12 August 2009


(Yes, I'm writing about Michael Joseph Jackson again. So what? I'll write about what I goddamn please. Sue me. You'll get a Uni*ball pen and a worn copy of The White Boy Shuffle. Besides, it's his birthday month.)

Last week, my good friend Rrrr and I got together for drinks ($2 Pabst Blue Ribbon--not because we're hipsters [gross!], but because we're broke-ass grad students) and to catch up a bit. Early in the conversation realized that we hadn't seen each other in quite awhile. The last time we hung out, Michael Jackson was still alive. The revelation felt a bit weird, but we figured out why. We--and by "we" I mean I--had shared our trauma with each other over the internet. Rrrr thought we'd talked--yeah, like used our mouths--about it, but we came to the understanding that I had emotional and verbal diarrhea all over my facebook updates, and she was sweet enough to clean up the mess read them.

That night, she told me that a few weeks ago she had been having dinner with some folks and one of them took the opportunity to share a smug assessment about MJ's death. Rrrr, because she's the homie, the apotheosis of awesome, and just a top-notch human being set those folks straight. I told her about a similar conversation I'd had. Then just the other day, another friend and I were talking about situations we've had where we've felt compelled to "defend" MJ. I've actually said not mean things about Joe Jackson. No, really.

This isn't entirely new. While he was alive, I made and listened to my share of MJ jokes and criticisms; I've tolerated them. But my "Don't you talk shit about Michael Joseph Jackson!" rants are legendary (in my mind) and by far outnumber the moments when I agreed with someone's unflattering assessment about some part of his life. Since his death, though, I've become increasingly sensitive to simplistic and negative reactions to him, his life, his eccentricities. I've been bothered by the shrugs, the glib reactions, the harping on child abuse allegations. I can't stand the blanket [no pun intended] "Michael Jackson was a child molesting, self-hating weirdo" statements folks continue to make. It's as if his death never gave them pause; that it meant nothing. Might as well talk the same shit about him, I guess. Makes me want to scream.

I want to ask each of them: How can you just pretend not to give a fuck?

I told Rrrr, I later told my other homegirl, I will tell anyone who will listen: Folks out here need to stop frontin' on MJ like he wasn't the GOAT, and like he didn't at some point have a positive effect on all of our lives. THERE. WAS. NO. ONE. BETTER. THERE. WILL. BE. NO. ONE. BETTER. EVER!!!! Who's next, player? Beyonce? God bless her. We can learn a lot from Ms. Knowles--seriously. But Sasha Fierce ain't got nothin' on Billie Jean, whether or not the DNA test came out in her favor.

Maybe it was the Pabst (beer is cheap, but gross), but I sat next to Rrrr struggling to come up with an appropriate age for someone to get an "I'm too young to appreciate MJ an any level" pass. Elvis means nothing to me beyond the inspiration for an ill line P.E. line. (Muthafuck him and John Wayne.) He died before I was born. I don't care why people want to believe he's still alive. I don't care. I imagine that I will (eventually) encounter some folks who will truly not give a damn about MJJ. Maybe--by some tragically terrible parenting mistake--my girl Saf's kid Micaiah, barely two, will not care about MJ. Maybe she'll just think he's a weirdo. A magical moonwalking sidewalk-lighting weirdo, but a weirdo, nonetheless. So I decided that no one under the age of 10 could be held to the Michael was Magic standard.

But then I saw watched this two-year-old boy taking MJ mad seriously.

And then I went to E's* summer camp showcase. (Three friggin' hours of kids performing in a hot ass school gym. Three hours. But she invited me, and I just can't have her bringing my absence up in therapy 15 years from now. So I went. And sat. And sat.) And you know what I saw? Performances inspired by Michael and his little sister. These kids, who weren't old enough to remember jheri curl Michael, had learned some of the choreography from "Thriller" and "Beat it" and "Rhythm Nation." And I missed Michael all over again. How can you not dig (if you will) the picture of five black boys doing their best MJ imitations to "Smooth Criminal"? As I sat there, recognizing the beginnings of Janet Jackson's "Control" (This is a story about control. My control. Control of what I say. Control of what I do...) I Benjamin Buttoned my way back to six, when Michael and Janet Jackson were the most important people in my world. And as I watched the kids on stage, the kids in the crowd respond to the music, I knew that they felt the way I did circa 1986.

How can adult, who has had a lifetime to be wowed by Michael (and Janet) Jackson's magnificence, just be on some Michael wasn't shit but a skin-bleaching child molester game? How, if you have witnessed HIStory for your whole freaking life, can that be your only assessment of the man? How can you pretend not to have not tried to moonwalk? Or busted your ass trying to do "the lean" (or that "Pleasure Principle" chair trick)? What the fuck is your problem?

This is not to say that the man in the mirror shouldn't ever be critiqued. It is, after all, what folks started doing as soon as they could no longer understand him. But why is there such an investment in distancing one's self from the way MJ might have, on more than one occasion, made you feel? Why is there no room for nuance, to appreciate the genius of a flawed man? Why is there no room to confess that even on his weirdest day, Michael Jackson was still an awe-inspiring and breathtaking son of a gun? Why do some of us want to act so unaffected?
If a bunch of kids--who have to be convinced that that odd looking man dancing on top of an SUV is the same dude on their auntie's Thriller record--can discover and appreciate the pure essence of the man, well, why can't we all? Hell. Amish people were affected by (the death of) Michael Jackson. And so were you. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar--and an asshole.

*E is the gf's daughter.


elle said...

I blog, occasionally, at Shakespeare's Sister (to a much whiter audience). When other posters noted his death, there were so many young women proclaiming that they didn't know what the big deal was, that they didn't know MJ's legacy--they were young and just remembered him as "weird." And I had to step away because it seemed so disingenuous--the blogmistress explained patiently, repeatedly, and her nerves were getting frayed.

But I kept thinking, I was two when Elvis died--and not sure I was born when the Beatles broke up--and I would never say (because I'd be lying), "Oh, I was totally unaware of their impact!!!" even though I don't like their music. I don't understand how grown people can claim *complete* ignorance of MJ and I wonder about the racial component to that.

summer of sam said...

it's a totally disingenuous response. mj was bigger than elvis AND the beatles. yeah, i said it.

there's definitely a racial component. rrrr told me about grieving for mj amongst white folks. definitely a different experience. is there a cultural thing at work there, too?

but get this, i heard a black person say mj hated black people. i was not happy, to say the least.

z.bediako said...

much appreciation for this post, weeks after his physical death.

i recently got gnawed at last week by facebook hounds. because i **still** had MJ as my profile pic.

one. facebook ain't that serious to me. two. i think those who truly appreciate his legacy, still care after 3, 4 wks of his passing. Damn, does everything has a be a fad?

This man is pretty much dyed in the fabric of our culture. Everytime i look around there is some semblance of him somewhere, in someones dance moves, on some random show from the 90's, clothing. So why not appreciate him openly, flat out though our own little dedications? Not by simply integrating an element of him in to our swag?

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