Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Somebody Died

The death of Michael Jackson in mid-2009 followed shortly that of Farrah Fawcett, creating an embarrassment of unbalanced attention to two icons of American celebrity.

Somebody died, then another Somebody, and therein lies a silly truth about celebrity in our time. And this is perilous territory: remarks critical of the idols of popular culture means that someone most assuredly will hate you.

When Farrah Fawcett shuffled off this mortal coil, that was the story we would have endured for many a day–except that Michael Jackson met his Maker, too. Oops. How unsporting of him to upstage a glamorous colleague at such a crossroad, but some celebrities are more equal than others.

Farrah had but one season as a Charlie’s Angel. Beautiful (who in Hollywood isn’t?), a head of hair that was equal parts mop and mane, and one of those big, jaw-boned, toothy Texas-girl smiles, but you would have thought, given the first blush of hype at her demise, that she had been Mother Teresa.

Then suddenly Farrah was not the center of the news cycle. Ouch. Damn that Michael. She morphed into a digression as music’s Manchild took over the airwaves and was quickly cast as pope of the idol pantheon. How soon we forget: whatever happened to the Beatles, the Stones, and McCartney–all someday to be mourned as saviors of the world, as was Dearly Departed John (Lennon) and the exquisite rhine-stoned corpse of Elvis. Dear me, what shall we do, flush as we are with demigods galore–all of whom gotta die sometime. And all because society loves a good cry now and then, and there will be many a hanky moment in days and years to come. There’s a lesson in that somewhere, but the star-struck aren’t getting it.

The big honk that Michael “touched” all the world with his gift is arguable; but that he redeemed it, well, sound the gong. It is more than ironic, and sadly so, that in our grief the names of, say, Copernicus, Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt seem so forgettable. One changed forever our view of the world and our place in it, all without benefit of telescope (not invented till 100 years after Copernicus); Time called Einstein–“an unfathomably profound genius” who showed us that “the universe was not as it seemed;” and Eleanor blazed a real path for women and minorities the world over.

Their thanks? Well, Copernicus’ celestial-breaking book was put on the Church’s infamous “Index” after he died and remained there for over 200 years–and lost to the world for three centuries; he never got to know what a stir he caused. Einstein got a good measure of fame in life, but at his death people yawned and said that, given his age, wasn’t it about time? At FDR’s funeral Eleanor told reporters, “the story is over,” and assumed she would have no further role in the world or that it would even care, now that he was dead and she no longer First Lady. Hel-LO-o! And at her own demise, “homely” was as frequent a description as was the word “great.”

Michael’s passing brought, first, the obligatory acknowledgments of his talent and the joy it afforded so many: in performance he seemed as lovable as he was electrifying–and there, if we are but honest with ourselves, the legacy enters a pathetic dimension: personal demons, family secrets, friends and cohorts who indulged his habits and fantasies, and now a circus of endless trust litigation that in time will make us all want to puke.

From drugs to baby-dangling, he showed all the earmarks of an immature kid crushed by his own popularity. An expert on celebrity addiction said that, unlike Britney, Michael didn’t have a family who could or would intervene as a team, with doctors, to save him. At one point, among his zoo of companions were two chimps and an imaginary friend. Whatever his “issues,” the self-mangling of his features went from weird to freaky, and just short of monstrous. At last, he was an example of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy: to have the world by the tail but become your own worst enemy–hardly what any of us wants to be.

It’s wise to forgo descriptives of Michael that make him a god of sorts, an earth-redeemer, or the last musical giant we will ever see. The music of Mozart, Bach and numerous others captivates the world centuries after, so we’re in good hands. After such time, will Michael’s body of work be on everybody’s futuristic iPod? It’s just one opinion, but I think not. It will be seen as hot for its time, but not for the ages.

In a bit, Thursday, 6/25/09 will be remembered as just another day in  the obits. Somebody died. It happens all the time.

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