The thriller is gone

A member of Salon's Table Talk community shares his perspective on the Michael myth


Salon Staff
July 3, 2009 3:04PM (UTC)

White House

The Keith Olbermann Thread

Macdaffy - 04:41 am Pacific Time - Jun 26, 2009 - #6320 of 6405

Michael Jackson broke the MTV color barrier vis-a-vis videos. Every black face you see on that channel (when they're showing videos at all) owes a debt of gratitude to Michael Jackson.

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When I was a kid, there was a fierce debate -- sometimes over who-was-who -- about who was best: the Jackson Five or the Osmonds. Michael and Donnie battled it out over the airwaves until superior talent won out. Point: Jackson(s).

Michael Jackson is a link in a continuum: Jackie Robinson, Nat King Cole, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, himself and our current president. Each man has brought Black Maleness closer to mainstream acceptability in this country and in the world. These men have caused more friction in white American households than integration or voting rights.

Can a black man really make a white girl's heart flutter?

Still a very dangerous question in this country, but less so for their humanity.

(Black women have always been a different story. Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, and other "desirable" black women set up a unique dynamic. I forget where I heard it -- it might have been Mort Sahl or Lenny Bruce -- but the question was put: Give the white supremacist a choice between a sexual relationship with Lena Horne or Kate Smith; which one do you think would have been picked? Yeah, yeah! I know! It's a callous and sexist and hurtfully inappropriate comparison. Save me the opprobrium because I heartily agree with it.)

Michael Jackson is an object lesson on so many levels. Astaire admired his innovation and ability in dance. Jackson redefined the nascent genre of the music video, broke its color barrier, and produced work that will be compelling long after his passing. He rocked.

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Michael Jackson's myth reinforces the age-old tale of the sins of the father being visited on the son. His myth reinforces the fact that great devotion and achievement in one arena of life necessitates inadequacy in others. His myth reminds us that the brightest candles burn shortest. His myth reminds us to be careful of the siren song of fame and fortune. And, of course, his myth and a marriage bring us full-circle regarding the life of one Elvis Aron Presley. What Colonel Tom Parker exploited all those years ago, Jackson brought back to its own with his success.

I mourn Michael Jackson, even with all his egregious faults. The tragedy is that Peter Pan had no road map for growing up. The triumph is that -- for all the harm he did -- he left so much good in the world.

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Aloha oe, Michael.

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