It is almost in an atmosphere of the Emperor’s New Clothes that we dare to comment on the recent death of Michael Jackson. As the eulogies come streaming in from all sides, highlighting his musical career and bizarre personal life, few are the voices that cry out like the little child that the emperor had no clothes. There was no essence to the Jackson existential myth. He was the ill-fated casualty of his own self-destructive fantasies.
That is not to say that his death was without any meaning beyond that of personal tragedy. It speaks volumes of our culture. What we have witnessed is not just the passing of an individual but a symbol.
Michael Jackson was a symbol of the blatant contradictions of a cultural revolution that has devastated our society since the sixties. It is a revolution in the cultural field of manners, morality, music, ways of being, and dress that has imposed itself upon us by blurring distinctions, avoiding definitions, breaking social conventions and proposing the most blatant contradictions.
And while he was not alone in representing this revolution over the decades, Michael Jackson was an archetypal figure that took the flag of this revolution to its extreme and bizarre consequences.
Everything about him was contradiction. Indeed, from his surreal Neverland retreat, he seemed to thrive on the idea that no barrier could be left standing. All contradictions could be bridged.
He dissolved and blurred the distinctions between man and woman, black and white, homosexual and heterosexual, adult and child, logic and illogic, fantasy and reality.
His was a contradiction in constant transformation, flitting from one thing to another. He was a being constantly remaking himself, even to the point of surgically changing his natural features to fit his extravagant whims and desires. We might well describe his world as one of constantly evolving chaos.
Of course, we might also mention the moral scandals of his life, especially allegations of abuse of minors who he invited to sleepover at his ranch. While much less serious allegations would be enough to end forever the ministry of a priest, he seems to have enjoyed immunity from public disgrace.
Thus, Michael Jackson was not a model to be imitated but a tragic symbol of blatant contradiction. While not everyone followed him all the way down his eerie ambiguous path, he left doors of aberration open so that others might enter after him.
If there is something that the child needs to proclaim before the emperor today, it is a cry that the so-called king of pop has no definitions, distinctions, morals and logic. It is the generalized ambiguity of actions, words and events and the glorification of contradiction that has brought about our self-destructive decline – and the passing of a symbol.