Writerly occupational hazards: Emotional opportunism & spiritual callousing

Two years after his death, Michael Jackson is back in the news, with his former doctor defending himself against charges of involuntary manslaughter. I’m not sure what emotions this case is arousing in the general public, but it has caused me to revisit my first reaction to the so-called King of Pop’s untimely passing.

“A long time after painting [his first wife] Camille on her deathbed, Monet confessed to his friend Georges Clemenceau about the pain or shock he felt when he suddenly realized, while painting [Camille Monet sur son lit de mort] that he was studying her pallid face and noting the tiny variations of tone and color brought about by death, as if they were an observable everyday matter! He ended by saying: ‘Ainsi de la bête qui tourne sa meule. Plaignez-moi, mon ami.’ (Like the beast who turns his millstone. Pity me, my friend.)”

John Berger, “The Enveloping Air: Light and moment in Monet” (Harper’s, January 2011).

My own initial reaction to Michael Jackson’s death presented a real parallel to Monet’s experience, and makes me question my own compassion.

Of course Jackson’s passing was sad—his whole life was sad, by many accounts. And what was my immediate response upon hearing the news? What a pity, I thought. I’d looked forward to seeing where his continuing reinvention of himself would eventually lead. But now I could no longer enjoy imagining the  range of potential 80-year-old Jackson personae.

Does that strike you as callous?

Maybe. But, beyond his curiosity value, Jackon, effectively, was a leading exponent of a novel evolutionary development. Cultural evolution has long since superceded biological evolution. And now, what with advances in plastic surgery, bioengineering, and cyborg-type replacement parts and augmentations, human beings are increasingly taking a deliberate hand in their own design (and all this to much applause from the Transhumanists).

Which leads me to the following proposition. Jackson’s real contribution to posterity might have been this: He was our canary in what is becoming an ever deeper and more mysterious pit of our own devising, filled with perils we cannot yet see.

And now our canary is dead.

RIP MJ. I offer commemorative haikus (which, as I’ve said before, are much easier than writing books).

Michael Jackson, our


Canary in a soul mine.


Michael Jackson, our


Ingenue in a gold mine.




Michael Jackson, dead.



Alternative life-

Stylish Jackson death.


An eighty-year-old

New Michael Jackson

We’ll never know.

It occurs to me to ask: Will I be able to view myself with the same writerly dispassion, as I morph away over the years remaining to me? I’ve already had my eyes lasiked; not long ago I had a bathmat installed in my thorax (patching a ventral hernia, or containing the alien? ); there’s every chance that, should I live long enough, I’ll wind up the proud owner of artificial knees… Hell, they’ll probably be implanting info & communications chips right into our heads even before I get around to retiring my already antique, nearly four-year-old iPhone 2G.

Click on the first photo for a progressive portrait of Jackson over his life. (It has occurred to me that visitors often don’t realize that many of the illustrations in these posts are linked to URLs.)


5 thoughts on “Writerly occupational hazards: Emotional opportunism & spiritual callousing”

  1. Is the picture supposed to an animated .gif? If so, I don’t see it when I click, just the same picture. Nicely done, Collin, though I couldn’t give a toss about MJ. Call me callous, but I hated his music, hated his life, hated his publicity, hated his transformation, hated his drug addiction, hated his trial (guilty or not), and even hearing anything about him. However, having said that, you could apply your words to Amy Winehouse and I would be crying. No accounting for taste is there?

    • I was never a real MJ fan, though I did find some of his tunes very catchy. But I wondered whether I should be disturbed at my dispassionate response to his death, this disappointment, mainly, that I’d never get to see what else he might do to himself as he grew older.

  2. He was a showman. He was a dancer. He was a vocalist. He was unsurpassed at all three. There could be no Lady GaGa without MJ. No Justin Timberlake, either. (Both of them gifted entertainers, but neither could do what they do without MJ paving the way.) His personal life was a freak show from birth, his mind apparently a wasteland, but on stage he was pure magic. That counts for something in my book. Entertainment is being taken over by the Snookies. There are whole networks in America devoted to “reality” shows competing to showcase the most dysfunctional family. Audiences no longer discriminate. Broadway has been purchased outright by Disney. The smallest regional theatres put microphones on their actors and prompt lines through Bluetooth. American Idol is the most successful TV show in American history. It’s a drab, depressing world over the footlights today, a world populated by midgets on stilts, and MJ was one of the last giants. That being said, I would not have allowed my children to attend any parties at Neverland. Just sayin’.

    • You’re right. He was an original, whatever anybody thinks of him.

      All this reality TV stuff–we’ve never hooked up our television, so I’m kind of out of it. I’ve never seen a single reality TV show, and maybe I should explore this stuff, in an anthropological sort of vein.

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