Since Michael Jackson’s untimely death last week we’ve been inundated with stories and speculations about his life. I’m in the generation that grew up with Michael. We watched him as a child singing on TV with his brothers, ABC and Rockin’ Robin, and tried our best to copy his moves. As kids we sang along, mesmerized by the upbeat tunes that played on the radio as we sat in the backseat of our parents’ cars. We went through the awkward teen stage in our own lives, set to a disco soundtrack. And we came into our own just as Michael did with Thriller, finding our groove, and defining ourselves.
Celebrity is a creature all its own. We have a perceived access to these individuals, we feel as though we know them, even though we don’t. I remember getting my dad to buy me Tiger Beat magazine, which regularly featured either the Jacksons or the Osmonds or both on the cover. Today, celebrity access is widespread and instantaneous. We can follow just about anyone on twitter. Websites break news before the news stations can get a camera crew out to the scene.
When I was just two years old my mother was grocery shopping and I was sitting in the cart. One of the managers must have made an announcement that President Kennedy had been shot. I remember my mother getting very flustered, and taking me out of the cart to go home. She was trying to explain to me what was going on — and I could feel that something was terribly wrong. This was such an emotional event that many of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we got the news. I also remember where I was when I found out that Princess Diana died. She and I were about the same age, and we both got married and had two boys at about the same time, so I always felt a connection with her. And now I’ll always remember when I heard that Michael Jackson died. I got an e-mail alert that Michael had suffered cardiac arrest and was being transported to the hospital. I felt troubled, and confused. Then I drove to pick up my mail, and as I got in the car to come home, I heard on the radio an official confirmation that Michael had passed away. The radio station was playing his music in tribute. My heart dropped.
What is it about celebrities that gets us so engrossed in their lives and deaths? My favorite Michael Jackson song, and ironically it is one that he didn’t write, is “Man in the Mirror” and I think this helps to explain a lot of what we are going through.
Whenever we look at another person and feel a strong emotion, there’s something about that person that we see in ourselves. Whether we love it or hate it, people act as mirrors for each one of us. We are examples for each other, of what we judge to be good and bad, best or worst. The qualities in another person that draw us or repel us we can also see in ourselves to some degree, in some way. Celebrities, with a kind of larger than life image, end up being archetypes. Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and now Michael Jackson might be thought of as the tortured artist. Talented, creative, expressive, and yet at the same time uncomfortable and somewhat out of place. Each turned to various distractions to try to “normalize” their feelings. Both Elvis and Michael basically created their own worlds in Graceland and Neverland. These were places where they could fit in, surrounded by people and things that made them feel at home.
If we are caught up in the coverage of Michael Jackson’s life and death that is going on right now, maybe it is because we have some of that archetype in ourselves. Maybe we feel misunderstood. Maybe we seek to create, and be heard the way Michael was. Maybe we long for our childhoods, for simpler days. What can we do? We can take out own advice, look at that man in the mirror and change our ways… “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change.”
In his 50 years Michael Jackson lived a very full life. He had successes and failures; he had conquests and controversies. As much as we feel we might know him from his concerts, albums, testimonies and interviews, we don’t really know Michael Jackson the person. The best we can do is to know ourselves. That’s all we can ever really do.
Michael Jackson’s death reminds us that time is fleeting. Just a few months ago many of the items taken from Neverland were on display in Los Angeles. I heard about this and went. At the last minute I decided to take my camera. I didn’t know if I would be able to take it inside, but I was allowed to, and I made a video of what I saw. It’s very interesting, and gives us some glimpse of insight into Michael Jackson’s life.
Michael Jackson’s Neverland Collection