Margo Jefferson’s On Michael Jackson
is a lucid and elegant cultural analysis of the rise and fall of the King of Pop.
An award-winning cultural critic, Jefferson brings an unexpected compassion as well as her sharp intellect and incomparable insight to Jackson’s 2005 trial for child molestation, startling us with her erudite illumination of a media-drenched circus that we only thought we understood. As only she can, Jefferson reads between the lines of Jackson’s 1998 autobiography as well as published accounts of his childhood, his family, and Motown--where Michael and his brothers first made the Jackson 5 a household name--leaving us with provocative and perhaps unanswerable questions about Jackson, child stardom, and fame itself.
Margo Jefferson on the Life and Death of Michael Jackson
Pundits love to talk about the crises and cultural flashpoints that give Americans the chance to grow up and think outside of the usual dualities: this is good, that is evil; we hate her, we love him. Michael Jackson’s death gives us yet another chance.
Talent, scandal, sudden death, and a 24/7 media cycle make us very worshipful or very cynical. We can do better this time around. We don’t have to sneer or be pious. We know Michael Jackson was a genius, and we know he became a tortured soul. The first three days after his death were our grace period. We watched videos, replayed our favorite songs relived our youth, and waxed nostalgia about the good old days when all we had to deal with was his enormous talent. And though I never much liked the song, "we" were definitely the world--crowding onto streets, into theaters and parks, dancing (or at least swaying) to his music. North and South America. Europe. Africa. Asia. Only Antarctica and most of the animal kingdom stayed uninvolved.
Then the nasty stuff started creeping out again, like the ghouls in Thriller. Drug reports, rumors of custody wars, tours of an empty Neverland, memorial extravaganza plans; the sight of Michael’s father hustling family unity along with his new record company; the statements and counter-statements of siblings, lawyers, ex-employees, companions and bottom-feeders. And, of course, the three children. Whatever we don’t know about them, we do know they’re worth their weight in gold records and posthumous business deals. And it’s only just begun.
But we can live with the damaged life and the great work: both of them, all at once. We have to. So much of Michael Jackson’s damage reflects the worst in our culture, and so much of his talent reflects the best.--Margo Jefferson
(Photo © Brent Murray)
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer-winning New York Times
critic Jefferson collects her meditations on what may be the oddest show-biz figure of all time. "Freaks" is the title of her first essay, and she notes Jackson's attraction to Barnum as well as the strangely apt imagery of his best-known video, "Thriller." Born in 1958 to a bullying father and a mother who was a Jehovah's Witness convert, the youngest member of the Jackson Five quickly became its VIP. Child stars are never "normal," and Jefferson glances at Buster Keaton, Jackie Coogan, Sammy Davis Jr. and, of course, Shirley Temple, the only one of them even more famous than Jackson, unless you count Elizabeth Taylor, Jackson's "best friend," who supplanted Diana Ross as his apparent role model. Jackson, Jefferson believes, is a "sexual impersonator," imitating, at times, a gay man, a white woman, a "gangsta" and a "pop Count Dracula." His bizarre looks and behavior drew literally thousands of cameras to his 2005 trial for child molestation. Jefferson concludes that Jackson may be a "monstrous child," but that he is, to a degree, a mirror of us all. Her slim, smart volume of cultural analysis may remind readers of Susan Sontag's early, brilliant essays on pop culture. (Jan.)
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