Michael Jackson’s life and death has been described in many very different styles. One style, which I associate with certain UK common rooms, treats the life as an aesthetic phenomenon, excised from its real world consequences. Another, which has for me very different associations, does quite the opposite. Here are excerpts from two examples; see if matching them with their authors is as easy as I think it will be. Would you qualify or add to my characterizations?
Musical savant though he was, Jackson was, almost from the beginning, a tragic figure–so obviously trapped in that mirror, forever reflecting what others wanted him to be.
In the wake of his death, many have hailed his “crossover appeal.” There is no doubt that his musical acumen led to the integration of MTV; but that “appeal” had a more sinister undertone. If Elvis was “the White Negro,” so Michael fashioned himself into “the Negro Caucasian.” He literally erased himself before our eyes, his nose slowly disappearing, his skin fading to ghostly pallor, his voice growing higher and whispier, his body evaporating to a dry husk of barely a hundred pounds at the time of his death. It was hard not to be fascinated by him as he molted through all possible confusions of gender, race and sexuality. But his transgressivity was more than just theater; he mimed a narrative of constant paradox and infinite suffering.
By now the stories of that suffering are well documented: Jackson’s body was scarred from the abuse that his father, Joe, a former boxer, administered to him when he was a small child. …
No wonder Jackson grew up to resemble a walking, talking fright mask, playing with the putty of bodies, of childhood, of kindness, of trauma, of forgiveness. What remains inexplicable, however, is the absence of social, ethical or legal limit to the excesses of Jackson family life. … Medicine is a practice, not a commodity fun house filled with new noses and chins and feel-good opiates to be issued like goodies from a Pez dispenser.
Fortunately, the question of medical complicity in Jackson’s death is beginning to percolate in the media. Perhaps, too, his children’s custody will be more closely scrutinized. It is extremely troubling to learn that Jackson’s mother, Katherine–and therefore her depraved husband, Joe–has temporary custody of them. …
Jackson’s fame and fortune ensured that he had few barriers to the pursuit of whatever whimsical fancy seized him. He became a more brilliant and frightening version of the Mad Hatter than even Tim Burton could conjure. And with that power, Jackson arranged for the bringing-to-life of three innocent souls whose racial embodiment pantomimed all he could never be.
Another beautiful boy is gone, wiped out in an instant. Michael Jackson, unable to cross the threshhold into manhood, has died at 50, still a boy, coquettish, fantasy-ridden, horribly vulnerable, unable to take control of his life.
His sudden death is a strange kind of victory. He had managed to prevent his ageing and even his growing up. There was no beard upon his chin; his voice was a childish treble. Instead of entering middle age and letting himself be chained to earth, he has floated away like a wisp, annihilated on the brink of a 50-date concert tour that I for one was dreading. …
As his imagination faltered and grew dim, the fending off of maturity became desperate, demented and pointless. The struggle against ageing turned into self-harming and self-mutilation.
Ever since Dionysos danced ahead of his horde of bloody-footed maenads across the rocky highlands of prehistoric Greece, dance and song have been the province of boys. Like Orpheus, Jackson was destroyed by his fans, whose adulation and adoration prevented his living in any kind of normal society. The creativity ebbed away day by day. He became a parody of himself. It is time now to forget all that and salute the miraculous boy who will triumph over death as Dionysos did, becoming immortal through his art.
Author A: Germain Greer, writing in an English newspaper.
Author B: Patricia Williams, writing in a US political journal.
The postscript: Posts like this may raise the following question: Does this really belong on a feminist blog? What’s feminist about descriptions of MJ’s life? If we think of feminism as concerned with kyriarchy, then the answer comes quite easily. The finally fatal tensions in MJ’s life cannot be expressed by the linear model of patriarchy. Indeed, particularly on one analysis offered here, his resources from positions of power make fatal his responses to his positions of subordination.