly recognizable as any Sinatra tune. A few, like Human Nature, are also as sublime as anything from Dylan.
Here is where I think VDH has just missed the target:
The kindly and soft-spoken Jackson may have given millions to children’s charities and built a child’s dream theme park at his Santa Barbara Neverland ranch. He even talked in near-childlike fashion. And yet, on two occasions, the children’s advocate was accused of sexual molestation of boys. He settled out of court in one instance and was acquitted in a criminal trial on the second, but Jackson strangely said he saw nothing wrong in sharing his bed with minors.
I believed Jackson. I don’t think he saw a thing wrong with sleeping with boys because he still was, or desperately wanted to be, a boy himself. (NB: He was acquitted.) Was Jackson messed up? Wholesale. He was as normal, though, as anybody was likely to be having been robbed of his childhood, made insanely successful at a tender age, and having such an abusive creep for a dad. I mean, so creepy that he used the occasion of his son’s tragic death to pimp his own record label.
Peter Pan was born because J. M. Barrie’s brother was killed, a boy robbed of his life. Michael Jackson was dead inside because he was robbed of his life at an age before most of us were out of kindergarten. His sexualized “acting out” on stage with the crotch grabs, etc. don’t seem unexpected in that context. As VDH correctly notes, fantasy was all he had. While some of it is forgettable (and not everything Sinatra crooned was a winner, either) we’re lucky we got as much good music and dancing as we did from this sad figure.
The story of the real-life Peter Pan was even more tragic than the one in the book.