More Mannequin Than Man?

Michael Jackson sacrificed his humanity in his relentless quest for fame.

Even before his trial for child molestation, Michael Jackson's life, and not just his career, has been in serious decline for years. Indeed, the rise and fall of Michael Jackson is the archetypal American tragedy of celebrity.



Unlike his friend Princess Diana or even his idol Elvis, he is destined to live on in the media in squalid infamy, his reputation in tatters, more beast than being. His is a quintessential story of corruption, of one man's inability to avoid the hubris of super-stardom. Crushed under the enormous weight of public adulation and idolization, he became incapable of reining in his own excess.

In America, celebrity, born of fame, is our equivalent of royalty. Both are antithetical to G-d's plan for humankind. While humility keeps humans grounded, the institutionalized arrogance that comes with celebrity is a noxious poison that can kill off all that is healthy in man.

The hallmark of American celebrity is a life with one's sins bared for all the world to see. To be a celebrity is to live in a glass house, subject to the adoration or fury of the public, who may throw rose petals one day, stones the next. American celebrities play out their roles in front of millions of people on concert stages, movie screens, and television sets. The more public their indiscretions and excesses, the more famous they become.

This, is turns out, was the fateful calculation Michael Jackson made. He took the celebrity calculus to an extreme, convinced that the stranger and more controversial he became, the greater notoriety he would achieve.

An endless stream of bizarre stories emanated from his camp that he slept in a hyperbaric chamber, that his favorite companion was a chimp, that he purchased the bones of the Elephant Man. Michael's publicists and retainers were often the ones promoting these bizarre tales.

Michael did his part by wearing strange masks in public and undertaking endlessly bizarre behavior-like dangling his baby from a balcony-that was designed to keep the public watching. Plastic surgery did the rest, transforming him from talented boy-wonder to sideshow freak. Weirdness and a lavish, eccentric lifestyle were not things Michael Jackson merely embraced. He poured all his creativity into them.

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The saga of Michael Jackson is a modern morality tale, cautioning us about the pitfalls of celebrity's ultimate extension. Well before the concept was invented, Michael became America's first reality TV star. Not just because the details of his life were splashed endlessly across the TV screen-there were plenty of celebrities before him who achieved saturation coverage-but because, like the participants in a reality TV show, he understood that behaving outrageously would increase his ratings. Michael embraced the role, acting as strange as he could.

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