Stray thoughts, unfinished paragraphs and meandering ruminations on the frightening, fascinating and ultimately unsatisfying subject of Michael Jackson, 20 years after his album "Thriller" first began to climb up the pop charts.
1. Michael Jackson: He makes the Weekly World News seem true, every page of it.
Twenty years ago, Michael Jackson changed the face of pop music with "Thriller." That album also changed the face of Michael Jackson.
(Jean-marc Bouju -- AP)
_____More by Hank Stuever_____
Where the Guys Are (The Washington Post, Apr 11, 2003)
How Green Was Our Warning (The Washington Post, Mar 30, 2003)
I Woof New York (The Washington Post, Mar 11, 2003)
'Joy of Sex': Back on Top? (The Washington Post, Feb 25, 2003)
Blizzard Man Storms the Office In Buffalo Plaid (The Washington Post, Feb 8, 2003)
2. Michael Jackson: The tawdriness involved with just looking at pictures of him, the leering and uncomfy feelings, the what now? of Michael Jackson.
People will look anyhow. He is powder and synthetic hair and paint and so much frailty. Where the nose used to be, there is now an exposed piece of plastic that looks like part of a tiny, tiny ice cube tray, revealing the architecture of his proboscidean desire -- the upturned nose of the pretty starlet. It has eroded away.
If supercelebrity facilitates the creation of a family of those who adulate and those who are adulated (the other uneasy family Michael Jackson belongs to, aside from the one to which he was physically born), then he is like a relative we cannot help. We are LaToya to him. We seethe like Jermaine. We surpass him like Janet. He rejects us even as he needs us. There is the urge to intervene, to understand him as a celebrity, to contemplate his very success and failure and existence. But to do any of that, you have to first see him, on some level, as a human being. This is where it all goes wrong.
3. Michael Jackson: Dangling his shrouded baby from a hotel balcony! Stop that!
4. Michael Jackson: Often refers to or sings about or disparages "the lies" that are printed, broadcast and otherwise uttered about him; all those untruths spinning around poor Jacko, lies on top of lies. Maybe nothing about Michael Jackson is accurate. Maybe there can never be a single true thing about him anymore. He is 44 years old, truthfully, but also he is 12. Or 83. Or embryonic, chicklike, wet with membrane.
5. Michael Jackson: A study in phobia. (His, ours.)
6. Michael Jackson: Was, the story goes, driving a van that broke down in Los Angeles traffic in 1992. A man helped Michael Jackson move his van, and that man's 12-year-old stepson soon became a good friend of the pop singer. They got together for sleepovers and played video games. The plot points of Michael Jackson's worst dramas always start out so simple: In this one a boy trapped in the body of a man seeks out the company of boys. Often it is the raw naivete that turns people off to Michael Jackson.
7. Michael Jackson: It took, by one count, 49 lawyers, a dozen investigators, 200 possible witnesses. It took the cash-for-gossip accounts as told by four housekeepers and two bodyguards to various tabloids. It took what is believed to be $20 million in settlement fees to the divorced, bickering parents of the child (who refused to testify and is now 22 years old). It took all this and a couple years of hyperventilating TV and newspaper stories for Southern California prosecutors to decide that there was no case against Michael Jackson as a child molester. By then it was too late to make the world go away.
8. Michael Jackson: Researchers may one day find more direct links between celebrity and mental illness; that being one causes it, but also that seeking fame after you already have it is a specific illness as well. It takes a certain kind of imbalance to call a news conference for the purpose of insisting upon your privacy, the way Princess Diana did, and Michael Jackson has done. The celeb malaise is an inability to turn away from it all. (Garbo didn't play the game and thereby still played the game.)
9. Michael Jackson: If he's the Howard Hughes of the 21st century, what, then, is his Spruce Goose, his giant bloated aircraft that won't fly? Where does it fly to? What would be his equivalent of wearing Kleenex boxes on his feet? (The mask he wears?) What germs are out to get him? What voices does he hear? What did he mean to us, come to symbolize, leave behind?
10. Michael Jackson: Or try this: Think about Madonna sitting on the toilet. This seems at least possible, courtesy of Madonna's occasional transaction with the media, in which she manipulates them and they manipulate her, revealing an agreed-upon "real" side, letting us in on an idea of her life as it is lived. Now imagine Michael Jackson sitting on the toilet: This seems so much less likely that it nudges toward the implausible, at least not without personal physicians, or animals to console him, or a supportive visit from Liz Taylor or Macaulay Culkin or a trusted spiritual adviser. Something mildly disastrous awaits Michael Jackson at every moment, and even the simplest processes become somehow unlikely.
A spaceship lands behind the mansion and one of his minions rushes to meet it, carrying a small, vacuum-sealed plastic bag with the carefully inspected, chemically treated fecal matter of Michael Jackson, and then the spaceship flies away. This you'd believe.