It's been tough not to notice the non-stop media barrage of all things Michael Jackson. Back on June 27, the day both Jackson and Farrah Fawcett passed, George Ure over at Urban Survival penned a thoughtful paragraph or two on the meaning of cultural icons. He used the Wikipedia definition of the term Cultural Icon and then followed with this gem:
Not many folks turn off the infostream long enough ponder a bit about the important role of the archetypes and icons, how they form and frame us, let alone study how they work down at the preconscious and subconscious levels forming and co creating the physical world we share in 'waking' hours perhaps better described as social sleep.
Still, if you've forgotten Socrates "Allegory of the Cave" the Wiki entry on archetypes of this sort (here) is about the best short-form description of how those little buggers work.
I hadn't revisited the Cave Allegory since my freshman year at Colgate when Plato's Republic was in the syllabus for one of our Core requirements -- Philosophy and Religion. It's amazing what you don't see and perceive as an 18 year-old college student. It's funny how I can sat that 30+ years later. The Cave Allegory and The Republic are worth revisiting.
The Jacko circus is just another example of how we've lost it as a society. Reality is a tough foe. We need to wake up soon .Bob Herbert said pretty much the same thing in his NYTimes column yesterday. I think it's one of his best efforts I've read. See what you think:
Meeting Michael Jackson in the mid-1980s was one of the creepier experiences of my life. I was an editor at The Daily News and had to present him with an award in a large room with just a handful of onlookers and a photographer at Madison Square Garden.
I wasn’t put off by the fact that Jackson, then in his mid-20s, couldn’t make small talk. Lots of people have trouble with that. There was something about his overall behavior that weirded me out. He seemed, even then, to be a person who was trying with all of his being to step outside of reality and leave it behind.
Emmanuel Lewis, the child star of the hit TV series “Webster,” was with Jackson that evening. The undersized Lewis was probably 13 at the time, but he looked much younger, maybe 7 or 8.
Jackson seemed to relate only to Lewis. He made faces at the tiny boy and giggled as Lewis hopped around and climbed over furniture, much to Jackson’s delight. I remember thinking as I left the Garden that Jackson had treated Lewis almost as a pet.
I’ve never heard any suggestion of anything improper about the relationship between Jackson and Lewis. But what I wish I had thought more about in those long-ago days of Michael-mania was the era of extreme immaturity and grotesque irresponsibility that was already well under way in America. The craziness played out on a shockingly broad front and Jackson’s life, among many others, would prove to be a shining and ultimately tragic example.
Ronald Reagan was president, making promises he couldn't keep about taxes and deficits and allowing the readings of a West Coast astrologer to shape his public schedule. The movie “Wall Street” would soon appear, accurately reflecting the nation’s wholesale acceptance of unrestrained greed and other excesses of the rich and powerful.
In neighborhoods through much of black America, crack was taking a fearful toll. Young criminals were arming themselves with ever more powerful weapons, and prison garb was used to set fashion trends.
Motown was the label that gave us the Jackson 5. But when Michael and his brothers released their first album in 1969, the label had already reached its creative peak and most of the best work — the stunning originality of the Miracles, the Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes, the Temptations, and others — had been done. Hip-hop would soon appear, and then the violence and misogyny of gangsta rap.
All kinds of restraints were coming off. It was almost as if the adults had gone into hiding. The deregulation that we were told would be great for the economy was being applied to the culture as a whole. Women could be treated as sex objects again as misogyny, hardly limited to hip-hop, went mainstream. (Have you looked at network television lately, or listened to the radio?) Astonishing numbers of men abandoned their children with impunity. Most of the nation seemed fine with the idea of going to war without a draft and without raising taxes.
In many ways we descended as a society into a fantasyland, trying to leave the limits and consequences and obligations of the real world behind. Politicians stopped talking about the poor. We built up staggering amounts of debt and called it an economic boom. We shipped jobs overseas by the millions without ever thinking seriously about how to replace them. We let New Orleans drown.
Jackson was the perfect star for the era, the embodiment of fantasy gone wild. He tried to carve himself up into another person, but, of course, there was the same Michael Jackson underneath — talented but psychologically disabled to the point where he was a danger to himself and others.
Reality is unforgiving. There is no escape. Behind the Jackson facade was the horror of child abuse. Court records and reams of well-documented media accounts contain a stream of serious allegations of child sex abuse and other inappropriate behavior with very young boys. Jackson, a multimillionaire megastar, was excused as an eccentric. Small children were delivered into his company, to spend the night in his bed, often by their parents.
One case of alleged pedophilia against Jackson, the details of which would make your hair stand on end, was settled for a reported $25 million. He beat another case in court.
The Michael-mania that has erupted since Jackson’s death — not just an appreciation of his music, but a giddy celebration of his life — is yet another spasm of the culture opting for fantasy over reality. We don’t want to look under the rock that was Jackson’s real life.
As with so many other things, we don’t want to know.