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 Cultural evolution has long since superceded biological evolution.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.
Stylish Jackson death.
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.)