The lionization of Michael Jackson now seems complete following the cathartic outpouring of grief and the celebration of his life at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Hundreds of millions of people, worldwide, tuned in to watch on Jumbotrons and TVs at home. Calls for national days of mourning just fuel the already widespread sense of loss.
Sure, I share a sense of loss of a truly gifted entertainer. Michael Jackson was as mesmerizing on stage as he was off it, his singing masterful, his emotional textures ranging from the playful and defiant to achingly wrenching, and his dancing, equally fluid and jittery, perhaps the most electrifying I've ever seen.
But I'm anxious that the waves of grief and celebration are accompanying a virulent whitewashing of Jackson's life.
Come to think of it, maybe we should call it "black-washing." After all, one of the more arresting elements in the current avalanche of Michael-olotry has been his reclamation as a distinctly black entertainer.
Yes, of course, Michael Jackson was a gifted black entertainer. But even the most casual glance at his gradual self-inflicted disfigurement over the past few decades witnessed a transformation of a black boy into a sexually ambiguous androgyne to...well, what can only be described as a white woman -- complete with sculpted facial features, long, cascading straight hair, and a newly sultry voice.
Academic blogs have been teeming with clever postmodernist homages to Jackson's physical transformation: Michael Jackson expressed the plasticity of gender and sexuality. He showed the world that gender was a social construction, not a biological given. And so, too, apparently was race.
Well, sure, the body is a text, a narrative of self-presentation. But, uh, what about the bodies of those other little boys whose narratives of self-presentation were distorted and disfigured by Jackson's needs and desires?
Central to the current Lion-(King)-ization has been the near complete effacement of Jackson's pedophilia. Yes, it's true that the one criminal case brought against him was unsuccessful. But does anyone seriously doubt the veracity of the charges? The many millions of dollars he paid out to silence boys who he abused, dwarfed only by the Catholic Church, testifies to the many little boys who had their lives broken by him.
(Jackson's trial was an OJ moment -- a moment when everyone suspected they knew what had happened; the courtroom drama lay only whether or not he would get away with it.)
As a nation, we were pretty quick to condemn the pedophile priests, once the scope of their crimes -- and the crimes of the cover-up by the Church elite -- was exposed. Why not the pedophile celebrity?
Was it, I wondered, the fact that it was little boys? Would we have had the same shrug-it-off reaction had there been streams of 10 year-old girls who had been invited into Jackson's bed to "cuddle?"
And why did it not occur to the event's organizers that having Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant there to testify about Jackson's character was more than a little unseemly? Remember, both Bryant and Johnson are acknowledged sexual predators, once accused (but not convicted) of date rape (though the predatory conquest was admitted) and the other who claimed he contracted HIV after he had "accommodated" -- that was the word he used -- more than1500 women.
Michael Jackson's personal disfigurement and reincarnations made him to many, the epitome of a monster -- a creature of human origin that is no longer human. That's been the cause for giggles and sniggers. But his current celebration ignores what I consider his truly monstrous behavior.
And we -- all of us -- were his enablers, chalking up his grotesque physiognomy to the eccentricities of celebrity or excusing his predatory pedophilic sexual behavior by referring constantly to the brutality of his childhood experiences.
Poor, Michael, we hear. His childhood was stolen from his by a tyrannical father (and a strangely sainted mother who must not have been very observant to what was happening to her child). A modern-day Benjamin Button, Jackson was too-soon an adult; when he grew up he finally became the child he was never allowed to be. And yes, to be larger than life does, sometimes, mean that you don't get to inhabit your life, you only get to enact it for others.
Sorry, but the elfin androgyne, the Peter Pan of Pop, may have been a lost boy, but he was also a 50 year-old man. And grown ups take responsibility for their actions.
Perhaps, though, the current outpouring of unvarnished grief is less about Michael Jackson and more about ourselves. Perhaps it is a way of psychologically excusing ourselves, letting ourselves off the hook for never holding him accountable. His retinue of personal assistants did his bidding, and the rest of us watched with morbid fascination at both the fast-paced action figure on stage, and the slow-motion train wreck of personal disfigurement and inexplicably creepy behavior.
Michael Jackson was more than a canvas of his own creation; he was a screen onto which we projected some of our darkest fears and most prurient fantasies. He made, and re-made, himself -- and we made him.