Legend, icon, global megastar, the most successful artist of the last 30 years. These are the words and phrases that begin the news reports, quickly followed by conjecture over the controversial aspects of his life.
The abrupt end to Michael Jackson’s life has caused many to draw parallels with the death of Princess Diana. But unlike Diana, the outpouring of emotion has been neutered by the rumour and speculation that surround his clandestine personal life.
The media, like the public at large, have tended to sever the man in two, portraying on the one hand, Michael Jackson, child prodigy turned global phenomenon – the gifted performer whose music has effortlessly traversed the decades; and on the other hand, Michael Jackson, weird looking possible child abuser.
Indeed, on hearing the news last night I asked two people on two different occasions, ‘What do you think of Michael Jackson?’ and they both gave me an almost identical answer. The same answer that you are probably thinking right now (Go on think of an answer to that question!). They both said, ‘I like him as a performer, but not as a person.’ Is that what you thought? Well it should be, because that is what everyone else thinks and if you don’t think that then there is obviously something inherently wrong with you. Go to the doctor!
This dichotomy arises as our brains try to alleviate the anxiety caused by trying to rationalise ‘the brilliant man who has written an extensive catalogue of captivating songs that he can transform into spellbinding performances’ with ‘the bad man who allegedly abuses children’. Justifying these complete opposites jars inside us – like trying to force two same force magnets together – so we don’t. It’s called cognitive dissonance.
This great global psychological experiment has produced interesting results; namely the incredulity that a person such as Michael Jackson could actually die. Because, for the 99.9% of us who have been unscathed by Jackson’s more sinister private life, it is preferable to think of him by his music alone, and in doing so we omit any room for human fallibility, making him as nebulous and intangible as the melodies he has created. We see him as an immortal music making deity that has been doing that and only that since the beginning of time. But of course he isn’t. He is a man made of flesh and bone and plastic and a heart that has broken under the strain of trying to push the blood of brilliance through the capillaries of public cynicism (Perhaps I could write his eulogy? . . . if I leave out the plastic bit).
Michael Jackson’s life was incomparable to that of anyone else on the planet; a life of mystery and intrigue, rumour and supposition, with a level of fame that could only be vaguely imagined. Consequently, we can have no real idea of the burden of expectation that he shouldered and, as time progressed, how stressful that became to him. Time though is a great healer as they say, and in time the scandal that marred his later years will surely wither under the weight of his excellence and he will be remembered as the man he wanted to be. It’s just a shame that it took his death to show us that he is mortal.