Michael Jackson: The King of Plot
Yes, against all odds (and all good advice), another Michael Jackson post.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that in all of celebrity culture, there is no-one whose fans are more … uh … proactive? loyal? energetic? defensive? rabid? batshit insane? than Michael Jackson’s. If you doubt me, look here, here, or here. Or here:
People on their way up in the Fame Machine would commit any number of felonies for that kind of attention, although I think we can all agree it must get rather wearying after the first ten years or so. So why don’t all these other hard-working, desperately famewhorish people have fans like that? Why is the fandom of Michael Jackson one of the wonders of the modern world? Is it because these other people don’t sing as well? Is it because they don’t dance as well? Is it because he was prettier than they are? Of course not; Michael Jackson’s level of superstardom and his hold, even after death, on his fans’s hearts, have little or nothing to do with the skills that brought him to our attention in the first place.
Interestingly, a study printed in an old science magazine of mine which is too old to be online indicated that, regardless of fame, the percentage of the population who finds a person attractive/loathesome remains the same; the effect of fame is to increase the numbers of people who are aware of the subject, but not the percentage who find that person attractive. Which is rather reassuring to those of us who toil in obscurity but still have our admirers, and rather heartening when you turn temporarily emo and think everyone in the world has eyes only for Fill In The Blank (Justin Bieber, Jessica Simpson, Rihanna, Bob Barker, whoever).
People become true, capital F Fans of someone not out of admiration for the work, but out of a personal love sparked by some (sometimes trivial) quality of the star. It’s really the same process as face-to-face infatuation, minus the in-person biochemistry, and it’s something we’re becoming increasingly aware of now that so many infatuations among noncelebrities begin online.
Big “L,” irrational, quit-my-job-and-follow-you-anywhere kind of Love, that’s what it is. Remember Adaptation? The only part of the movie where Donald, the tacky, sellout brother makes any real sense is right at the end, when he’s describing the unrequited love he had for a girl back when they were both young teenagers. Charlie, the intelligent brother chides him, telling him what he’s sure is a shocker: that the girl knew of and mocked this love that was so precious to the young boy. Cheeseball Donald, however, isn’t phased by the information, and replies that the love that he felt and expressed is not dependent on its reception, not dependent, in fact, on anything else, but exists purely as a metaphysical manifestation of Love itself, and thus cannot be diminished by anything as banal as ingratitude, vulgarity, or even unworthiness.
This is the kind of love that his fans have for Michael Jackson.
That he was a flawed human being is something that even the most passionate fan might admit in a quiet moment (if there were no witnesses around) but perfection and imperfection are irrelevant to the inspiration that they gather from him. The inspiration’s source is Jackson’s lifelong struggle to regain a state of childlike innocence that he may never have actually enjoyed in his childhood. Neverland wasn’t an elaborate honey trap; it was his Xanadu, a place where he could let his inner child run free, even if surrounded by laser security devices and attended at all times by a security staff that would be the envy of the Israeli military. It’s akin, in a scrambled, show business way, to the Blakesian concept of Innocence and Experience, the idea that we are born from a state of innocence into a world that vulgarizes and beats us down from the moment we arrive, but that through faith, strength of will, and persistence we can eventually achieve an enlightened form of innocence, once we’ve transcended the mundane and learned to manifest the eternal in our own lives.
As a man who’d endured horrific physical and mental abuse, sexualization, and pressure to “grow up” from the age of four or five, Michael Jackson spent his adulthood trying to return to a state of innocence he had never experienced in the first place. It’s quite likely that he saw even the behavior that others condemned as simply another form of “Love,” and you can ask NAMBLA if he was alone in that. His filter was warped, and his stardom gave him the money and the power to avoid the consequences for most of his life, but it’s not a stretch to claim his motivation was simply a desire to live in a state of pure love.
It is this shared dream that draws his fans to him, even a year after his death, and which will doubtless continue to draw them fifty or a hundred years from now. There is no song a man could write, there is no light fantastic he could trip that could keep him alive in fans’s hearts indefinitely. But a shared dream of pure love? For the millions of people around the world who’ve felt the heavy hand of the world ripping away their own innocence, he is the one who succeeded, or rather, the one who sacrificed his life to the effort and died trying to make the dream a reality.
And you know what that makes him.