With the headline of “King Of Pop Dead At 12”, the Onion’s parody of a typical Michael Jackson obit is brutal — and spot on:
LOS ANGELES—Michael Jackson, a talented child performer known for his love of amusement park rides and his hobby of collecting exotic animals for his Neverland Ranch, died from sudden cardiac arrest Thursday at the age of 12. The prepubescent singer, who enjoyed playing dress-up and often referred to himself as “the King of Pop,” was celebrated for his naïve exuberance and his generosity toward other children. “This is a terrible loss for music and for all of us,” brother Jermaine Jackson said. “He had so much potential to blossom into a gracious and mature human being. As it is, the world will never know the genius Michael Jackson might have become had he grown up.” The singer leaves behind a large body of hits, 25,000 unopened toys, and nearly $400 million of debt.
Meanwhile, Mark Steyn writes that it was right around age 12 that the real Michael Jackson died:
What about the music? There was a brief phase, between the boy and the man, when Michael Jackson distilled the cultural moment – the joyous intro of “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”, when the man-boy found his voice. But, even at his peak – the Thriller videos, a quarter-century back – he was mostly a shrewd mélange of pop culture allusions: the hoofer’s hat, the Fosse gloves, the Sgt Pepper uniform… Surely the only thing sadder than living in a fantasy world is living in a second-hand fantasy, looking for J M Barrie’s Neverland at a California ranch.
Indeed, that may be the only real “significance” in Michael Jackson’s degeneration. The release of Thriller marked the apogee of big-time universal popular culture and poor Jacko became the living embodiment of pop’s paradox, corporately gargantuan and eternally infantile. After Thriller, Bad was considered a flop, though what wouldn’t be? If Jackson’s weirdness symbolizes anything larger, it’s the insanity of an industry where selling 25 million copies makes you a loser. You could argue that his ever more pallid complexion made him the pithiest shorthand for pop’s history: in splendid contrast to Little Richard and Pat Boone, he was the first black singer to become his own lucrative white cover version.
Did he ever look in the mirror, recall that little boy with the Jackson Five and think “I Want You Back”? Don Black, who wrote the aforementioned “Ben”, Michael’s first big solo hit in 1972, is married to his childhood sweetheart Shirley – they grew up together in the East End of London – and is famously one of the sanest men in showbiz. The teenage Michael used to go round and see them at their place in Hollywood and Shirley would put on a nice cuppa tea for him and Michael would make some fey zonked-out observation and Don would respond with one of his old London music-hall gags and they’d play snooker with Don’s teenage boys and Michael would spend the rest of the afternoon drawing pictures with Shirley. And you realize that, in the end, even for the most famous and famously damaged celebrities, wackiness is a choice. Michael Jackson made his. In the years ahead, we’ll remember the freak show, but not much of the music.
And speaking of grown men acting like they’re 12, “Video: House holds moment of silence for Michael Jackson.”
As Steyn writes, “wackiness is a choice”, and here’s one concrete — actually marble and gold — manifestation of that wackiness. In sharp contrast to Jackson, Will Collier finds another child prodigy turned superstar who has remained remarkably human and compassionate.
Update: Jonah Goldberg adds, “If anything, Michael Jackson’s life, not his death, was tragic.” Read the whole thing.™
Update: Andrew Breitbart writes, “A Monster of Our Own Making Is Dead and I’m Mildly Sad.”