I am old enough to remember the Jackson Five, and the phenomena known as Michael Jackson. Back during the time of transistor radios and AM radio stations (growing up in Philadelphia it was WFIL 56 AM, or WIBG 99 AM, or at night we could reach Cousin Brucie on AM Channel 77 WABC out of New York City), one could not escape the inexorable cavalcade of hits from this group of youngsters from Gary, Indiana.
And when watching Sonny and Cher, or the Smothers' Brothers Show, Soul Train, or the Ed Sullivan Show, you were drawn into the hottest trends in pop music on a weekly basis. Of course, growing up in Philly it was almost required to watch American Bandstand with Dick Clark on Saturdays just for good measure, even after he abandoned the City of Brotherly Love for the West Coast.
Regardless of your musical tastes, you could not escape the reach of this magnificent band of brothers. And as the years went by, you could also not fail to at least listen to, if not appreciate, the talented efforts of Michael's singing and dancing. Of course, Thriller was a sensation that helped propel MTV into the public consciousness. At 55, I got to witness all of this, and I am sure I am better for it.
We watched this incredible talent grow and mature, but we also watched him self-destruct. Not only did the face of Michael Jackson change, but he actually changed his face. Armchair psychologists and psychiatrists that we all are, one could not help but render diagnoses of deep seated demons that drove the King of Pop seemingly beyond the pale of acceptability. But it did not take a genius to figure out that there were seriously disturbing trends at work here, and even in a world suspicious to public relations-inspired and album/CD-selling motivations it was obvious that something was wrong, very wrong.
His marriages, Neverland, brushes with the law all sat uneasily on our collective levels of tolerability and acceptability. Maybe it was our inability to understand, or maybe just his inability to understand our inability to understand. Whichever, I am sure he was as confused as we were. But he was never convicted of the crimes of which he was accused.
I don't know whether he died a sad figure, it seemed so, but he certainly died knowing he had made a stunning mark on the world of entertainment. He was the consummate entertainer and his artistic accomplishments set a very high bar indeed for those who will follow. The testimonials rendered at his funeral service yesterday were moving, and one could not help but be touched in a deep emotional way by the aura of love that he engendered among friends and colleagues alike.
Thus, it is very unfortunate that today we find political controversy over his passing. His passing should not be politicized by either his supporters or detractors. Arguments over whether a Congressional resolution declaring him an American legend is appropriate or not are a colossal waste of time and do damage to the images and remembrances of fans, friends, and family.
There are deep and traumatic economic circumstances affecting large swaths of the populace at this moment; there are serious political and policy debates surrounding climate change and access to health care that need to be resolved; there are two wars being waged simultaneously where many lives are at stake; there is starvation and poverty in large areas of the world; these and other issues demand our political attention.
Michael Jackson was an entertainer: let there be arguments over how good or how legendary his entertainment skills were. He should be honored as an entertainment icon, regardless of opinions of his personal life. There is a place where this can take place, there is an appropriate stage for honoring his accomplishments, and there is a time and place to acknowledge whether he truly deserves to be known forever more as the "King of Pop", but that debate should not take place within the halls of Congress.
We already clutter our airwaves with entertainment news. There is a diminishing line separating hard news from tabloid journalism. We somehow find a need to view all issues through a political prism. Enough is enough.
Yes, the passing of an icon is news, yes it should be covered as such, and yes there is a sufficient public interest served so that significant air time should be devoted to an examination of his death. But to continue the deification versus personal destruction argument in the political arena is just plain wrong.
So in the name of love, peace, and understanding, let us commence with putting to rest any further debate over the significance of Michael Jackson's life or judgment of it from our elected representatives and leave it to the documentarians, historians, screen writers, and analysts who populate the entertainment world. Final judgment may well rest with those who populate a different world altogether. But most certainly, his life, his career, rests in the fantasy world in which he thrived. Let it rest.