09/02/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

This Week in Magazines : Two Different Ways of Remembering Michael

Adoring Michael Jackson fans, and their many journalistic enablers, will gag over a stinging critique, "Michael," in the Aug. 13 New York Review of Books, a high-brow publication not likely to be found by their beds. They'll have to seek comfort, instead, in a reverential September Ebony, with the cover, "Michael, Our Icon."

New Yorker
writer Hilton Als delves into Jackson's personal and professional descent in the New York Review, in part putting his life in the context of "the chokehold of black conservatism on black gay men" and a world in which "whiteness is equated with perversity, a pollutant further eroding the already decimated black family."

Clearly, this a take not fully agreed to by Michael Eric Dyson, whose "Freedom Fighter" essay in the Ebony homage (filled with some dandy photos from its archives) declares,

The reason Black folk never turned their backs on Michael is because we realized that he was merely acting out on his face what we collectively have been tempted to do in our souls: whitewash the memory and trace of our offending Blackness. We loved him because we knew that America rarely forgives a Black man his genius, and our greatest artists often pay the price for the acceptance of their gifts with tortured psyches, haunted spirits and troubled minds.

Well, the Als skewering finds melancholy insights into Jackson in a 1985 essay, "Freak and the American Ideal of Manhood" by the late black author James Baldwin. The author uttered the hope that Jackson would "snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success," in the process asserting that "freaks are called freak and are treated as they are treated--in the main, abominably--because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires."

In the end, this argues that while Baldwin himself did in exile but "an artist, Jackson did not." His gifts as a singer and arranger became "calcified. He forgot how to speak, even behind the jeweled mask of metaphor."

Ultimately, concludes Als, he was a profile of "self-martyrdom: the ninety-pound frame; the facial operations; the dermatologist as the replacement family; the disastrous finances; the young boys loved, and then paid off. Michael Jackson died a long time ago, and it's taken years for anyone to notice." Ebony's Dyson clearly doesn't concur, echoing the eulogy-ridden claim that Jackson "was the greatest entertainer of all time."

Elsewhere in the New York Review, Roger Cohen's "Iran: The Tragedy & the Future" is a terrific account of what seem to have been the recently stolen president election and his belief that the preconditions for democracy are in place. And Michael Massing's "The News About the Internet" offers a broad, generally upbeat, overview on the Internet, underscoring some of the superior work being done but also leaving to another essay the tricky question of how quality work will be paid for on a consistent basis.

---The Aug. 10-17 New Yorker's "The Price of the Ticket" is a solid John Seabrook overview of the chaotic state of the concert music industry, with corporate consolidations, increasingly painful days for traditional promoters, the rise of secondary markets and questions about which acts will fill the big stadiums when the old war horses, like the Rolling Stones, are no longer around. Much of this ground was covered in low-profile congressional hearings but this is a good summary. And the most interesting tidbit may involve a slight puncturing of Bruce Springsteen's populist image via reminder of Newark Star-Ledger disclosures that, while berating meanie Ticketmaster for handling of tickets for a series of his concerts, the Boss was actually holding back a good chunk of the best tickets for chums and other VIP guests. His manager's defense is that in places like star-studded New York and Los Angeles, such is unavoidable.

---Aug. 1 Economist's "The Dark Pursuit of the Truth" starts with the premise that while Europeans tend to strongly repudiate torture, Americans are more divided and there remain tough policy choices for the Obama administration, including matters involving military commissions and indefinite detention for some prisoners. "The danger for Mr. Obama, as he seeks to overhaul the intelligence system, is that a fresh attack on the American mainland would immediately expose him to the accusation of being soft on terrorism."

---Aug. 10 Business Week's "Obama & Business" has a full and strong interview with the President in which he forcefully rebuts the notion of himself as anti-business, along the way rather acerbically noting the tons of federal money which is keeping folks in the private sector afloat. The issue also includes, "The Hard Sell on Anti-Aging," a look at how certain online advertisements for resveratrol, said to extend life, are wrongly quoting David Sinclair, its discoverer, as endorsing various products. And at times exuberant discussions of resveratrol by the likes of Oprah Winfrey can also be found embedded in such ads, then linked to products she and others have never mentioned.

----Aug. 10 Time snared its own interview with Obama on health care, with a handy user's guide appended on the potential impact on you of certain major reform proposals. Meanwhile, Aug. 17 Newsweek's "True Crimes" cover features a good idea, if not all that well-executed, via an essay on our fascination with crime by the wonderful novelist Walter Mosley. "We need forgiveness and someone to blame. So the story of crime fills our TVs, theaters, cinemas, computer files, and bookshelves. We are fascinated with stories of crime, real or imagined, because we need them to cleanse the modern world from our souls."

---Aug. 7 The Week's "The Drive for Fast Trains" is a nice overview on the prospects and utility of a high-speed rail system in the U.S., where train travel is in a sorry state. "As quality has deteriorated, so has quantity. In 1930, the U.S. had 260,000 miles of rail. By 2000, that total had been reduced to 100,000 miles -- the same as in 1881." While Obama has pledged $13 billion to jump-start such a new system, some estimates of how much it would really cost to do it right are around $100 billion.

---August-September Relix features music critic Dave Marsh musing on the significance of the Woodstock music festival 40 years later, in the process somehow tying it all in to Barack Obama's challenges:

"Meanwhile, I suppose that the real legacy of the Woodstock Nation is felt in the battles to create an American health care system, to end the nation's various wars and to save the lives and communities devastated by the finance industry swindles and 40 years of benign governmental neglect." And Marsh is certainly not too happy with the coming of the Internet, in particular social networking sites claiming Woodstock as their inspiration:

Make a radical political comment and watch what happens. If the owners don't banish you, the rest of the network will try. After all Obama's reality is not unlike Woodstock: The promise of Eden and the certainty of deluge and filth, with greed at the bottom of it all.

---"Are We Done Yet?" by Fred Kaplan in Slate is a smart look at the ambiguities of a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq by 2011. Relying in part on a war game oversees by top Pentagon officials, and attended by about 350 military folks from around the globe, he concludes:

One could argue, from this, that the U.S. troop pullout should be accelerated in order to shorten this treacherous period of transition and get down to the level of 25,000 advisers--and thus restore stability--as quickly as possible.

"This argument might have validity, or it might not. No war game can predict how long the transition period would last. In any case, unless we're hellbent to get out regardless of the consequences, the question is not entirely in our control. It depends on how strongly the insurgents or other dangerous elements react to the U.S. withdrawal. If the war game proves prescient--if, during this in-between period, our troop presence is large enough to irritate Iraqis but too small to stabilize the country--they're likely to exploit the moment and gain as much advantage as they can.

If that does happen, U.S. commanders and policymakers will face a choice: whether to withdraw more quickly--to keep our troops out of danger and let the inevitable instability play out--or to hold firm and try, perhaps futilely, to restore order.

Either way is risky. It's disingenuous to deny that; the question is which risk to take.