Still Mourning, Still Trying To Figure Him Out
I’ve been thinking about Michael Jackson a lot because I’m finding it hard to remember a time I wasn’t aware somehow of his work. I imagine it would be harder for people younger than Gen-X to fathom a world where Michael Jackson wasn’t around on the celebrity gossip rags or on the airwaves.
Michael Jackson made his debut at the Apollo in 1967, and rose to prominence in 1968. It’s interesting to note that the rise of Michael Jackson the performer begins during the epoch of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King making his famous “I have a Dream” speech.
For 40years, there was Michael Jackson’s persona in the public sphere. He’s been around as long as say, Robert Redford or Dustin Hoffman. That 40years is actually looking like a very long time in the public consciousness.
Consider these random facts: his arrival on the public consciousness predates the moment George Steinbrenner buys the New York Yankees by 5 years, and 7 years before the renovated stadium re-opened. He was there before the World Trade Center opened in New York City. He arrived in the year Australians chose to let the Indigenous people of Australia be counted as citizens. His arrival predates the finishing of the Sydney Opera House. The Beatles were still together, producing ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Abbey Road’.
His arrival happened the year of the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War. By the time he died, the Americans were just about to pull out of Iraq’s cities ahead of a draw down.
More importantly – I’ve been pondering this – the end of that 40 years marks the first black American President in Barack Obama. And I keep thinking that across those 40 years, I cannot deny that maybe Michael Jackson did so much to move the world’s perception, to turn Reverend King’s vision from a dream to an electable reality.
Let’s face it, Michael Jackson was so weird, that next to him, Barack Obama looks like… a very normal man. A man so normal he’d pass as politically white. And here’s the key about being thrust next to Michael Jackson: Michael Jackson and his very weirdness pushed the boundaries so far, so wide, so, out-there that we – all of us -look normal, even though we are all slightly weird in our on little ways. By the time a de-polemicised black candidate turned up, the world was ready for Obama.
I’m not saying Obama got elected because Michael Jackson directly enabled him through his weirdness in 2008. No. What I am saying is that over the many, many years in between, Michael Jackson and his entire weird persona crossed over so many borderlines that eventually he weirded us all out. not only did he weird me out, he weirded out everybody to the extent that by the the Obama came along, the weirdness he infected the world made Obama look… decidedly normal.
“What is normal anyway?” I can hear you ask, and I’d not be able to give you a workable answer. But the ‘normal’ in this instance would include notions of being closer to the middle of the spectrum in things such as fashion, social status positioning and even sexual orientation.
So this is what I thnk about all this: In the future, when historians look at the second half of the 20th century, they’re going to have to come to terms with Michael Jackson as a cultural influence. We might think of him as ‘Whacko Jacko’ today, but in 100years time, people might actually come to understand him as the man who changed the cultural landscape of America for the better. There is no doubt in my mind today that we lost a giant.