Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reflections on MJ: The King of Pop

As the spotlight shone down on an empty microphone, the memorial service over and the sound of his music yearning for his voice, I realized I had just witnessed the end of an era for no longer would that microphone be sung into by the King of Pop as his voice is now present only in memory - memories memorialized in his albums. And it is those albums and the sound of his voice, that brought the world together again to say goodbye and begin to heal our own wounds - wounds created by the loss of our King.

Michael wanted to heal the world and he sought to heal that world through his song, through asking his listeners, asking us, to believe not just in his message, but in ourselves and our own ability to heal the world. We are not alone he told us and we weren't alone today as the world came together to mourn the loss of our King. It is there, in the state of mourning, that a thank you should be given to his family as they opened up their own grief to mourn with us, to help us mourn, and in such mourning begin to celebrate the life of the one lost. While some may have called it a spectacle, a bunch of "hoop-la", they miss the beauty of the moment as millions across the globe entered public spaces, sat in private spaces, to watch on TV or live stream on the internet to be together and mourn the lost object of Michael Jackson. This coming together traversed not only the boundaries of private/public but national boundaries and as some have noted illustrated Michael's message in "Black or White" where it doesn't matter if you're black or white. Yet, in this mourning, we see a beautiful figure in Michael Jackson and it is that beauty - a rather queer beauty - that I seek to reflect on.

As I listened to the stars speak of their memories and experiences of Michael, it was apparent that this man was loved by many, even after he had found himself so often in strange predicaments, inevitably creating him as a strange man in the minds of many. While Al Sharpton noted to Michael's children - "your daddy wasn't strange, what was strange was what your daddy had to deal with", his sentiment fails to recognize the importance of Michael's strangeness and how it was his strangeness that captivated us - that made Michael beautiful.

Michael was strange because he believed in kindness - a queer thing to believe in these days - and his message was always one of kindness. In his soft-spoken voice he spoke of his love of the world and of children - sentiments that are often positioned with the feminine. He believed, even with all he had been through and all that goes on in the world that it could be healed. Yet, in such a soft-spokenness he disrupted our images of the masculine male and as such was seen as "strange" for what kind of man would act like that? A "kind" man would but in such kindness must be positioned as "feminine", as less manly. I would argue it was this kindness that was misunderstood and allowed him to be derided for being “jacko the wacko” for being a boy in a man’s body...for being "crazy". Perhaps, as his actions are positioned as "crazy", we can see that it is kindness that is crazy as we would prefer to not allow ourselves to believe in it, questioning it and anyone who embraces it as "strange". But, Michael was put in strange predicaments because he lived in a strange world in a body that was strange...but it was this strange body that allowed us to see other possibilities and it is in his strange body that he had such power.

Michael Jackson was a queer body as he transgressed so many of our naturalized categories. He challenged our assumptions about race, gender, age, and sexuality. He was black, but white - telling us that it didn't matter. Yet, it does as we hear people ask if he wanted to be white, question him for having "white" kids, or claim him for "their" group - defeating his message of healing. He was man but could pass as woman at times, transgressing the gender binary and causing us to take a second look or even mock him for looking so strange. He wanted to show other possibilities, to show it didn't matter...but we want it to matter, we wanted to box him in...to produce him as a coherent "subject". He transgressed sexual norms as people pondered his sex life and accused him of perverse sexual dealings with children. Yet, these disruptions are not as disruptive as his disruptions of age and that adult-child binary.

It is his traversing the adult-child binary that is most fascinating. Berry Gordy Jr. noted that in his personal life, Michael was shy and child-like. Brooke Shields noted that Michael had to grow up and lose out on his childhood as he entered the adult world of the music industry as a child. He was an adult but always seemed child-like but as a child he had to be adult. His growing up was to quick but as a grown up - he grew beside himself to be "child" while "adult". And it was his original loss of childhood that perhaps provoked him to fight for the child and embrace his own child-ness - to forever traverse that strange boundary between the adult and the child. Yet, when "adults" embrace their childness and when men love children such beings are produced as having had something gone awry - something all to evident in Michael's life.

Yet, it is his child-like status that will allow us to remember Michael forever, for the child is never to be lost, the child is to outlive the adult and in dying as the shy, quiet child-like man he was in his personal life, Michael will live on forever young, forever growing beside himself as his life expands across the globe and throughout time to perhaps continue on in his quest to heal the world. In dying as the child, he remains forever child...never an old man, never anything but that which he sought his whole life to find and protect.

In mourning his lost, the world perhaps found moments where it came together and began to see itself healing from its loss, bringing to fruition - albeit fleetingly - Michael's dream…And, in such a moment, the world perhaps began to see healing in other ways as people reached across to aisle to grasp the hand of an other to fleetingly feel connected as they watched Michael go out with style in New York, Milan, Ghana, Hong Kong, and beyond.

And so with that, I end this reflection...thanking Michael for always sharing his genius with the world, even in strife, to help make it a better world. I thank him for his queerness...for transforming his body in strange ways to perform different possibilities, even if such possibilities often got him in the tabloids for being "wacko". You will live in your music as your voice becomes a testament to your dreams. May you rest in peace.

1 comment:

Icarus said...

I agree that Michael did indeed challenge our schema of what it meant to be black and male but I don't think he did it for the reasons mentioned. Perhaps we can find meaning in the "queer" things Michael Jackson chose to do and use them as examples to teach others to open their minds beyond binary thinking, but alas, the man was still a troubled soul who led a seemingly random and bizarre life.

Of course, anyone who knows a bit about MJ's background knows that his childhood was all but non-existent which more than likely contributed to his "queer" behavior, but I don't think we can now classify his actions as some sort of social experiment that he was conducting to test the limits of society (which I don't necessarily think you are doing.
I just dislike how society romanticizes celebrities when one dies after having just talked smack about him/her/hir just a week prior to death.

The man made amazing music and revolutionized pop music but he didn't exactly bring salvation to the world nor was he the greatest humanitarian of our age. I am all about giving people "props" where they are due but I dislike this glorified view we now have of him and the circus that MJ's death has become.