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Michael Jackson and the Limits of Vanity

Was the King of Pop a reflection of a culture obsessed with eternal youth, or did he create that man-in-the-mirror himself?

by
Stephen Green

Bio

May 7, 2013 - 2:02 pm

As an early teen in the early ’80s, it was just about impossible not to like Michael Jackson’s music. It was certainly impossible to avoid it. With Thriller, Jackson and producer Quincy Jones set out to make the ultimate crossover album — one that would gain black and white audiences in equal measure. And equal airplay, too, back when radio stations were even more racially targeted than they are today.

And boy, did they succeed.

But Michael Jackson the person? It was pretty obvious even then that he was one strange dude. What happened though is what happens to too many child performers: The weirdness went up and up, while the quality of the performances went down and down. By the time Dangerous came out in 1991, the magic was pretty much gone. It sold in the millions, yet nobody was buying it. And by that I mean, nobody was buying Jackson’s pseudo tough/tender/ladies man act anymore. The weird was just too weird.

Then came the obligatory-yet-somehow-disappointing greatest hits collection, the horrifying-yet-believable stories about his sleepover parties with kids…

I shudder even to think about it. His last studio album, ironically named Invincible, came out after years of delays and way over budget — and to a tepid response.

It was around this time he was dangling babies off balconies and looking like a bad drag queen version of Elizabeth Taylor. Oh, and he’d somehow managed to go broke buying giraffes and rollercoasters and stuff. The music had hit bottom and the weird was at the top of the charts.

The amazingly talented and abused little boy who never had a childhood, never really had an adulthood, either. There’s so much blame to go around, you barely know where to start.

Anyway, that’s what popped into my head this morning after reading a story about the ongoing wrongful death suit against his management. Especially this part:

Much of what jurors heard for the first time is a repeat of the scientific evidence presented in the trial of Murray, who is now serving a prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter. But some of what is in the coroner’s report seems to give more insight into Michael Jackson’s life rather than how he died.

Dr. Christopher Rogers noted in his autopsy report that Jackson’s lips were tattooed pink, while his eyebrows were a dark tattoo. The front of his scalp was also tattooed black, apparently to blend his hairline in with the wigs he wore.

The autopsy confirmed what Jackson told people who questioned why his skin tone became lighter in the 1980s. Jackson had “vitiligo, a skin pigmentation disease,” Rogers said. “So, some areas of the skin appear light and others appear dark.”

Jackson released a song in ’88 called “The Man In The Mirror,” which was one of his minor hits. And the man he saw in the mirror was bald, splotchy, underweight, and dotted above the neck with makeup tattoos. We saw the freak, but he — and his family, and his management, and his doctor — saw the wreck. A forty-year-long, slow-motion, train-derailment-scene-from-The-Fugitive, wreck.

As I settle quite solidly into middle age with all its attendant physical changes, it forces me to wonder what, if any, are the limits of vanity. Multiple plastic surgeries, forehead tattoos, stained lips, starvation, abuse of powerful anesthesia to attain beauty sleep — where does it stop?

We know where it stopped for Michael Jackson: With a panicked, enabling doctor sweating over his withered and lifeless body. And to think Jackson had once been a beautiful — and that is the right word — young man.

Dying tragically and young (if you’ll allow me to repeat myself) is nothing new in the world of popular music — but not like this. Is Jackson merely a reflection of a culture obsessed to death with staying young, or did he create that man-in-the-mirror himself?

It’s been almost exactly four years since his death at the age of 50, and there are still no easy answers; just the uneasy feeling that his weirdness is becoming our new normal.

****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

Stephen Green began blogging at VodkaPundit.com in early 2002, and has served as PJMedia's Denver editor since 2008. He's one of the hosts on PJTV, and one-third of PJTV's Trifecta team with Scott Ott and Bill Whittle. Steve lives with his wife and sons in the hills and woods of Monument, Colorado, where he enjoys the occasional lovely adult beverage.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
My first big purchase of LPs (thanks, Columbia House and 13-for-a-penny, I'll never forget that moment!) included Dave Brubeck's Time Out, Mel Torme's A New Album, Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, Led Zeppelin's In Through The Out Door, and The Cars' Candy-O.

If you're defining yourself by a musical genre, you're living a tragically narrow life.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
"As an early teen in the early ’80s, it was just about impossible not to like Michael Jackson’s music"

And you were a MALE teen back then? Good God, were you so Rock-and-Roll deprived in your upbringing, that MTV's 1980's shift from "rock and roll television" to MICHAEL JACKSON didnt make you squirm and vomit...seriously?

I've HEARD of such children, living in Famine and Starvation like Samolia or Ethiopia...but as a White Kid growing up inThe Burbs on a healthy diet of "western" rock and roll (American, British and Australian if you count AC/DC) I just never SAW it myself. You poor, starving man.

Let me guess...you had no older siblings endlessly playing Led Zep or Skynyrd in your formative years, and (cause or correlation, I cant say but..) you then developed no interst in War Movies, Cars, Steve Mcqueen, Guns, and/or other self-made things that caught fire and/or exploded by design.

A simple viewing of the first (australian!) Mad Max movie on HBO anytime between the ages of 10-15 would have innoculated any red-blooded Ammerican Boy to reject the Gloved One for the conteptable sissy he was...but maybe you didnt have Cable in your area in the '80's?

I never realized the horror and trauma you suffered as a child, Mr. Green.
Oh, the humanity, the depravation!

This explains so much.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (21)
All Comments   (21)
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I yes I will dive deep down as a straight arrow and pierce through and through this culture of celebrity and Vanity and drive all the chosen into the pen of the lambs of God. The problem of course with this is the poor lambs see how they are addicted to all the idols of Egypt then Babylon and for 40 years they will wander in the desert until they are purified.
(perhaps,today, this not the time to do such a cleansing and good while in "Babylon " serve those in great need in hospital in nursing homes , teachers for children ,teachers for those in prison knowing those who go Galt in their isolation and withdrawal from the idols of Babylon collect guns and chains to be no better than this Castro fella who chained three women and the only good thing that came is the birth of an innocent baby from God and mother love in a Babylon that has murdered 50 million unborn babies but this could be worse as it is in China where the chains from the elite force punch all the women in the belly figure of speech to prevent the unborn baby to be born
this is good God is so very patient with the world after he sent his only son into the world
Excerpt from the Our Father Pray Jesus gave
" Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."
Many converts will be made in the world on this day and recieve baptism in the name of the Father Son and The Holy Spirit as the world turns
more latter
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Off the Wall was a younger brother's first record buy. The young black man on the cover was never seen from again. Sad.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I want to feel sorry for MJ, but everytime I think of the children he molested, I realize that my 'sympathy thimble' is already filled...
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nice piece, SG.

The challenges of his childhood notwithstanding, one could argue the turning point for MJ was the pepsi commercial in which his hair caught fire.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Who cares?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
" . . .and looking like a bad drag queen version of Elizabeth Taylor."

A number of years ago, supposedly Michael and Madonna had some kind of falling out. He'd made some kind of ugly comment to her, and Madonna's response was, "At least I don't look like a space alien drag queen."
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, no one has ever accused Madonna of self-awareness.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
"As an early teen in the early ’80s, it was just about impossible not to like Michael Jackson’s music"

And you were a MALE teen back then? Good God, were you so Rock-and-Roll deprived in your upbringing, that MTV's 1980's shift from "rock and roll television" to MICHAEL JACKSON didnt make you squirm and vomit...seriously?

I've HEARD of such children, living in Famine and Starvation like Samolia or Ethiopia...but as a White Kid growing up inThe Burbs on a healthy diet of "western" rock and roll (American, British and Australian if you count AC/DC) I just never SAW it myself. You poor, starving man.

Let me guess...you had no older siblings endlessly playing Led Zep or Skynyrd in your formative years, and (cause or correlation, I cant say but..) you then developed no interst in War Movies, Cars, Steve Mcqueen, Guns, and/or other self-made things that caught fire and/or exploded by design.

A simple viewing of the first (australian!) Mad Max movie on HBO anytime between the ages of 10-15 would have innoculated any red-blooded Ammerican Boy to reject the Gloved One for the conteptable sissy he was...but maybe you didnt have Cable in your area in the '80's?

I never realized the horror and trauma you suffered as a child, Mr. Green.
Oh, the humanity, the depravation!

This explains so much.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I grew up listening to the Jackson Five, along with the Beatles, Doors, Stones, etc. I SAW Led Zeppelin in concert. I got exposed to Rock, Motown, and C&W. I went to high school during the Disco era. It's all good.

Michael Jackson was a uniquely talented performer. He was also a very disturbed individual.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
My first big purchase of LPs (thanks, Columbia House and 13-for-a-penny, I'll never forget that moment!) included Dave Brubeck's Time Out, Mel Torme's A New Album, Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, Led Zeppelin's In Through The Out Door, and The Cars' Candy-O.

If you're defining yourself by a musical genre, you're living a tragically narrow life.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
OK, I admit it...I actually bought "the rubber band man" as a 45 single, because I thought its just was so cool...

And I define myself by the things that make me laugh, especially through the absurd and exaggerated recollections of the fabulous life we've been allowed to have as American Kids...
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Back in the day I had all six jackets to "In Through the Out Door". Love that album.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was exposed early on to everything from Cream and Spencer Davis to Zeppelin to Reggae and Metal and even I couldn't deny that Michael Jackson was a musical genius. Splitting hairs about musical talent makes no sense. It's all good...
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Heck, all I had was my parents playing an endless diet of Barry Manilow and I even avoided the Michael Jackson plague skipping him to go straight into Rush, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and others ... although my music development was delayed until my late teen years.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fame is a vicious circle. a snake eating its own tail. The voyeurs create the exhibitionists and the exhibitionists find they can't live without the voyeurs. Anyone who becomes involved in this nefarious game (not just performers, but politicians down to the lowliest "reality star") is going to ultimately suffer because the voyeurs essentially despise the exhibitionist and will cheer as they start to fall. The only way a person of talent can protect their gift is to stay as far away from fame as possible. Unfortunately most people in such a position have to learn this for themselves and the lesson usually comes too late.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Such a tremendous loss and so sad for those kids. What the coroner couldn't see was his chronic, emotionally devastating body dysmorphic disorder.

I remember hearing Jackson interviewed about how when he was an acne faced teen, fans would say things like "What happened to you! You used to be so cute!" Teens are so sensitive about their appearance (I know, I have two at the moment). Add that to his skin disease, vitiglio, and you end up with an addiction to plastic surgery and a very troubled guy. Vanity? not so much. Chronic mental illness is more like it.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
My wife insists that there should be a celebrity-oriented occupation, "reality coach" who would essentially follow someone around, and smack them when they dissed a server in a restaurant or acted crassly with someone who worked for them, etc. Jackson would have needed several, and probably would have worn them out. A large part of the problem seems to have been this parasitic family he had. These days they collectively spend most of their time trying to sue each other or other entities (they're currently suing his concert promoters, if I understand it, alleging that they were responsible for Dr. Murray and the drugs), and scrambling over the custody of the children, along with his music library (he owned most of the Beatles stuff for years).

He was a brilliant musician, and I think Man in the Mirror is probably my favorite of his songs. It isn't (as far as I could tell anyway) really about his personal appearance; I always took it as more about personal responsibility, which is an important theme these days, and the sentiment of the song--that you should take responsibility for your actions before trying to find someone else to blame for the consequences--seems entirely appropriate and *right*.

Anyway, the guy seems to have surrounded himself, and been surrounded, by sycophants who would tell him anything he wanted to hear, and get him anything he wanted to have. That's bad for anyone, and it's strange to me that none of these guys ever sees how dangerous this is. It's not like there isn't thousands of years of human history with no examples of this sort of thing: Kings from various parts of the world used to descend into madness constantly, once they realized they could have anything and no one could stop them. It didn't happen every time someone achieved absolute power, but it happened often enough to be obvious.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
"My wife insists that there should be a celebrity-oriented occupation, "reality coach" who would essentially follow someone around, and smack them..."

Look up the Roman custom of having someone whisper "you are mortal" in the ear of a guy receiving a triumphal parade.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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