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Michael Jackson Is A Piece Of The Continent Broken Away Says Emily Bick
Emily Bick , June 25th, 2009 22:21

Michael Jackson (is? Was?) a man.
Therefore Michael Jackson Is? Was? Mortal.

So what part of this syllogism doesn’t hold? Point two is debatable, and that’s not just some lame crack about effeminacy or plastic surgery — what do you call someone who was famous since he was five, known to you through television and t-shirts and ring binders and mylar freaking balloons? — they’re like household gods, even if you don’t really even like them, even if you were on Jarvis’ side when he waggled his bum. Jackson was mythological. He didn’t even conceive his children like you’d expect: a swan, a shower of golden rain, would be less surprising. And he was technological: there were the oxygen chambers, the hanging upside down and cryogenics rumours, the Swiss clinics . . . .

He wasn’t really alive, then, so he can’t die. But — almost deliberately to prove that, yes, all men are mortal — today also saw the death of Farrah Fawcett, who was so luminously gorgeous and banal and vulnerable in Charlie’s Angels and Logan’s Run (someone so fluffy can’t die!) and news of the death of rock journalist Swells, who ranted and raged to hide a heart that was generous as fuck (someone who cares so much about music and the world can’t die!) But everyone can die, even — especially — the ones who should be granted immunity via their good works. And if it can happen to them, what hope for all of us?

This was it; Jackson was the first pop star that caught the imaginations of the last internet-cusp generation, the last of us who are probably mostly in our early thirties now and were in primary school when Thriller came out. He was everywhere, common currency, inescapable as an idea. And for me, at least, because I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV, a taste of the forbidden: the idea that here was something naughty that millions of people agreed to cherish. Like one of Philip K Dick’s empathy boxes, awareness of Michael Jackson was somehow a way of linking in to what everyone else was aware of, and that commonality made the world a bit less lonely. I was never a real fan, and Jackson was replaced by a series of pop cults and crushes and alt-culture fixations, but that kind of formative pop-culture behemoth stamps its mark with a sequin-gloved finger across your unformed brain, and you’re stuck for life.

I was out tonight at a bar, watching a friend’s brother’s band play, and that was just fine for a Thursday night — until afterwards the group of friends I was with started checking their internet phones and suddenly it was wave after wave of news- Was it true? Was it a coma, or cardiac arrest? TMZ reported it, then SKY, then LA weekly, then Lily Allen and Mike Skinner on Twitter, then Twitter crashed as it went exponential. Suddenly everyone knew: random people were up and down the street, on buses…people were shouting to other groups of strangers, interrupting mobile conversations, greeting each other with a chorus of updates and OMGWTFs. In London, I think this signals the apocalypse.

This is what is wonderful and terrifying about Jackson’s kind of pop stardom. The humanness. The shock of realizing that, yes, he could die even though everyone had known him forever, and we’re all in that realisation together, even though half the conversations about Jackson’s death were about bragging rights to the most current information. Fame is not immortality, and fame on Jackson’s scale is like a closed pension scheme; it no longer exists because it can’t anymore, because media’s changed. We’ve got the instant update blogtwit hive mind and sometimes it aggregates, but there are no more queen bees to dictate, even though we still kind of want to think that yes, that could be us, we can get the true story first and tell everyone and then we too will be celebrated, we will be saved. We know one thing and want another thing to be true. It’s scary, so we talk to whoever is around.

I’m a bit cynical about how anyone will treat this in the morning, when, bleary - eyed and headachey, they roll into work and someone from accounts discovers this story anew, and it becomes old news, stale gossip, irrelevant and boring. Tonight’s excitement will have never happened. But for now, it doesn’t matter. For one moment Michael Jackson’s death ripped away the layers of glamour separating celebrity from real life, and it also cut through the jockeying for attention that goes on all over the internet, with the cacophony of tweets and blogs and articles like this one fighting for your attention now now now!

All of it, either way, is noise from a bunch of animals who are scared of being - and dying - alone. No matter how well he danced or how well his surgeons performed, Jackson was just as attached to these wonky fleshbags as you and me. Syllogism holds, and it’s humbling. I wish I could have noticed that while he was still around.