What goes up, we tear down

I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael Jackson lately. Some say it’s because I’m a victim of the media frenzy going on right now, but honestly I don’t watch TV very much. So aside from watching the recap of his funeral last night when I got home, I’ve experienced very little media on the subject. But the idea of his story is a constant stream of consciousness manifesting itself in various forms from my mind.

Today it’s a blog.
I cannot help but think about the life and legacy of Michael Jackson with a twinge of sorrow. He started off as the wonder-boy front man for a little group called the Jackson 5 in the 60s and rose to wear the crown as King of Pop. But it’s the story in between that fascinates and, sadly, disturbs me. No, not because he was the “Wacko Jacko” the media so kindly named him, but because of the sad truth that for all intents and purposes, I believe Michael was a victim. First a victim of what was probably and abusive home, next a victim of what was undoubtedly an abusive experience we call “celebrity.”
I’ve noticed that as a whole, our society tends to root for the underdog, building them up with the hopes that they will take off to superstardom. We love shows like American Idol because we think it’s a home-grown kid on the big stage taking their once-in-a-lifetime shot at fame. But somewhere between the climb to the top and the pinnacle of their career, our group-think shifts and we decide our underdog is no longer worthy of our adoration, affection, or well-wishes. We thus begin our slippery slope to tear them down back to what we’ve decided is “normal.”
I’ve seen it over and over again. In recent years it’s been with the likes of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton. But in the past it’s been people like Elvis, the Beatles (more markedly John Lennon), and sadly, Michael Jackson.
Admittedly, he was an odd duck… Addicted to plastic surgery, dangling his son over a balcony, naming his ranch after a make-believe land from Peter Pan. But who wouldn’t be odd when they started pursuing a career at the age of 5? Who wouldn’t be odd if he didn’t get the opportunity to play with other children because he was required to practice for hours each day? Who wouldn’t be odd if at the age of 11 he had a record deal and was forced into his professional career before even hitting puberty? These are things that most of us will never and can never understand. The spotlight is an endearing lure, but a bittersweet relationship. On one hand you have fame and fortune, on the other the relentless expectation to look perfect, act perfect, say all the right things, and live up to everyone’s impossible expectations.
And if you want to get started on the argument that Michael was a child molester, I will say this and only this: he was acquitted. There was a reason he was acquitted and it was because the evidence did not exist. In fact, all of the evidence pointed to the contrary.
And yet so many of us fell into the trap of group-think. We decided collectively that Michael was indeed “Wacko Jacko.” We never stopped to think that he was, perhaps, a human with real emotions, desires, dreams, thoughts, feelings. No, in our world, celebrity is not human, it is our toy with which we play until we are tired and move on to the next new thing.
But over the past couple of weeks, in light of the news that our King of Pop is now gone, I have started to ponder this anomaly we call “celebrity.” Why do we build up to tear down? And why is it that now that he’s gone, we’re all suddenly big fans again? Frankly I’m disgusted with myself for ever having concluded that he was not worth my respect. Granted. He was not perfect – that is not what I’m saying. But there is no denying that he was a genius of his trade, a lover of humanity and believer in the simple idea that the world could really be a better place. What’s not to respect about that?
Perhaps, aside from his music, his trends, his dancing, his humanitarian efforts, Michael had one final legacy to leave with us: to remember that the oddities of “celebrity” are moreso of our own making than of theirs. And that if we, collectively, can set aside our preconceived notions if only for a moment, we might just see that we are all human, we are all the world under the same sun, and at the end of the day it is what we do, not who we say we are, that leaves the greatest impact on the world.