Michael Jackson was a complex and tragic figure. It seems that his memory is being splintered into a thousand shards. Always a showman and a shrewd manager of his brand, Jackson reputedly insisted that he be referred to on MTV as “The King of Pop,” and in today’s memorial, it is that part of his persona that will be saluted. But it is certain that we are in for an avalanche of sordid, inflammatory, and self-serving revelations from those around him.
I’ve seen two especially thoughtful commentaries that seem to me to be a counterweight to all of the fraught and overwrought media hysteria. The always-insightful Mark Jenkins wrote about the way the media has overplayed Jackson’s impact.
It’s been a long time since Michael Jackson penned a hit song, but he did write one last nationwide sensation: the script the mainstream media has followed since his death. Jackson, we’re told, was the “king of pop,” who had “the biggest selling album of all time,” and “broke MTV’s color line.” Every one of these dubious factoids was devised by Jackson or his agents.
And Stephen M. Weissman, the author of Chaplin: A Life, commented on Jackson’s fascination with Charlie Chaplin. The photo of Jackson dressed up as Chaplin is haunting.
Like Chaplin, Jackson also went on to literally become a world historical figure and iconically beloved to his worshipful fans and admirers. And, like Chaplin, Jackson eventually became enmeshed in scandals that nearly destroyed his career. And also like Chaplin, the nature of those scandals stemmed from their separate cases of arrested emotional development.