Michael Jackson REDUX
As a former rock critic for the NY Times, I covered the Jackson 5 and the Jacksons and Michael Jackson, so part of me felt that I should weigh in with SOMETHING about his death on my blog, Rockwell Matters. But I didn't. I was excited by his greatest LP's and videos and singing and dancing as much as the next person. At his greatest he was great, maybe the last great pop personality to come close to uniting the culture, around the world.
Even at his peak, though, there was a patina of show-biz artificiality about him and his persona. Call us naive, but those raised on 60's rock clung to the notion of "sincerity" in our pop voices, and there was no way, ever, of telling whether Michael Jackson was sincere. The distinction had something to do with white folk-rock morphing into rock & roll vs. the black show-biz revue tradition, but Jackson pushed artificiality to its outer limits. He was a carefully self-constructed artifact, a brilliant artifact at his best. Maybe the whole notion of sincerity and naturalness that infused so much 60's pop culture and art was an anomaly. Maybe constructing an artifact is the one true art. But Jackson never moved me, and the descent of his career and life into weirdness was painful.
So I wrote nothing. But now, for this ARTicles blog, which is about the relation of journalism to the arts, a brief word on the media overkill surrounding Jackson's death. On television, on the radio, in the tabloids, it was impossible to escape it. People say the ayatollahs and Mark Sanford were lucky to have been knocked out of the news by Jackson overkill. But we here in America (and the Western world) aren't so lucky.
The whole orgy of crocodile tears was and is sick and exploitive, and the nerve of the tabloids (mine are the NY Post and the NY Daily News) to attack the Jackson family for being mercenary (which I'm sure they are) one day after running maudlin special Jackson Sunday supplements, all to capitalize on the same death the family is trying to cash in on, is disgusting. Not since the death and canonization of Elvis have so many tried to make so much money with so much cynicism.
We live in a strange, tacky, cheezy world, a world in which popular culture is equated with greed with no one batting an eye. A long way from the idealism of the 60's. If that, too, was ever real.