Friday, July 10, 2009

Man in the Mirror

So, Beau, what do you think you’ll tell your kids about Michael Jackson?

My kids??

I mean when you become a father.

... What do you think about this one?

Meh, too flashy.

… Really, though, despite the media spin and one-dimensional record industry packaging, MJ’s life was a little too fraught for him to be remembered simply as the “King of Pop.”

You think kids ten, fifteen years from now will really care about Michael Jackson’s personal history?

Of course! According to Berry Gordy, MJ’s the greatest performer that ever lived!

The next generation will be exposed to his music one way or another, and with YouTube, Hulu, and the like, they’re bound to watch his videos … along with his transformation.

Too big?

A tad.

Charley, I think by the time my theoretical kids come of age, plastic surgery, ethnic ambiguity, and androgyny will be so commonplace, they wouldn’t give Michael Jackson’s appearance a second thought.

As time goes on, MJ’s self-crafting of his image will likely become more the norm than the exception.

But there’ll be a narrative behind that cultural sea change, Beau: The pervasive ethos of color discrimination within various ethnic communities ...

And the association of blackness with a wide range of dark and esoteric cultural tropes …

[... from urban street culture ...]

[... to primitive images of an imagined African past …]

[... to the occult ...]

… And the habitual effacement of Negroid features in the entertainment industry.

Speaking of the effacement of “Negroid features,” you need to lose that straw sunhat with a quickness.

Looks OK to me—

You look like you’re on your way to a Spades tournament at a backyard retirement barbecue where you'll trade BS stories from "the good ol' days" and flirt with whatever 50-year-old who'll let you bum from her pack of Kool’s.


Hmm, yeah ... Not quite ready to become my dad yet.

As I see it, Charley, historians will frame Mike Jack as, at best, an eccentric genius or, at worst, an acutely troubled human being. What’s it matter how I present the issue to my offspring?

This isn’t just some isolated scholarly debate, Beau. This is a question with a significance on par with deciding whether to breastfeed or to administer formula, to send your kids to public or private school …

Whether to show your kids Star Wars in the order in which the episodes were produced—episodes 4, 5, 6, then 1, 2, and 3—or in the order of narrative chronology.

This is a game-changing decision, Beau, an act of parental prerogative that could fundamentally alter how your kids see the world!

Hmm, maybe.

... This one?

Only if you plan to rock an eye patch, a billowy shirt, leather chaps, and a scabbard at your waist.

… And back into the clearance rack it goes.

It’s a question of whether to present your children with the ugly social implications of race head-on or to glaze over them …

Whether we’ll allow the tragic aspects of Michael Jackson’s life to repeat themselves in the next generation or take the narrative of MJ’s rise and fall to heart and run racial pathology into the ground once and for all.

But, Charley, it’s as if you’re saying there’s nothing positive to be salvaged from MJ’s legacy when nothing could be further from the truth.

[Who doesn’t remember fondly that trademark and decidedly non-Negroid hair curl upon his brow ...]

[the white, rhinestone-gloved hand contrasting his brown one ...]

[and later, the haunting dance duo upon a UFO with his sister—the washed-out image of a pale, gaunt, but no doubt dynamic and new version of Michael Jackson?]

Madonna, Cher get to recreate themselves without criticism—heck, even Garth Brooks released an album as the emo rocker Chris Gaines, and no one batted an eye, much less completely disowned him as the general public did with Michael.

The reality that African American entertainers aren’t able to undergo the same imagistic evolutions without encountering presumptuous speculation and accusations of self-hatred is the real racial pathology, Charley, not the transformation, itself.

... Interesting point.

... Hey, Beau, I think you’ve finally found one that fits.

Now I just need the high-water slacks, glittery socks, and red leather jacket, and I’ll be good to go.

Btw, Charley, what are you going to tell your kids about Michael Jackson?

My kids?? I won’t have to tell them anything, Beau.

I'll fill up their i-Pods with episodes of This American Life, Selected Shorts, and reruns of Tavis Smiley's old NPR radio show ... live in a remote part of the country where their only radio options are public radio.

If I can sequester them from exposure to music of any kind until the ages of seven or eight or so, I'm hoping they'll develop a natural distaste for the shallow, over-produced garbage that fills our air waves.

Wow ... you know that's the same kind of oppressive child-rearing that created the socially maladjusted Michael Jackson the world came to know.

Nah, if anything, my children will turn out just like me, which I'm cool with.

Oh, btw, Charley ... I think that girl over there's checking you out.

Wh—? Where?

Standing over there between the rack of felt fedoras and the jars of hat feathers.

Oh, crap! Must've drawn attention to myself with this brightly colored New Orleans Hornets cap! Is she ... is she ... still looking?

Yep, out of the corner of her eye, with a little sidewise grin. I think she's into you, dude.

Oh, crap, oh, crap, oh crap! ... There! Maybe this disguise will throw her off. Is she ... still looking now?

... Nah ... nah, dude ... I think you managaed to scare her off.

Phew! That was a close one ... What were talking about, again?

Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii don't remember, dude ... Let's bounce.


Vanessa said...

This is fucking brilliant.

Jackson Brown said...

lol, really? thanks. :-)

Vanessa said...

Totally. Trying on hats as they discuss identity and the media's construction of celebrity? Brill. Do you follow Ill Doctrine? If not, you should. Very excellent commentary on MJ.