Like every other human, I was shocked to hear about Michael Jackson's sudden death. Since I live in a TV-free house, I learned of the news through my information provider of choice: the running statuses from my Facebook Friends.
Within the last twenty-four hours, the world has been swept up in Michael Mania. At last check, there were over 20,000 articles posted about the death of the King of Pop on Google News, more than ever was reported about the presidential election, the war, or any other relevant news item. When I was sitting in the Atlanta airport, every television was broadcasting about it, and every conversation I overheard mentioned it. There are tributes, public gatherings of grief, celebrity interviews, and video montages of his groundbreaking work. People are obviously affected by this event, and I am not about to minimize the collective grief.
It also strikes me as a bit disingenuous for the media to inundate the airwaves with All Hail Michael. Let's not forget that this is the same man that was accused of child molestation. While he was never convicted of a crime, in one instance he paid off the accuser's family an unspecified sum to drop the case. His lifestyle was peculiar at best and highly disturbing at worst. He put masks and hoods on his children. He dangled his infant child from a hotel balcony. He married but never lived with his womb provider. By his own admission, he slept in the same bed with children not his own. He went from ebony to ivory in the span of fifteen years. He mangled his once-beautiful face. The guy was the butt of jokes on late night television, talk radio and over water coolers across the country. Wanna make reference to the most twisted, maladjusted celebrity? Michael Jackson was always the first one that came to mind.
And now the media is only giving us the good times: ABC, Rock with You, Thriller, Beat It, Billy Jean, the moonwalk, the white glove - in other words, the sanitized, pre-meltdown version of Michael. What about the rest of the story? Should we ignore the entire picture? Yes, he was a music video revolutionary twenty years ago. But, what about the last two decades? Shouldn't we hear about that too?
Don't get me wrong, I loved the early Michael just as much as the next person. I played my Thriller album literally thousands of times, memorizing every word and squeal. I danced along with the video hour after hour. I had a poster of him in my room. I cried when he won his Grammys. I simply ADORED him.
Yet, if I am to be honest, my love of him was decimated when he morphed into something unrecognizable. I understand that he was a product of an abusive father and childhood fame; I'm sure he lived with horror along with ardor. But that didn't excuse some of the other questionable choices he made over and over again. Even though he was never convicted, I couldn't help but think what he did with those boys just wasn't right. It felt really...icky. The Michael I knew and loved from my childhood had already died for me.
When I learned of his physical death on Thursday, I found myself stunned and saddened. But my emotions didn't stem from an adoration of Michael Jackson. Instead, I was reacting to the fact that a physically fit, fifty-year old man dropped dead. (My husband will be celebrating his 50th in a matter of months, and that brought me right into my own fears of losing the love of my life too soon.) Similar to my reaction when Princess Diana and Heath Ledger died, I was responding to the fact that someone who I felt I grew up with was gone. Events like those bring into sharp relief our own mortality and that, yes, someday we will all die. We may not die from a crashed limo or too many pills, but we'll all leave this rock nonetheless. The recent events reminded me of that sobering truth.
But have I really been grieving the loss of Michael? Truthfully, not really. I'm afraid I did that a long time ago.