Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Pop Culture


The passing of the iconic figure and "heart-throb" of my misspent youth did not affect me in the quite the same way that it seems to have affected American media--so I began to wonder if there was something "off" in me. According to all reports, I'm supposed to feel this tragedy in the depths of my soul. And yet, I don't. Perhaps that's because, to echo Andrew Breitbart who earlier this week filled in for Dennis Miller's radio show, to me Michael Jackson died a long time ago. I think it started with the llama phase, continued because there was nothing "really, really 'bad'(i.e., good)" about Bad, and certainly culminated in the 1993 charges against him. So that's why, until I read this, I did not even really feel any compulsion to think or comment about it and was stupidly surprised by all of the crazed coverage.

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.

Categories > Pop Culture

Discussions - 9 Comments

Jim Harrigan put it very well the other day on Facebook: "Yes, people, the singing pedophile is dead. Now can we get back to regular life?"

Michael Jackson had passed away afternoon of June 25, 2009. Just shortly after he was rushed to the hospital early afternoon of June 25, he died with a symptom of heart attack, although the case is still under investigation. I am profoundly saddened by his untimely passing, and I'm sure the whole world is. Millions of fans all around the world will surely mourn for the loss of one of the great pillars of music industry, he is a legend after all. The news of Michael Jackson passing away is troubling, as he was set to begin a comeback and was only 50 years of age. The Jackson family commented soon after he was admitted that he was in bad shape. The King of Pop began his career at a very young age as a member of the Jackson 5, and later had great success as a solo artist, including Thriller – the best selling album of all time. So he has no problem with any cash advance. Michael Jackson, may you rest in peace. You will be remembered.

I will say the amount of coverage stuns me. It ain't over. Today the Today Show featured a room by room tour of the big house at Neverland. It was actually quite nice with MJ's stuff out of it, certainly more tasteful and far more opulent than Graceland. But the fact remains that even Taylor Swift writes more hummable tunes.

The phenomenon of celebrity is simply the cultural logic of late capitalism. So we are flooded with manufactured grief when a celebrity dies, just like when Reagan died, just like when Beck cries and replays the 9-11 airplanes slamming into buildings. I am instructed to feel everything the tv tells me to feel. But the problem is that manufactured grief has no ground or locus. Unlike real grief, I can just click the button to a thousand other feelings, emotions, desires, all designed to sell (like Fox outrage-at-news channel). Mrs. Ponzi's mistake is that she confuses constructed media emotions, bought and paid for to profit, for a genuine collective experience. It is of course the dream of the conservative to condemn any human collective as 'socialism' and still call for community. But the paradox is that the dream of the capitalist is precisely accompanied by the lack of individualism, which pushes people and goads them into a terminal repetition of lost styles and 'channels' of being. The reality of freedom is now just this 'atomized' state of being. Just as Rush Limbaugh claimed that Sanford's infidelity was caused by Obama, I will turn and say that Michael Jackson's decline was the result of conservatism's goading forth of individualism and greed. We are all Michael Jacksons. In the hatred of the social, what is left of human beings under conservativism is the narcotized and vacant stares of de-socialized individuals, having plastic surgeries in the desperate need to belong to someone somewhere, but self-commodifying as markets demand.

This brings to mind a Paul Conrad cartoon from over 20 years ago: A frowning Reagan says to Michael Jackson, "You'd think you people would show more gratitude for all I've done for you." Jackson: "My people?" Reagan: "Yes, millionaires."

Nice ren, are you a little neo primitivist? Freedom is 19.99 pricepoints at Xmas, lol. The only thing I though about when I heard Jackson had passed was how much I loved Wierd Al's Eat it and Fat music videos.

The lack of coverage of Iran and of the Democratic legislative agenda is shameful...would be so even if Sanford were the main story instead of MJ.

But, I like talkin' about stuff like this, no, not the weirdness and the impending money/death/custody-disputes, but the meaning, such as it was, of his pop-art and our being taken by it. You'll find me going on about that below, in what began as a Front Porcher thread, but became all about MJ.

Jesus Christ, people.

Michael Jackson was a lonely, narcissistic, troubled person...such people typically die young when they have the wealth to indulge their addictions (whatever they may be). Elvis had the same problem, as did Howard Hughes. Actually, I find myself pitying him...the money, the adoration, none of it could save just proves that money and fame can't fix you if you are deeply broken.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2009/07/milestones.php on line 621

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2009/07/milestones.php on line 621