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Michael Jackson’s Death

This is one I wrote to all the buttheads…

Defending a Michael Jackson memorial is like defending air or water—anything so utterly and horribly over-exposed certainly needs no defense. It’s everywhere, like it or not, unavoidable, ubiquitous. But I feel the need to do so.


Our modern culture is split, fractured, divided amongst languages, factions, beliefs, politics, religions. Cultural pundits across the aisles have consistently bemoaned the loss of “water cooler moments” that unify our culture, that make us “Americans” or simply, “humans.” These events, in the age of three television stations and two newspapers, used to be as simple as Carol Burnett’s new show, or the crrrrrazy new Procter and Gamble advertisement. But, as more stations and websites and magazines take over a cultural landscape, as we’re allowed to find our own niche and not simply slot into the 4 or 5 boxes available, we fragment, we splinter, we separate. And that’s… okay. It’s a necessary by-product of progress, an ironic attribute of connectivity. 

The tragedy is that our unifying moments as a people, our cultural touchstones, become few and far between. Occasionally, we are brought together by tragedy, like 9/11. Sometimes, we are unified in hope for the future, like Obama’s inauguration. But rarely anymore, if ever, do we get together to celebrate a common cultural wellspring, a history, a connection to an ineffable human feeling. And those of you that have spent the last week harping and moaning about the over-coverage of Michael Jackson, well… I agree with you. The manner, tone, and ludicrous coverage hasn’t been perfect. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater (I searched for another image there, but ah well).

Those of you who mock, spurn, and shout have missed the point. Quite frankly, I suggest that you have no idea what the rest of us are mourning, that you have no conception of what it is that has brought us to our collective knees. On the surface, visceral level, it is a celebration of a complex cocktail of emotions cued by something as simple as the first chord strike of “Smooth Criminal,” or the rush of blood and racing pulse that always accompanies the sneaky synthesized opening bass line of “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” You may not feel that, you may not relate, you may not understand. And that’s… okay. But to shout about your ignorance is nonsensical.

Yes, there are complex, horrifying tragedies facing us every day. Iran is sitting on a knife edge, waiting to tip towards the loose capitalism of China or the aggressive communist dictatorship of North Korea. Kim Jung Il is a four foot ten ticking time bomb. Gays can’t marry and if the economy goes much further, we may belong to Japan. I understand this. Many of us understand this. But if we are not allowed to recognize the importance of a man with the courage (not ignorance) to speak in platitudes, the relevance of a body of work that defined our relation to that complex interaction between our bodies and external sounds, the sheer overwhelming amount of hope contained in a trickling disaster of a life, then our culture has lost something beyond a superstar.

This is a water cooler moment, and not a mockable one. We are mourning a man, yes. We are mourning incredible, moving music, yes. But, more importantly, we are mourning a common bond, one that we fear is broken. Michael Jackson’s death comes at a precarious time in American culture, and so many of us feel connected by his music. He affects us all differently, but for many of us, that effect is very, very deep indeed, and though our bodies feel it uniquely, we feel the connection equally. For those of you who can’t see what the hoopla is about, I’m sorry. I truly am. But to publicly deny a common emotional wellspring to millions of people out of misguided political arrogance, or an odd sense of public duty or a feeling of uncomfortable exclusion, well, you’re wrong. This is meaningful. It is important. Maybe not for the reasons the pundits say. Maybe not for the reasons you’ve heard. But millions of people around the world were punched in the gut and are desperately uniting through webs of tears, reaching out to each other in the name of love, in the name of music, and in the name of a hope that some of us feel might not exist anymore. To deny them that, even out of ignorance, is offensive, it is wrong, and it is horribly, utterly selfish.

Go listen to whatever music moves you. Dance. Sing. Cry. That’s enough. Not only will you start to understand what’s going on, but it’ll keep you off the web for a few hours.

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