Michael Jackson: The Man in Our Mirror

Black America's eulogies for the King of Pop also let us resurrect his best self

Of course, Michael's careerism had a steep downside, tripped onto a slippery slope, when he decided that his public and private life could be merged, orchestrated, and manipulated for publicity and mass consumption as masterfully as his albums and videos. I certainly began to feel this when word got out of him sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber or trying to buy the Elephant Man's bones, and I became almost certain this was the case when he dangled his hooded baby son over a balcony for the paparazzi, to say nothing of his alleged darker impulses. At what point, we have to wonder, did the line blur for him between Dr. Jacko and Mr. Jackson, between Peter Pan fantasies and predatory behaviors? At what point did the Man in the Mirror turn into Dorian Gray? When did the Warholian creature that Michael created to deflect access to his inner life turn on him and virally rot him from the inside?

Real Soul Men eat self-destruction, chased by catastrophic forces from birth and then set upon by the hounds of hell the moment someone pays them cash-money for using the voice of God to sing about secular adult passion. If you can find a more freakish litany of figures who have suffered more freakishly disastrous demises and career denouements than the Black American Soul Man, I'll pay you cash-money. Go down the line: Robert Johnson, Louis Jordan, Johnny Ace, Little Willie John, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke, James Carr, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield. You name it, they have been smacked down by it: guns, planes, cars, drugs, grits, lighting rigs, shoe polish, asphyxiation by vomit, electrocution, enervation, incarceration, their own death-dealing preacher-daddy. A few, like Isaac Hayes, get to slowly rust before they grow old. A select few, like Sly, prove too slick and elusive for the tide of the River Styx, despite giddy years mocking death with self-sabotage and self-abuse.

Michael's death was probably the most shocking celebrity curtain call of our time because he had stopped being vaguely mortal or human for us quite a while ago, had become such an implacably bizarre and abstracted tabloid creation, worlds removed from the various Michaels we had once loved so much. The unfortunate blessing of his departure is that we can now all go back to loving him as we first found him, without shame, despair, or complication. "Which Michael do you want back?" is the other real question of the hour: Over the years, we've seen him variously as our Hamlet, our Superman, our Peter Pan, our Icarus, our Fred Astaire, our Marcel Marceau, our Houdini, our Charlie Chaplin, our Scarecrow, our Peter Parker and Black Spider-Man, our Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke, our Little Richard redux, our Alien vs. Predator, our Elephant Man, our Great Gatsby, our Lon Chaney, our Ol' Blue Eyes, our Elvis, our Frankenstein, our ET, our Mystique, our Dark Phoenix.

Samantha Lewis


In Defense of Michael Jackson's Magic
By Jean Grae
Why Michael Jackson's Past Might Be Gary, Indiana's Only Future
By Jessica Hopper

The Voice's Michael Jackson archives
by Chuck Eddy, Robert Christgau, Vince Aletti, and more

Celebrity idols are never more present than when they up and disappear, never ever saying goodbye, while affirming James Brown's prophetic reasoning that "Money won't change you/But time will take you out." JB also told us, "I've got money, but now I need love." And here we are. Sitting with the rise and fall and demise of Michael, and grappling with how, as dream hampton put it, "The loneliest man in the world could be one of the most beloved." Now that some of us oldheads can have our Michael Jackson back, we feel liberated to be more gentle toward his spirit, releasing him from our outright rancor for scarring up whichever pre-trial, pre-chalk-complexion incarnation of him first tickled our fancies. Michael not being in the world as a Kabuki ghost makes it even easier to get through all those late-career movie-budget clips where he already looks headed for the out-door. Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise both for him and for us that he finally got shoved through it.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help

What an ugly, hateful. and completely rubbish article, no respect whatsoever.

Ugh...can't stand this man's writing, it hasn't changed one bit since his earlier articles about Michael Jackson.  Your utter lack of understanding and knowledge of this man should preclude you from being about to write about him...being black doesn't give you some kind of privilege to the hateful garbage you have written, time and again.  The man had vitiligo and discoid lupus and he sure as hell didn't have to tell you or anyone else what his struggles with both were but the lupus had a lot to do with the repairs he needed to do with the skin involvement, especially around scar tissue...meaning his nose which is what changed the most besides his color. His autopsy confirmed all of it and the fact that he didn't have all the surgeries you all harped on about.  Imagine if YOU had some debilitating disease, let alone two, how would YOU would have coped with it on the world wide stage?!?  Guaranteed not with even a sliver as much as grace and dignity that this man did along with all the other abuses heaped on him by you and the rest of the media.

You are a creep and I hate that I have to see you on any documentary or discussion talking about him, as IF you are some kind of expert on him. Michael Jackson was found not guilty by a jury of his peers and it's shameful for you to speculate in what you obviously think is something really clever...it's not. I guess you must not allow comments because there was another version that had a lot of comments with people calling you out when Michael died.  You are no different than the rest of the media that tried to destroy him with their lies, you are one of them.  Hope you're proud in your perch of being "black enough", your perceived superiority and obvious condescension.