Had I been five years older, Michael Jackson would have been important to me. I would have tried to do the thriller dance, learned the circle slide, and attempted poor approximations of approximations of the moonwalk. But that ultra-cool, guys want to be him, girls want to be with him, Michael Jackson was long gone when I started listening to music. By the time I was truly familiar with him, his Kingdom had popped. The Michael Jackson of my childhood was nothing but a joke. He was a punch line.
The first real memories I have of Michael Jackson is "black or white" and In Living Color's parody (which is an absolutely brutal take down to watch right now). I remember seeing before and after shots of his surgeries. I remember hearing his voice escalate into higher octaves. And I remember him being obsessed with Macaulay Culkin. Intellectually, I knew (because I had been told) that he was important/ significant. Viscerally, to me he felt like nothing but, I'm sorry to say.... a freak. Growing up there were staples of people to make fun of: John Bobbitt, Jeffrey Dahmer, Dan Quayle. Ruling them all, was Michael.
Michael Jackson started his entry into what Bill Simmons terms the Tyson Zone (rough definition= the point where nothing you do surprises anyone anymore) shortly after I was born. (Think that's too early? The seeds were planted. See this article from 1984.) Throughout his -and my- life, he descended into pits of weirdness and depths of inhumanity. He became a kickball of a human being -- nothing but air on the inside and plastic on the out. And yet, what shocks me more than anything, I think, is that all of those failings (and though he was acquitted of child molestation, I don't think many of us would think he was innocent) did not disqualify him from the fawning coverage of the last 24 hours.
I am not saying that people are ignoring his tragic failures. They're not. But they are also not dealing with them head on, without caveats. The focus has been on the Jackson 5, Bad, Beat It. and Thriller. And while I have seen people write, "Woah, was to his life; a lament" -- I have not seen anyone say Michael Jackson was a man who almost definitely committed child molestation and ruined the lives of many children. Simply put, pundits are speaking about his "eccentricities," but they are not blaming Michael for his strange existence or behavior.
And I think that we, the world at large, may not want to assign blame to Michael because we know that we too are guilty for what Michael Jackson became. Michael Jackson died a broken shell of a human being. He seemed to act in ways only approaching how normal human interacted, but never feeling comfortable or at home in his body.
But he wasn't born that way. He became that way. And we know that to be true because we saw it happen and we witnessed his regression. Last year, South Park had a very strange Britney Spears episode, the premise of which was that we want/need our mega-celebrities to be destroyed and torn down. We feed off of it. There's a lot of truth to that, and Michael Jackson may have been the first TV era mega-celebrity who was destroyed. (I don't even want to consider how precipitous his downfall would have been if he had risen to fame in the web 2.0 age.)
So while we speak about Michael, we tiptoe around his sins, we don't blame him because, on some level, we blame ourselves. We may not have caused it, but we were silent as it happened. Yes, it is sad that Jackson died as broken shards of a person, but it's sadder that he was once one beautiful whole who cracked under the pressure of our glare. That's why we pity his indiscretions but we are not angry at him for them. We broke him, we did it. It's stupid to blame him for the people who got cut on the sharp edges of his scattered pieces.