But this story about the 13 year-old being forced to trade in his iPod for a Sony Walkman and finding that device somewhere between "quaint" and not "a credible piece of technology" reminded me of Jackson. It seems to me that Jackson is--or rather, he was--something like that that Walkman. He was an innovation that was a real game changer when he emerged, rather like the Walkman, and yet behind the force of his public persona was a kind of feigned or, maybe, a genuine quaintness that made him something beyond a "credible piece of technology." In the end, it is limited and it disappoints. The potential for or the idea of greatness was there, but it could not come from the vessel in which the idea of that greatness dwelt.
The 13 year-old me would have given anything to have had a Walkman with a cassette tape of Thriller. A quarter-century later, I have both a Walkman and an iPod and use them both, primarily, for the even more quaint past-time of reading books. And I'm grateful, too, that if the authors of said books have ever taken up with llamas, pre-pubescent boys, illicit drug activity, or daughters of famous rock stars, I don't have to know anything about it from that source--for, unlike the news media, the iPod won't tell me anything I don't ask it to give me. I suppose there are some vital things missed by our ability to curl up into ourselves and self-program our entertainment and information these days. "Experts" insist that this is so and bemoan our fragmentation for a living. No artist may ever sell as many records (or whatever they call them these days) as Michael Jackson did. This is because we are all so fragmented now and there is a flavor for every taste--nothing drives our collective taste, we're told. The mantra seems to be that the "common experience" we once shared because of our limited choices in media and entertainment is a thing of the past and something not entirely salutary. Perhaps there's something to this.
But then, perhaps there is--or would be--something much more rational about that development if it were a real one. The phenomenon of Michael Jackson was not actually Michael Jackson, after all. And even as we learn the sordid details of his broken life, we look only at shadows . . . and those remain as creepy as shadows usually are. We remain ignorant. And this essential ignorance remains our "common experience" when we go through weeks like this one. How can anyone say that there is no "common experience" looking at weeks like this? There is one. It's just that it's embarrassing. Maybe it always was. Despite our alleged "fragmentation"--very little has actually changed about mass culture. There seems to be no real escape from the MJ mania and no end to the depressing details we are now forced to know about his life. You see . . . you can't even escape it on NLT.