Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael, part 1

This is not really a post about Michael Jackson. This is a post about how I deal with shit. And since the main way I deal with shit is to write, please excuse me if this turns into diarrhea of the keyboard.

As a largely past-oriented person, I think a lot about generations, and decades, and what sorts of things mark them for different people. For my mom's generation, the Beatles and Elvis were ubiquitous. I can remember her telling me about when Elvis and John Lennon died, and even as a child I understood that these were obviously major events in her life. During my childhood, the lords-of-all-pop-culture were Madonna and Michael Jackson; I probably knew who they were before I was speaking in complete sentences. I remember thinking about this one time - maybe ten years ago - and it popped into my head that whenever one of them died I was going to feel very, very strange.

I was right.

Celebrity deaths are always a little weird for me. My friend Spiffy and I are both big Golden Girls fans, and we love Bea Arthur. (Dorothy was always my favorite, and I never really got why people made fun of her.) When Bea died, Spiffy and I had a conversation about which celebrity deaths we had cried over. I couldn't remember any. I remembered being really upset, years ago, when Left-Eye and Aaliyah died, because they were so young. And of course I was very sad when George Harrison died, having grown up listening to the Beatles constantly. Until now I think Bea Arthur was the celebrity whose death I'd found most upsetting - these things seems to affect me more as I get older and gain more understanding of what a human life means. But for some reason I just don't seem to cry when famous people die. I didn't cry today, either. What I did do was wander around in a stupor for several hours, not knowing what to think. This is the most upset I've been over a celebrity dying, and I had no idea how to react or who to talk to. It didn't help that it was someone who opinions are so split over: people literally either loved or hated Michael Jackson, to the point where many people seem glad he is dead. I can't understand being glad that a human being is dead, even one you don't like. I'm sad when anyone dies - hell, I was sad when Saddam Hussein died. A lost life is a lost life, even moreso when it's someone who made so many millions of people happy. Extremely so when a single parent of three young children dies.

Someone on a forum I read mentioned that MTV was playing a marathon of his videos. That was how I became a fan in the first place; MTV played a marathon of his videos when his first child was born, preempting some other show I usually watched. That was only twelve years ago. Twelve years sounds like a long time to my 23-year-old ears, but not when it represents the length of time between the birth of someone's first child and their own death. I don't have cable now, but I realized some of the radio stations were probably playing his songs. I was right, so I listened to that. Now I was in a more upbeat, danceable stupor, but a stupor nonetheless. The whole thing was made even more surreal by the radio station being a little mixed up about what it was playing: cutesy Jackson 5 songs were punctuated by a baritone voice informing me that I was listening to the "Sweat Hotel".

I always feel a strange twinge of guilt about being upset that a famous person has died - after all, their deaths shouldn't mean more than the deaths of ordinary people, and ordinary people are dying every minute. On the other hand, the few famous people I care anything about have affected my life more than many casual acquaintances I know in person. People drift in and out of our lives every day, some leaving more of an impact than others, and some who leave an impact do so from a distance. When those people die, it's only natural to be sad. And on the other, other hand, one of the things I decry most about "celebrity culture" is that people act as if celebrities are not human beings, but merely commodities. So in that way I find it completely appropriate to mourn when a famous person dies. Because they are all people, and they all have friends and families, and they all had goals and dreams they didn't get to finish. Death is sad, no matter who it is.

Still, my emotions are mixed up and jumbled, and I need to sort them out just as I would if I were mourning someone I personally knew. Thus, I write.

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