Saturday, July 11, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Death of the Superstar

I was born in 1984, so I was too young to know about Michael Jackson as he was breaking out as a solo artist in the early 80s. I first became aware of who Michael Jackson was in 1993 when he performed the half-time show of Super Bowl XXVII. Even though I had no idea he was the most famous person on the planet at the time, something about that performance always stuck with me.

A couple years later I found an old bootleg cassette tape of Thriller that belonged to my dad. I threw it in the old tape deck and gave it a listen, and I was never really quite the same again. Right then and there I became aware of what Pop music meant, and it made me feel cool that I was an 11 year old kid listening to music that was recorded before I was born.

Even though I didn't realize it at the time, that was the beginning of my adventure into serious music listening. Before that all I really had exposure to was whatever my dad played while I was growing up and children's songs. I'm so grateful, now that he's gone, that I can honestly say I've been an MJ fan from the start of my journey into the world of music.

MJ's true impact on music and culture may never be fully understood or measured, but I feel confident in saying it's unlikely anyone will ever be able to obtain the level of fame he achieved in his own lifetime. There are no new Superstars, in the true sense of the word with a capital 'S', to replace him. Only pale imitations (See photo to the Right). The system is different now; fragmented over an infinite cyberspace. MJ made his fame by appearing on live network TV specials in the 70s when there were only 3 channels. Everyone in America knew his name by the time he was 12.

Today, we live in an "on-demand" society where the "audience" is no longer a group of people sharing the same experience, but rather millions of individuals who choose exactly when, where, and how they consume their personalized media. Newspapers are rapidly heading towards extinction, and with the advent of ipods and satellite radio traditional broadcast radio might be next the next to go. We may find it convenient that our DVRs allow us to watch our favorite shows whenever we want, but that convenience comes with a price; the death of the shared cultural media experience, and ultimately the death of the Superstar.

1 comment:

  1. Here's my problem with the whole "MJ Phenomenon". I was around when the Jackson 5 first arrived on the scene, and I loved them. I watched their cartoon and everything.
    Once Michael became the big hit that he was in the 80s, I lost interest. In much the same vein as the Beatles, I don't understand what Michael Jackson did that was so different and superior from everyone else at the time. Yes, he sold more records than anyone, but selling a lot of records is often an indication of hype. And the American public are sheep; we've got to jump on the latest bandwagon, and that is as much responsible for these phenomena as anything else.

    To make matters worse, I never liked him as a person. (The record deal that he wouldn't sign until after Janet had signed hers so that he could be sure to ask for more money than her, and buying the Beatles catalog out from under Paul McCartney spring to mind.)

    Granted, he was mentally ill, and had he not been the meal ticket for so many, he probably would've gotten help rather than been allowed to lock himself up a la Howard Hughes and get progressively worse.

    Finally, the stuff with all the kids... It's tough to be icon enough to make that okay. Had anyone else on this planet done what Michael Jackson was accused of, that person would be rotting in jail, but no. It was "MICHAEL JACKSON", and he's off beat and quirky and has a pile of money, so abusing children is okay.

    No, he was never convicted, but there are as many guilty people not convicted as innocent people who are. (OJ Simpson, Ray Lewis to name two.) At the end of the day, I'm afraid for me, that overshadows his "greatness", and it's difficult to hold him up as any kind of icon or hero because of it.

    I'll be anonymous for now until I figure out how to choose a profile!!