Thursday, July 09, 2009

Funeral of the Millennium

Okay, so I called it wrong. Michael Jackson's funeral was bigger than the funeral service for Lady Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales. After all, the King of Pop had his memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where over a million people put their names in a lottery for eight thousand some pairs of tickets.

The Staples Center! Site of the 2000 Democratic National Convention, where Gore gave his wife Tipper a passionate and lengthy kiss. It was also the site of Michael Jackson's last rehearsal in preparation for his London concerts. In fact, he was doing high dance routines and showing the younger dancers how its done the evening before his death. So much for reports that he was frail and weak! Video footage (of some 1,000 hours available) proves that he's not some bed-ridden skeleton as some people would have it. So, what was the purpose for the drug cocktails he was taking?

But, this post is not going to be about speculations on the cause of his death. Nope. I wasn't even sure I was going to write yet another post about Michael Jackson, but a recent disagreement with another blogger over the spotlight Michael Jackson has commanded since his death kind of compels me to do it. Mostly because I think a lot of people who complain about the media's excessive amount of airtime devoted to this death JUST DON'T GET IT. I heard all these complaints before, most memorably when Princess Diana died, followed almost immediately by Mother Teresa's death. Comments I heard others make was that Diana received more coverage than "the more deserving" Mother Teresa. Then when John F. Kennedy, Jr. died, again there were these critics who complained about the amount of media attention on Kennedy's death. Like I said...they argue but THEY JUST DON'T GET IT.

These individuals touched a lot of lives around the world. Whether you like them or not, many people have a strong emotional reaction to the deaths of these popular people, and the outpouring of grief is worldwide and universal. In fact, in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated, the grief truly did go around the world. My mother was a teenager in Thailand and she heard about it and remembers the sadness her fellow Thai people in a town like Ubon felt upon hearing the news. She even remembers that it had rained that day, and that Thais thought of it as the tears of God! Did any of these Thai people meet President Kennedy? What is it about certain people that capture our imaginations? I'm talking universally. Because let's be honest...the day someone like George W. Bush dies, there won't be an outpouring of grief in most of the world the way there was for someone like Kennedy.

These critics remind me of the cool kids in school, who disliked anything that had popular appeal. If a student or singer was extremely popular, they'd naturally "hate" or trash talk that person. They want others to think that they are above the tastes of what they view "the mediocre minds" liking. They're simply "too cool" for that. Its fine if they feel that way. But its hard to ignore that some individuals do indeed affect the lives of millions of people. The grief over Jackson's death shows that. To ask if Paul McCartney will receive such attention on his passing, or Sting, or Neil Armstrong, or William Shatner, or even Bill Clinton on theirs is to miss the point. Michael Jackson's impact on popular culture is far more reaching than any of those named individuals. It is not "hyperbole, sensational vulgarity, or pathological vanity" to recognize the impact someone like Michael Jackson had on our culture. Are there more who deserve the honour? Perhaps, but their sphere of influence is smaller. Remember, thousands of black Americans marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and went to jail with him, but he gets the fame, attention, holiday, and monuments in his honour. There were many who refused to give up their seats on segregated buses, but Rosa Parks caught the media's attention.

Spiritual guru Wayne Dyer often says in his talks: "nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come." Some people achieve glory where others serve anonymously. Is there anything wrong with that? Is it hero worship to honour the contributions of a man who was not a "so-so talent"? In the two weeks since his death, I've tried to come up with another "icon of popular culture" that is of the same level as Michael Jackson, and I simply cannot think of one. In music, only U2 and Madonna come close, but even then, the gap is still pretty wide. Maybe its because I lived in Europe as a teenager and bought German and French music magazines. Michael's songs reached the top of the singles and albums charts throughout mostly white Europe. Everywhere he went, he had the same reaction. Japan, China, throughout Africa, Australia, South America. What is it about him that achieved such stratospheric success?

I know the blogger whose post I have quoted above in his critique of Michael Jackson would disagree with me strongly, but this is what I believe about Michael Jackson...

He was a definite child prodigy, which is an indication that his musical talent was developed in a previous lifetime or lifetimes. One author who wrote "Return of the Revolutionaries" even theorized that Michael might have been the reincarnation of one of Sally Hemings' children with Thomas Jefferson, who was known for being a singer, dancer, and entertainer. There's no way to prove or know if that theory is true, of course, but when you analyze talent, there's no mistaking that Michael Jackson had a singing and dancing talent that surpasses many superstars. Part of his appeal, as well, is rooted in the mythology of the American dream...the Horatio Alger story of a person born into poverty and achieving wealth and success through a combination of hard work and talent. In comparison to today's Reality Televised world of entertainment, people can be famous just for being talentless idiots.

I also believe that Michael Jackson is part of the spiritual generation that is born to transform our world. The world of spirit is a world where race, gender, age, nationality, or religion doesn't matter. Through some odd operations, Michael's physical evolution seems to indicate that. We don't think of him as a typical man like his brothers became. He wanted to live in this fantasy world of Peter Pan, refusing to grow up. For all Michael's laments about his abusive father, a question he should have asked himself was about the tradeoff. His father might've been a hard-assed stage parent, but if he wasn't, would the world have ever heard of Michael Jackson? The music and videos he created, the wealth that followed, the opportunities money gave him to recreate a childhood in adulthood...I wonder if Michael ever stopped to think that maybe his father was doing the best that he could to get the family out of poverty. What a success!

In my spiritual beliefs, I can very well see the possibility of the soul who was Michael Jackson choosing to be born into a low-key family that allows children plenty of playtime in some future lifetime. He achieved success beyond anyone's wild imaginations, and perhaps even his own. Of course, with the life review comes the areas in life where you affected other people for the worst. If he did molest those boys, the life review will be a painful experience for him as he experiences the situation from their perspective. However, if he did not molest those boys (and if they were in fact after his money), then society as a whole has failed him. That's probably one of the worst things you could ever be accused of being (supposedly, child molesters in prison have to be in isolated cells due to endangerment to their lives by other prisoners). If he's innocent, the people who made the false accusation truly deserve to go to hell for what they did.

The other blogger commented "it is impossible to measure degree of influence anyway, so why bother?" I think the proof is apparent in the worldwide outpouring of grief in the past two weeks and with the memorial service on Tuesday. Did Adolf Hitler garner this much grief when he committed suicide? Did Jerry Falwell have this many mourners when he passed away? Will Nelson Mandela have as many people at his funeral some day (his funeral will most likely be another huge one)? How can one man bring together such a diverse group of people in celebration of his life, music, and legacy? To dismiss his influence on changing our culture is to not understand the power of popular culture in our world. In fact, before the Iraq War, there have been reports that recruitment for suicide bombers was tough because of the popularity of American popular culture in the Middle East. Mullahs in Iran call America "The Great Satan" in part because they know that our popular culture is irresistible and would undermine their traditional values. Hell, evangelical Christians in our society knock popular culture all the time and have even tried to counter it by offering up Christian versions of it.

Baby boomers fought the frontlines of racial integration, but it was our generation that grew up on MTV and Michael Jackson videos. I remember in sixth and seventh grades when classmates in lily white Nebraska wore one sequined glove or Thriller or Beat It jackets to school. Our generation and the one right after saw white kids buying rap albums and trying to act black, whereas a generation earlier to be called a "nigger-lover" was an epithet most wanted to avoid. So, yes, I credit Michael Jackson as the prime force who broke down the cultural wall between black people and white people. Dr. King might have done it politically, but it took someone like Michael Jackson to transform our culture even further, to bring America closer to the Dream that King envisioned. When Obama got elected, I saw a quote that said: Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Barack could run. Barack ran so that we could fly. I would amend that to: Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Michael could dance. Michael danced so Barack could run. Barack ran so we could fly.

It's not hyperbole to recognize the genius of Michael Jackson's music and legacy. If one has doubts, there's this question to pose. Is our world better because this person had lived? To that, I have to say YES. Absolutely YES. A million times YES! Fortunately for us, his music will live on for eternity. I never tire of listening to many of his songs. They simply make you feel good. What's the point of human existence if we had to be serious all the time? Why not indulge in the feeling offered by a classic pop song? We are at our best when we are inspired and act from that level of being. For that, I will always appreciate the bright shining star in the cosmos that was Michael Jackson. Rest in peace!

Tuesday evening, I went over to McDonalds to rent a DVD and ended up staying for an hour because of Anderson Cooper's recap of Michael Jackson's memorial service on CNN that I didn't get to watch due to my being at work when the event occurred live. I was very impressed. Now that's a funeral! Perhaps the best damn funeral, ever! Maybe for an entire millennium (how's that for hyperbole?). No other artist deserves it more, though, because I doubt that our planet will ever experience another individual like Michael Jackson. The music industry is too fractured now for any singer or group to reach such a wide-range of fans across the world with numbers in the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions. Its the same reason why the final episode of MASH remains the highest viewed show in history. We have more choices in our entertainment now that a show or artist simply isn't going to get the numbers that Michael Jackson enjoyed. In fact, U2's latest album still hasn't sold 1 million copies in the U.S., yet in 2001, Jackson's last album was panned by critics and still managed to sell 10 million copies. It was his worst selling album, but even his worst is better than the best of other singing superstars (Madonna, for example can't seem to break beyond 2 or 3 million albums sold since the early 1990s).

Above is Brooke Shields and Magic Johnson. It was great to hear Brooke's remarks about her friend Michael. They've been friends since childhood, as both bonded over their shared experience of being childhood stars. I was stunned how gorgeous Brooke still looks now. I don't think I've seen her picture since the media spat with Tom Cruise over her taking medication to combat post-partum depression. If I'm not mistaken, she was Michael's "date" to the 1984 Grammys, where he collected 8 awards. She had joked about not wanting to hold his gloved hand because the sequins pressed into her skin. She also compared him to Le Petit Prince, which I had read in French for a college French class. I remember thinking that book was weird, but in the context of Michael Jackson, it makes perfect sense now.

The finale to the memorial service, where people got onstage to sing "We Are the World" which featured a cool effect on the overhead screen (various religious symbols would form letters to the words in the lyrics being sung).

A golden casket befitting the King of Pop. I wasn't shocked by that gaudiness. It was kind of expected, really. A person who lived in the extravagence of Neverland couldn't very well have his corpse in a humble wooden coffin, could he?

The brothers all paying tribute to their most talented younger brother. All of them wore a single sequined glove. Its a tribute to a person's personal power that he or she could start a fad just based on an idiosyncracy (illustrated perfectly in Patrick Dempsey's 80s film Can't Buy Me Love). I often wondered if the single white glove was accidental. As in, Michael was about to go on stage and he couldn't find one of this gloves, but rather than taking the other one off, he decided to go with the flow...and voila! Instant fad.

Janet Jackson with Michael's three children: Prince Michael Jackson I, Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, and Prince Michael Jackson II ("Blanket"). Paris gave a short, heartfelt statement in the end, saying that her father was the best dad in the world. She teared up, so I think she really meant it. I wonder how his children might view him. They will be interesting to watch, because perhaps some day, they'll want to know who their biological parents are (if for nothing else than genetic inheritence issues).

At work, I had mentioned that there is no way that any of the three are Michael's children. My know-it-all School Marm co-worker jumped into the conversation I was having with someone else to let me know that she knows a black person who had white kids. I'm well aware of the Punnett Square, thank you very much...but I think its not out of the box to suggest that these children do not carry any of Michael Jackson's DNA. Its believed that Michael changed his face to look less like his father and more like Diana Ross. The last thing he might want is children bearing his father's DNA or maybe even for his children to inherit his talent. I read a comment somewhere that said: "isn't it funny that Madonna ended up with black kids and Michael Jackson ended up with white kids?" (*Madonna does have two biological children of her own, though and there's no mistaking that Lourdes physically resembles her mother).

As for Janet, I really hope that she records a deeply personal and awesome album in the aftermath of this sorrowful event. Her last great album was 1989's Rhythm Nation 1814. Ever since the mid-1990s, she has recorded one hoochie mama album after another, to dwindling record sales. Note to Janet (and Britney Spears): overkill on sexual innuendo is not helping your careers. Take a page from Santana, who revived his career in the late 1990s with Supernatural and Shaman. He went spiritual and deep to find new success. A spiritual and deep album from Janet might bring her career back to the heights she enjoyed in the late 1980s. Doesn't hurt. She is, after all, the family's most talented member now.

Now that the funeral is over, I hope they release this service on DVD as well as Moonwalker finally. Heck, why not put Captain EO out on DVD as well? Three of his albums are the top sellers of the week according to Billboard magazine. As a cynic once said: death is a great career move. Elvis sold more records dead than during his lifetime, so there's no reason to suspect why Michael won't as well.

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