Online, Michael Jackson is a singular attraction.
We saw this on June 25, a day that will forever live in online infamy, when the King of Pop's death literally stopped the Internet. Within a day, Jackson's main Wikipedia article was viewed more than 6 million times. Twitter and AOL Instant messaging went berserk. Text messages flooded phones. (I, for one, didn't learn about Jackson's death from TMZ or CNN; a cousin had texted me with "Michael Jackson is dead.")
Which is not at all surprising given Jackson's draw on social networking sites, and the kind of connected world we're living in. Events don't just happen. Events are shared. On Facebook, for example, the biggest Jackson page has 10.3 million fans. To put that figure into context, consider that the official Barack Obama page has 6.8 million fans and the official Sarah Palin page has more about 951,000. On YouTube, type "Michael Jackson" and about 950,000 videos pop up -- easily more videos than when you type some of biggest names in music: "U2" (131,000) "Beyonce" (275,000), "Taylor Swift" (249,000), "Lil' Wayne" (472,000), to name just a few. About 3,000 Jackson-oriented videos have been uploaded in the past 24 hours -- and, yes, some of them are videos of fans reviewing "This Is It," the new documentary featuring the last performing hours of The Gloved One, singing, dancing and rehearsing a planned concert series.
Just what is it about Jackson?
"I think it's that Michael's unexpected death was one of those 'where were you when' moments, and for millions, the answer was in front of their computers, learning about the news via friends on Facebook and Twitter," Mashable editor Adam Ostrow told HuffPostTech. "Since then, the renewed interest in his music -- which everyone already knows -- and the ability to share on social networks continues to fuel immense interest in him."
And here's another reason: pre-Internet, before we could Google celebrities, before we could obsessively check their Wikipedia articles and YouTube videos, before we could become their fans on MySpace and Facebook and follow them on Twitter, before we felt as if there was a relationship powered by technology between the artists we admire and us mere fans, Jackson was an unparalleled global star on the world stage, touching fans across borders, time zones and languages. While growing up in the Philippines, in the small town of Pasig, in Manila, the first English song I committed to memory was "The Way You Make Me Feel." At age 6, I remember trying to figure out what the word "ecstasy" meant -- "just hold me baby, and I'm in ecstasy" -- and when I moved to California years later, I remember being struck by all the talk about Jackson's changing physicality -- his skin tone, his racial background, the way he looked. I never realized Jackson was African American until I was in the U.S. In my mind, while growing up aboard, he was just American.
For his fans -- at least those of us who first framed him outside of the white-or-black dichotomy that, I think, often imprisons American artists -- it wasn't the way Jackson looked, it was the way he made us feel. And continue to feel. Because of the Internet, because of the digital afterlife, Jackson will live on.
***Have you seen "This Is It"? Are you a fan of Jackson on Facebook? Share your comments below.***
Follow Jose Antonio Vargas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joseiswriting