Pop Goes the King

The "King of Pop" is dead.

But while the man may have mattered, his self-anointed royalty is just another example of the superficiality of our pop culture and its rotating cadre of paper-thin ambassadors.

Michael Jackson was yet another personality prized more for his ability to generate massive revenue than for meaningfully impacting peoples' lives. But yes, much of his music can still cause a body to move or transport one back to wistful youth; "ABC", "Got to Be There", "I Want You Back": blowing the world away on Ed Sullivan; crackling and popping on our Fold N' Play's; making our AM radio's twitch, buzz and jump; "Billie Jean" and "Thriller" arguably cultural touchstones, inspiring legions to mimic MJ's schmaltzy military fetishism and walking on the moon long after NASA deemed it financially unfeasible.

And yes, we look back on the innocent boy himself, pop prodigy, revelatory mini-dynamo, sporting all the moves, wielding the pure tones and the perfected 'fro of a truly singular talent, a velve-pre-teen idol, a bona fide Motown miracle.

And then over time we watch silently as the smiling strangers take the kid by the hand and lead him down a path a certain dysfunction, where money and fame are substituted for affection and affirmation.

A life of candy ensures decay.

Michael Jackson, the King of Pop is dead. And it's really not a big deal in itself, since scientific studies have proven that over time people do indeed die, whether by natural or unnatural causes. But as the super famous live unnatural lives, their similarly unnatural deaths seem, well, natural.

And while leading what must have been an extremely unhealthy life the real tragedy of it all is that perhaps it could have been saved, had he not gone down that damning path of fame. His handlers (read: parents) might have been able to prevent a life of exploitation and untethered eccentricity were they not themselves besotted by ambition and greed and yoked their children to a life of servitude disguised as gleeful performing.

At every opportunity for the young man to disembark from the one way fame train he was caught by the collar and pulled back on. Eventually he did this to himself, unconsciously mimicking his handlers' subliminal suggestions to eschew normalcy for commerce.

And he is not alone. So bombarded are we with comparable examples of what is supposed to constitute Success, where the only worthwhile life is lived in public, new generations are raised thinking "This is life's imperative. You only live if you're seen." Like the light inside the refrigerator.

The fame pandemic leaves a trail of broken bodies and fractured dreams, so much landfill for ever newly laid pavement. The funeral will be the best business in years, not since Anna Nicole. In lieu of humble admissions of culpability and/or introspective mourning, to hail the money-making/sexual deviant/pop icon with what will no doubt be garish, televised spectacles of calculated, high-profile grief, the "I'm A Celebrity, Hear Me Keen" reality show will be a ratings bonanza.

But by all means dismiss and underpay the teacher, the cop, the people who handle our endless refuse and when they die, give them no more than a backward glance, an absent "oh, yeah -- they kicked. Did you see the new iPhone?". It is such misappropriation of concern that leads to an unnatural life and its naturally unnatural death.

In fact the measure of one's existence should not be in dollars and cents, nor is life unimportant if not observed 24/7 by millions of paying subscribers. The recent spate of showbiz deaths only points to the fact that life, no matter how opulent or in debt, no matter how famous, infamous or unobserved is short and not always sweet. Why even Farrah, riddled with cancer, had the business acumen to maximize her commercial appeal to the end, filming her slow, tortuous demise when she might just have easily fought her fight in dignified privacy. Corporations and all who subscribe to their profiteering approach, seem to think that if they churn out cheaper and cheaper products and ever disposable cultural totems they will ironically, as the song in a certain film says, live forever.

Michael Jackson was another soul in torment who had his talent exploited, his singularity mass produced, his place in the natural order disrupted by greedy, insatiable masters. The king, it seems, was really just a pawn.