Have I been missing something spectacularly, awesomely great for the last 30 years?

I never took the slightest interest in Michael Jackson, other than to be instinctively repelled by him or just indifferent; I actually don’t remember which. According to what people are saying about him, he was one of the outstanding creative figures of our time, even a cultural titan on the level of Mozart. I remember about 1990 having a conversation with a daughter of friends of my parents, who had just driven down from Boston to New York to see a Jackson concert. The enthusiasm this woman—who was in her mid to late 30s at the time, no longer a kid—was expressing for this figure whom I saw as a bizarre freak seemed so overwrought and silly that it made me suspect that the Jackson phenomenon was specious to its core. But that was merely an intuition from a distance, not knowledge. If there are readers who do have a sense of Jackson, who knew his music and watched his performances at their best, it would be interesting to hear their thoughts. I can’t contribute to the discussion, having no impressions of him beyond what I have already said.

- end of initial entry -

Paul K. writes:

Your reaction to Michael Jackson is mine as well! During his heyday he produced a stream of pop hits which made absolutely no impression on me. I didn’t get the appeal, just as I don’t get the appeal of McDonalds’ hamburgers or Steven King novels. Obviously, if you can captivate that great mass of consumers of mediocre taste, you can enjoy spectacular success. I don’t say this as a reactionary old fuddy-duddy, either—I still occasionally hear contemporary music on the radio that I enjoy.

What is weird, so weird that I can’t bear to listen to CNN, is the reverence with which this perverted freak is now being treated. Speaking no ill of the dead is a fine practice as long as one merely keeps silent, but not if instead one heaps praise on the undeserving. On the rare occasions the matter of the child-molestation charges is even brought up on the all-news stations, it is only in passing, and always as if Jackson were the greatest victim of all, due to his peculiar upbringing. Perhaps all child molesters had troubled childhoods, who knows, but we don’t generally hear this trotted out as an excuse for the rest of them.

Jackson wouldn’t be getting this sort of uncritical coverage if he were white. The media always instinctively overpraises the black achiever and overlooks his negatives.

As far as the crowds of people in LA standing around grieving, they represent a disgusting spectacle, even more debased than the English who carried on about their martyred People’s Princess. How empty can people’s lives be?

David B. writes:

In my youth, I liked rock and roll music. I was not a big fan, but I enjoyed listening to Michael Jackson on my car radio when driving. This was the early Jackson before he changed his appearance.

A feature of the modern world is that we are TOLD who our idols in sports and entertainment are supposed to be. In the old days our favorite athletes were, among others, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle because their performance was appealing to us. We are now told who our favorites are supposed to be. Tiger Woods is an example. Muhammad Ali was another.

It is the same for actors and entertainers. You once wrote that you read that some actress is supposed to be exceptionally beautiful when she really is not. We are told that “Michael Jackson’s fans consider him a deity.” Well, who said so? Samuel Francis wrote that what is termed “popular culture” is actually something imposed on us by so-called elites.

Jeff in England writes:

Michael Jackson’s impact on people around the world transcended his musical talent. He was a person who, whatever his many flaws and weaknesses, radiated LOVE. That’s the difference between him and the likes of musical talents such as Prince, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, even Bob Dylan. These people, talented as they were/are, simply did not/do not radiate LOVE to nearly the same extent.

Jackson was along with John Lennon the biggest of the “stars” coming out of the Sixties (Mick Jagger was a big Sixties “star” too but his impact has faded while Jackson’s and Lennon’s impact remains). And it is no coincidence that Lennon also emphasised LOVE (Jagger obviously didn’t), though he didn’t radiate it personally to the same extent as Jackson.

Jackson also radiated vulnerability and many people identified with that.

Jackson had to be a “liberal progressive” of sorts just as Lennon was. Elvis, who also had a great impact, was a conservative but of a particular libertarian sort. As such he had many “liberal progressive” aspects despite identifying as a conservative.

I have previously said that I do not feel that traditional conservatives in particular could impact on people around the globe to the same extent. Not in this modern age anyway.

Feel free to post my previous comments regarding that view.

LA replies:

John Lennon, this deeply negative personality, who didn’t produce a single worthwhile thing after the break up of the Beatles (because the Beatles mediated Lennon’s negativity into something positive, and after the breakup he had nothing worthwhile to offer on his own), radiated LOVE? Give me a break. If you’re talking about his globalist anthem, “Imagine,” that is not an expression of love but an expression of desire for the disappearance of the human world as we know it. “Imagine” is an expression of HATE for everything that actually exists. Yet, as I and others have said many times about life in liberal society (most recently in this entry), if a public figure emits lots of globaloney about how much he loves “humanity” (and, of course, hates his own country), then it doesn’t matter what a nasty piece of work he actually is to other humans; his sins are covered. He’s a “saint.”

Tim W. writes:

I grew up listening to AM Top 40 radio. At night I would tune in the big city 50,000 watt giants such as WABC, WLS, WCFL, WLAC, and CKLW. So having listened to countless hours of pop hits from that era, I would say that Michael Jackson definitely had some talent. The Jackson 5 were a very good Motown pop act in the tradition of the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and other performers that preceded them. They were not in the creative league of the Beatles, and Michael certainly wasn’t Mozart.

Michael Jackson as a superstar, the so-called King of Pop, was a creation of the early music video era. Any new technology can have negative side-effects, such as people walking around all day, or driving a vehicle, while jabbering on a cell phone. One negative from the arrival of MTV was that looks, dancing ability, and charisma became as important, if not more so, than musical talent in the creation of musical stars. This is when Jackson rose from being a member of a successful pop group who had gone solo, to being a cultural icon.

Jackson combined some talent with “sexy” teen oriented dance moves, charisma, and a fashionable appearance. Remember, music videos were still pretty new when Thriller debuted. Jackson hired a Hollywood director (John Landis) to produce a video longer and more elaborate than usual. It featured a ton of dancing. It had a horror film motif at a time when grotesque slasher films were all the rage. The music sounded okay. The result was “the greatest music video of all time” (which isn’t saying much) and the biggest selling album of all time.

Jackson thus catapulted to the top contemporaneously with Madonna, who largely got by on being able to dance and act slutty. Dance by then meant being able to gyrate across the stage smoothly while writhing sexually, not ballet or the dances Fred & Ginger did. Madonna also boosted herself by the now time honored liberal method of “pushing the envelope” a little more in the libertine direction with each new video. Jackson’s variant on this was when he began grabbing and rubbing his crotch during his dance routines.

Celebrities such as Jackson, Madonna, or Princess Di become idols in a society where people have no firm values or faith in God. There’s a difference between being a fan of someone and idolizing them. Our society deifies mortal people like Jackson because it wants to worship someone popular, who doesn’t have any rules for them to follow, and who fits the zeitgeist. Jackson fit that bill perfectly, and no amount of strange behavior or allegations of child sexual abuse could shake it for some people.

June 27

LA writes:

Here is more on Jackson and love, from an article by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

In many ways his tragedy was to mistake attention for love. I will never forget what he said when we sat down to record 40 hours of conversations where he would finally reveal himself for a book I authored. He turned to me and said these haunting words: “I am going to say something I have never said before and this is the truth. I have no reason to lie to you and God knows I am telling the truth. I think all my success and fame, and I have wanted it, I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That’s all. That’s the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved. I said I know I have an ability. Maybe if I sharpened my craft, maybe people will love me more. I just wanted to be loved because I think it is very important to be loved and to tell people that you love them and to look in their eyes and say it.” One cannot read these words without feeling a tremendous sadness for a soul that was so surrounded with hero-worship but remained so utterly alone. Because Michael substituted attention for love he got fans who loved what he did but he never had true compatriots who loved him for who he was. Perhaps this is why, when so many of his inner circle saw him destroying his life with prescription medication—something he used to treat phantom physical illnesses which were really afflictions of the soul—they allowed him to deteriorate and disintegrate rather than throwing the poison in the garbage.

Michael’s death is not just a personal tragedy, it is an American tragedy. Michael’s story was the stuff of the American dream—a poor black boy who grows up in Gary, Indiana, and ends up a billionaire entertainer. But we now know how the story ends. Money is not a currency by which we can purchase self-esteem and being recognized on the streets will never replace being loved unconditionally by family and true friends.

[end of Boteach quote]

As for me, the idea that millions of people took this plastic-surgery-tranformed freak seriously and cared deeply about him is what hits me as “an American tragedy.” It’s like making an icon out of a transexual.

LA writes:

Jeff also has more on the theme of Jackson and love here:

June 29

Paul K. writes:

From one of the guests on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” I learned that in order to understand the cultural impact of Michael Jackson, “you have to picture Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and James Brown combined in one person.”

A few comments about that. First, unlike Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, James Brown, Jim Morrison, or any number of other pop stars and celebrities I can think of, nobody wanted to BE Michael Jackson. You might want to be able to dance like him, but that’s about it. The money and fame could not possibly compensate for inhabiting what was obviously a disturbed mind.

Another thing that occurs to me about Jackson is that his songs never spoke to his own experience. One of his greatest hits was “Billy Jean,” about a man contesting a paternity suit, while Jackson himself did not even father the children of his own wife! Another, “Black and White,” had the refrain, “If you want to be with me, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white”—this from a man who suffered great pains to expunge his own racial identity. Other hits were about fantasies—“Cool Criminal,” “Thriller,” “Beat It.” There was no real person, no real emotion, behind any of those songs. I think that’s why I never cared for his music. When you hear James Brown sing “I Got You,” Bob Dylan sing “Positively Fourth Street,” or Patsy Cline sing “Crazy,” you feel that the performer is communicating genuine emotion. I never felt that Jackson was communicating anything. [LA replies: Maybe that’s why the little bits I heard of his songs struck me with approximately the force of every Elton John song I’ve ever heard—something artificial, conveying nothing real, having zero interest to me.]

I have been astonished at the fulsomeness of the praise for Jackson. Here is what I think will happen. With his death, the details of his grotesque sexual activities will start spilling out. Then the 24-hour media, which has played out the “nation in mourning” routine, will switch gears and go into the “What’s wrong with America that we could let this twisted person get away with what he did” routine. That will fill in another week or two.

Andrew E. writes:

I agree with much of the commentary at VFR the last few days regarding the life and death of Michael Jackson, both the harshly critical remarks as well as those less so, such as Markus’s commentary. I think part of the mystery as to why so many people were fans of his, despite his astounding freakishness especially over the last 15 years, is that there really was something real and good and true about his music. Now here I’m speaking of some of his work with the Jackson five in the ’70s, his first two solo albums “Off the Wall” (1979) and “Thriller” (1982) and some of the tracks from his third solo album “Bad” (1987). This is the portion of Michael Jackson’s body of work that deserves to be remembered. If you were to listen to some of his best known songs such as “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Rock with You” (both from Off the Wall) or “Human Nature,” “Thriller,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” (from Thriller) or “The Man in the Mirror” and “Smooth Criminal” (from Bad) you would hear songs that are full of soul, life, a zest for being. Contrast this with the lifeless but popular music of the grunge era during the ’90s which was full of nihilism and depressing themes.

When I think of Michael Jackson I think exclusively of the still-black, twentysomething singing and dancing phenom. When I was 12 years old and watched Jackson debut his music video for “Black or White” on Fox in 1991 at the end of which he embarked on a bizzare five or six minute dance sequence where he repeatedly grabbed his crotch and smashed car windows, I knew then that I wouldn’t continue to pay attention to him. The fact that he had began to look exceedingly bizarre to me made this realization easy to adjust to. Since that moment I haven’t seen him as much more than some kind of circus attraction. When I saw his mug shot during the second round of child abuse accusations in 2003-2004, he had had even more plastic surgery and didn’t look human to me. I distinctly remember having the realization that his fate was sealed.

And it is sad in my opinion. I was too young to experience most of his work with a considered mind when it first appeared but growing up in America during the ’80s and ’90s you are always aware of the phenomenon of Michael Jackson and so you knew his music (again, the good stuff before he broke himself down). “Thriller” was the first music album I ever listened to, I had heard of this guy Michael Jackson in the third grade and wanted to find out what the big deal was. He was the leading force of ’80s pop culture, a decade very rich in pop culture, some of which was quite good. Jackson essentially invented the music video (and thus modern pop music) and people are right to criticize the format. The problem is that all the pop artists since Jackson have tried to emulate him in this regard and none of them are in his league in terms of combined singing, dancing and general artistic abilities. For me, his videos for “Billie Jean” and especially “Thriller” are always a joy to watch and with them he essentially squeezed everything out of the limited format that it was possible to, which is why the format has only barely limped on since. Jackson wrote and composed at least half of his music including some of his most well known hits and there is a definite timelessness to his best stuff.

In addition to the millions of jaded Americans (an accurate indictment in my opinion) who were his fans, there are many times more across the world as well. Anyway, I may be biased in this but those were just some of my thoughts on the subject since VFR seems interested.

June 30

Anna writes:

You have not been missing something spectacularly, awesomely great for the last 30 years.

What you may have missed is what I saw, on occasion, that prompted me to know—Wow! What talent! What a joy to watch!—Elton John? There are, for me, some beautiful songs that speak to a moment.

What about the person? Ahh. Here I have a belated understanding that many of my joys in literature, arts, politics are backed by biographies that speak of less than the joys; and oftentimes of less than a good life.

Say a good thing, sing a good song. People will remember. But differently as time goes by.

Why is Michael Jackson a world-wide phenomenon? Because we are talking about him here.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 27, 2009 12:37 AM | Send

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