It is not the death of Michael Jackson that is being universally mourned by the world. To many, his death occured admist the decade-long period of constant ridicule and allegation of child abuse and bodily reconstruction. To others, he died in the same way that cultural icons tend to, no longer relevant, with only a back-catelogue providing them with any shred of decency as most people moved away from his accomplishments as an artist. There were still a great many supporters, a sizeable contingent of people who still clung to every track he released after his retreat into reclusion (as scarce as they may have been), but their numbers and their sorrow is enveloped in this massive outpouring of lamentation that has posessesed the media (the Internet in particular, as it’s estimated that at least 30 percent of all Tweets have something to do with Jackson).
Instead, we are weeping not over the passing of Jackson as a man, but as a figure, as a symbol. With his passing goes the last nearly universally popular cultural icon. This is a man who has sold over 750 million albums worldwide, behind only Elvis and the Beatles and arguably, Bing Crosby. He was a man perfect for the two eras he succeeded in, his childhood charms and alarming talent captivated audiences bathed in bright organges and yellows in the 70’s, and his careful blend of musical experimentation, visual scope, raw sexuality and promotion came to symbolize culture during the 80’s.
Jackson in death is not a person, his lack of interaction with anybody after so many years of accusations turned him into a seldom-seen joke, instead he’s your parent’s high school years, the red jacket your uncle still has in a closet somewhere, the first African American to see widespread cultural success without any racial baggage or that guy who completely altered his appearance before plastic surgery became commonplace.
It’s easy to ridicule the media overdoing the coverage of his death, and to be sure, said coverage is going to be lengthy, tacky and arduous, but this is one of the rare instances in which, though it’s not the best thing in the world from a logical standpoint, there’s little use condemning it due to the sheer glut of emotion attached to his passing. In death, many people temporaily transend their earthly failures and are remembered not for their failings, but for their successes. As an artist, Jackson was beyond compare, as a man, he may very well have been a completely deluded peodophile. Let the media have its droll coverage, there is obviously a ridiculous demand for it.
When it comes down to it, Jackson’s completely unexpected death has reminded countless people not only of their own morality, but of their impending cultural irrelevance, as their idols and superstars die off around them while disparate, niche-driven performers spring up in their place. We mourn Jackson’s death, to a degree, but we mostly mourn the sad reality that like Jackson, the world will move past our best efforts to stay relevant, and unlike Jackson, most of us don’t have that back catalog of brilliance to ensure our memory after we’re gone.