Jewish World Review June 15, 2005/ 8 Sivan,
The MJ in the rest of us
We don't really want to know what a good actor like Sean Penn
thinks about politics, overlooking his childish anti-American diatribes,
because we know his views are dumb. Even if we like Bo Derek's conservative
views, we cut her a little slack because her extraordinary beauty once made
her a "10." Few movie stars make the transition from someone we want to
watch on the screen to someone we want to listen to on a platform. Ronald
Reagan did it the hard way, not by shooting off his mouth for the fan
magazines but by serious work, leading the actors union in troubled times
and putting meat on the bones of his instinctive love of country.
We live today in a much more visual age, when superstardom is
magnified by the insatiable maw of television. It's not enough to sit
together in a dark movie house for a shared theatrical experience.
Superstars come into our living rooms and dens at all hours, bombarding us
from many directions and in many guises. They become icons for love and
hate, admiration and envy. And not only for us. They're devoured by their
own images, reveling in narcissism and public adulation without limit.
So it is with Michael Jackson. In a psychological and
sociological sense, we collaborate as a greater-than-life-size composite of
Count Dracula, space alien and carnival freak, creating a monster for our
times. I tried not to follow the trial closely, but when I heard the verdict
would be on television within the hour, I waited, patiently, debating with
myself whether I wanted him to be found guilty or to (moon)walk. I was in no
position to decide, but the trial, for all its bizarre spectacle, balanced
the considerations of child molestation and the legitimacy of his accusers.
Michael Jackson is the child in all of us who yearns never to
grow up. He's not Peter Pan, who ultimately left childish things behind.
"MJ" is the living spectacle of perversity, the mature boy child who refuses
to act like an adult. Life is one long pajama party. He lives life as satire
and farce with the dark side of his moonwalk in full sight.
He exposes how public obsessions with race, sex, "gender" and
youth, synthetic as they may be, become twisted in a living icon who's lost
his way. The young boy who never had a childhood constantly tries to invent
one, and he's never satisfied with the dress rehearsals. He looks like a
child, now like a girl, now like a boy. He's black with white features. He
sings about "hot love," but he's sexless. He wears flashy costumes, but they
become like his skin, sewn into his nerve sinews, a dancing, singing life
that has turned into a simulation of himself. He's the mirror image of
Pinocchio, going from boy to puppet with his public pulling the strings.
Historian Daniel Boorstein understood Michael Jackson before he was thrust upon us. In "The Image: Or What Happened to The American Dream," he writes about the way the graphic revolution of images multiplies and vivifies our visual sense of what's happening, but never refines understanding or deepens perceptions of the world at large. It only confuses us, denying us direct experience.
That sounds a lot like Michael Jackson. And, alas, sometimes a little like most of the rest of us.
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