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Nothing But Greatness: How Michael Changed My Life #1986

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by Monique R.

An uncannily strong desire to speak to both of my parents struck me last night after I had a couple hours to digest. I grilled both of them about their thoughts on his death and their experiences. Both born the same year as Michael Joseph Jackson (1958), they experienced, arguably, the best days of Michael Jackson but also experienced his career in its entirety. Both being children of recent immigrants, I think they both subconsciously related to Michael in the limelight as a child. Children used to be an investment and the returns were expected to be high. Nonetheless, his “golden years” were also their “golden years”; years I wasn’t available to be a part of. Part of the reason I think they both were disenchanted by the subsequent years, because like Michael, they lived too fast, tried to do too much, and age caught up quick.

After gathering some thoughts about these conversations, I started to realize he, symbolically, meant something different to me. My mom never treated me like I was a child in most ways but especially sharing and translating pop-culture for me. We used to listen to the radio and she would ask me to identify artists as well as pointed out Prince’s ass in that yellow print outfit on TV. I benefited from this in many ways, but even though it was sort of late, my mom introduced me to Michael Jackson as the coolest, best music ever. So, when I received a portable tape player for Christmas when I was 4, I jacked her Michael Jackson tapes, among other tapes. A couple years later, I went to school. Kids were making fun of Michael Jackson, whose “crotch grab” was fodder for 1st grader laughs. I felt embarrassed because I knew when I went home, I thought and heard nothing but greatness about him.

His celebrity only got weirder from there. His continued self-loathing plastic surgery was always an obsession of mine. I remember watching TV with my mom and her telling me that he wanted to be white. I was confused by this but also touched because it was so tangible that you didn’t have to be old to “get it” and it was especially weird for me because I went to a predominantly black daycare. I wondered if that was what every black person around me thought. His behavior informed my first thoughts about race that weren’t filtered through my grandparents and mother who, admittedly, have racist moments. I’d later realize that I was different from the other kids at my private catholic school and not too far removed from Michael Jackson in his self-loathing: my last name was weird, my hips and thighs were larger than all the other girls, and I used to bite my lower lip to make it look smaller in the mirror–typical. Now, I understand all this about myself and it’s this personal attachment and relating to his life experience that allowed his problems to never affect what I actually thought of him, only how I dealt with my fanhood in public.

I can see how Free Willy was not cool to my parents. But the weird and feeble Michael Jackson was as much to my generation as their Saturday morning cartoons, toys, and games. He was literally an icon in the same way Chilly Willy was and he was marketed as such. If you talk to genY folks, they may tell you they had a Michael Jackson toy or party of some sort. His pop culture icon status influenced all generations simultaneously even if you were less than 10 years old when it was all going down.

Without doing anything but doing exactly what he wanted, he taught an entire generation to love who they are by terrible example. If you don’t think the self-hatred Michael Jackson had for himself didn’t have some impact on the current climate we exist in where every young person struggles to be radically individual, you’re wrong. People of every age saw his downfall and like everything, some people understood and were compassionate while others expressed more obvious and less intellectually challenging attitudes of disinterest and disapproval. The worth of an experience is only identified by what one is able to learn and later employ.

Towards the end of the conversation with my mom, she blamed my “generation” for being unsympathetic and heartless towards him. I mean, this isn’t true for a number of reasons but like most misplaced blame, it’s representative of an in-hindsight anger. I think the early death of Michael Jackson at 50 years of age, is a stark reminder to my parents and their generation, the impact of bad choices made by themselves, their parents and that they are indeed closer to death than they think. For my generation, it’s a sharply defined image of either a failure to deal with “public life” or just how unforgiving this world can be.

Written by Monique

June 27th, 2009 at 12:29 am

One Response to 'Nothing But Greatness: How Michael Changed My Life #1986'

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    10 Jun 12 at 7:46 pm

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