Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Contra Porchers

It might be that you’re wondering why I haven’t posted lately. No, it’s not because i finally got a life. Or even because I refuse to rush to judgment on the true cause of Michael’s death (although it may be prudent not to follow the lead of TV’s Dr. Chopra and remain silent until the toxicology report acutally shows up).

There has been a pro-wrestling kind of war between the postmodern conservatives and the front porch republicans (not Republicans!) on other blogs. I’ve hesitated to call this to your attention, because most NLT readers would surely regard both sides as separately but equally nuts. Still, if you click and do lots of scrolling and some more clicking, you might well be entertained.

Discussions - 9 Comments

First Things has been swirling down the toilet bowl for some time now. Hard to believe I once had a subscription.

My two thoughts on M. Jackson,

He had epic and pitiable vices. The Zombie Dance in THRILLER, in the talent and work that produced it, is as example of what Peter Lawler elsewhere called "earned greatness". Not the highest example or even close, but a real one.

I hardly ever disagree with Pete, but I don't see the greatness in MJ's music, although the talent and drive are undeniable. Elvis (who was also plenty strange and also drugged himself to death), that's a whole 'nother story.

I wouldn't say MJ's music is great - though Billie Jean has one wordless moan/sigh/exclamation of lust that is pretty powerful. I don't really like the song THRILLER, but the Zombie Dance is great as an expression of grace and timing. I also like SMOOTH CRIMINAL alot more that it deserves (though I like the Alien Ant Farm version better). I realize this is more than any sane person wants to know about my tastes, so I'll shut up.

Pete, I wish I could say you've prompted me to revisit Michael's moans. But Billie Jean is his only melody worth humming (after the salad JACKSON FIVE years), and three dozen Beatles' tunes (which admittedly Michael died owning) are better. I will say, on MJ's behalf, that his videos and live performances showed admirable artistic discipline, something Elvis rarely showed.

Speaking of contradictions I forget Bad. Was Bad good or was Bad bad? I still don't know.

One can hum Billie Jean as much as one wants to, but one should be honest regarding "the truth about ourselves" first. MJ was not. He is not one to look to regardless of one's own reminiscence.

So why bring it up? That's Bad.

On MJ's side of the musical ledger:

1.) Fantastic dancer, and tried to make the music vid. more about dance. A healthy American response to the essentially British/Bohemian/Bowie-esque roots of the music vid. But the vid. genre wasn't, sadly, able to return the pop-scene to appreciation of Gene Kelly-like excellence, because the vid. genre was first and foremost about rock's image grandiosity, something that was spiritually very far removed from the old-fashioned American appreciation of fine hoofin'

2.) Three undeniably great disco tunes: Billie Jean, Don't Stop Till.., and Rock w/You.

On the other side of it: 1.) Lent his talents and obsessions to the bankrupt proposition that the music vid. mattered. I.e., lent his talent to the sold-and-all-too-bought proposition that folks like Madonna and her handlers mattered. That "Madonna moments," or "Thriller moments" mattered. Show-biz wise, the music vid. was a parasitic art-form, it came, we saw, it conquered, and after all the hoopla it left very little of positive value in its wake. Fitting somehow that MTV is now a channel devoted to a reality-show hellscape apparently populated only by endlessly vapid and usually porny losers.

2) Apparently unable, unlike more cynical pop stars like Madonna, Bowie, etc., to handle the alter-egos he had to unleash to win in the pop contest of celebrity, especially vid-centric celebrity. This inability due to a certain sincerity, and to major "issues" and "baggage" as we more than a little cynically say. Useful to remember here also that almost no contemporary role places one more in the psychic and social position of the tyrannical soul of Plato's Republic book IX than that of the mega-millioned celebrity. MJ turned out to be one of our most diseased celebrity money-tyrants, and there can be no papering over this. Disgusting excesses too painful to look in the eye.

3) "Bad" was. At best, should have been called "Mediocre." "Dangerous" simply was bad. Does anyone ever hum a tune from these albums? Some of this is a function of a certain burned-out and complacent character afflicting R and B in general, of course...many reasons for that beyond MJ,but he did as far as I can tell nothing to help...we'll hear I guess what unreleased studio work he had, but his post-Thriller track record does not lead us to expect anything much from it.

And down on the bottom-line of the whole business: a) Guys like Kool and the Gang and Earth, Wind, and Fire must be wonder sometimes, "If we had just been a bit more new-wavishly video-saavy, could we raked in what MJ did?" Musically, after all, they were just as good. b) Right now a music executive with an investment in the product of, say, Stevie Wonder, must be wondering, "Is there any way we could convince people that Stevie is on death's door, or that he really died?" Musically, after all, Wonder is superior. Someone like him might justly be irked to hear all this talk about how MJ's music was "revolutionary."(tired boomer term, BTW)

To qualify my second charge against MJ and to echo Martha Bayles: MJ is not to blame for the fact that by 1984 the emphasis on video-able image had become so crucial to pop success. He might be to blame for wanting that success so badly, which as Madonna's example compared to his proves, is not necessarily a success that depends on musical excellence, as video-wise, Madonna won the accolades for the more "relevant" "artistry."(You see, mere dance moves are nothing compared to trangressivist meta-political "statement" moves!) While the blame for losing the battles with his inner demons is certainly his own, I think the simplest way to put it is this: in the marriage of R & B and MTV that MJ attempted, the spirit of MTV (i.e., the spirit of image-and-publicity centered fame) came out dominant, and indeed seems to have signicantly contributed to the unmooring of his already fragile soul.

At first I wondered who Michael was--then I read the responses and understood. I wasn't obtuse (I think), but I was busy reading the big brawl of Postmodern Conservatives vs. Front Porchers.

However, Michael is much more interesting. LOGOS says that Michael was a huge global success, teamed up with Quincy Jones he made some truly distinctive pop/dance music. It took Motown into the era of stadium rock, but kept a disco beat, all the while remaining true to the best of R&B. LOGOS also acknowledges that the gloved one was weird. He may have shaked the hand of President Reagan, but who knows what happened behind closed gates at Neverland all the while drinking Jesus Juice. LOGOS can recognize talent--so be it, but LOGOS wonders about the cold calculation behind buying Paul McCartney's music from him.

EROS remembers middle school and burgeoning hormones. Dancing with my girl to "Rock With You" seemed to be beyond all convention. Of course this was middle school. The romance ended (but I may have 'felt her up' as it were). I honestly can't remember. I should have been listening to "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." When is enough enough? Michael surely couldn't assign a limit to himself. EROS has a hard time sublimating MJ.

THUMOS thought Michael Jackson sucked. Everyone in high school was enthusiastic about Thriller, but THUMOS never shared that god. In fact, he openly ridiculed it (even if LOGOS told him it was pretty good. Was there an admixture of EROS there too?). THUMOS claimed Rush (a canadian band!) was better than MJ. THUMOS defended sixties (and seventies) rock 'n roll like the Beatles, Stones and Who (even though THUMOS was born in 1968). THUMOS was very confused and eventually became a punk (of course).

Michael is the kind of contradiction that is ridiculous, but that seems to compel one to make a judgment. Was he a childlike Peter Pan child abuser? Was he a humanitarian We Are the World greedy capitalist and celebrity monger? Was he a white black man?

If I were to say anything regarding the Front Porchers vs. the PomoCons, I would say that the PomoCons would have a better take on MJ. The Front Porchers would feel dirty talking about banalities like MJ that only represent the worst in commodification of culture. Their disdain of technology is belied by their webpage, just as everyone I've ever known who disdains popular culture ends up speaking the tropes of popular culture. The PomoCons--I think--understand the Genesis song that says "You gotta get in to get out."

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