I am a culture junkie. I like to see how people interact with the world around them and compare their attitudes to it. Theologically I am an absolutist. There is only one God, and no you can’t placate him with your own efforts at piety and purity. But culturally I am a relativist; culture is what we make of it.
So what do you make of Michael Jackson? Was he just Wacko Jacko? Millions would disagree with you and call your read of the man simplistic and your view a mere parroting of the toxic journalism that has made money off his misery over the years. They would cite his millions in record sales and rub your nose in the fact that Thriller, Jackson’s 1983 blockbuster, is still 25 years later the highest grossing album in history.
They would point out his business acumen in securing a 35% share in Thriller and subsequent albums, amassing for him a net worth in the low billions at his peak. They would point to his legacy; that since his ground-breaking routines no significant pop star has been able to avoid a measure of dance competence in order to compete at the highest level. They would even make reference to his humanitarian efforts, echoed in the likes of Bono and Bob Geldorf.
Whatever you make of him, his swan song This Is It is worth a view. I dragged a very reluctant Pam out to see it on the weekend, and even she was impressed. Here was a man, obviously in the terminal stage of his career, putting forward an effort and attention to detail that can only be called heroic. Every move was an obvious pain, only alleviated by the equally obvious joy he took in expressing himself through music and motion.
Like every tragic hero Jackson had his tragic flaw. In fact he had several of them: his attraction to prepubescent boys, his obsession about his appearance – which has been identified as body dimorphic disorder, and led to multiple disfiguring operations on what was once a beautiful face – and his perfectionism, which must have driven everyone else around him nuts.
It also brought out the best in others as well. The backup dancers were out-and-out amazing and the young female lead guitarist Orianthi Panagaris is clearly going to be a huge star in her own right. Of Jackson she says “I wish he was still around. He made me believe in myself.” Jackson’s off stage antics had a lot of people not believing in him anymore, but seeing this film had you grieving for what might have been. He was without doubt a troubled and disturbed man. He was also an enormously talented musician and dancer. And perhaps, in some weirdly relevant way, symbolic of the culture that bore and crowned him King of Pop.