Michael Jackson: Engulfed In Fame

By now you will have heard of the unexpected death of Michael Jackson and public opinion has quickly divided into two camps: musical genius vs. insane, creepy pedophile.

I think both are true and one shouldn't outweigh the other. Jackson's musical contributions can't be dismissed or forgotten but nor should they, ahem, whitewash the actions of his latter life.

Nine years ago I read an essay on Jackson that helped me understand the crucible of fame he lived in and while it doesn't justify his actions it certainly made me more sympathetic. It has stuck with me ever since and says things far better than I could ever hope to.

The following is excerpted from Cintra Wilson's book, A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease:
"Once upon a time there was a little boy named Michael Jackson, who was a child of incredible, otherworldly talent. Hammered into superstar condition by a merciless warlock of a father who purportedly belt-whipped his musical ambitions into the hides of his countless offspring. Michael was only six years old when his family's singing group, the Jackson Five, was signed to the Motown label. He developed an ecstatic, feral-bird quality in his prepubescent voice that transcended anything human; he possessed the kind of arm-hair-raising sublimity found only in little Anglican choir boys and castrati......Michael became very famous by the time he was only 12, and got truckloads of mail from wildly obsessed fan-boys and fan-girls all over the world who wanted to touch him, kidnap him, steal handfuls of his hair, and tear off his clothing and rub their bodies against them...

...Shortly after [Off the Wall and Thriller] broke all previous records, mega-mega-megafame trained the deadly blue heat of it's X-ray eye on young Jackson and stared him crispy...

...The fame smothered [Elvis and Michael] overstimulating them into frightful husks of self abuse: they both had to vandalize themselves since the world could do naught but love them...

...Jackson epitomizes the fullest scope of uber-fame in the United States. He's lived through the whole gauntlet: the best parts of it in his earlier years, the worst, humiliating and scandalous parts in the more recent. Anything Michael does now just reads like Outsider Art — he has become as strange and isolated and deranged as anyone who ever walked or crawled through shock treatment. He's the strangest uninstitutionalized crazy person in the public eye since Howard Hughes...

...I predict that his spin surgeons will insist he be stricken by a freak-accident-related coma, in order to cause a burst of previously latent, Princess Diana-esque support for the ailing star. Thousands of fans all over the world will then feel guilty for turning their backs on him and send him Mylar balloons and teddy bears, carnations and crayon drawings."
I couldn't find the essay anywhere online, but I encourage you to search it out and read it in full.

Previously on Popped Culture...
Michael Jackson's Last Supper
Celebrities Of The Living Dead
Off the Wall

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