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Michael Jackson Was No Beethoven

July 8th, 2009

No more revealing metaphor can exist for the  distortion of mass culture than the  media-induced frenzy over the demise of Michael Jackson. One would  think there is no Global Economic Crisis, or unending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention dangerous nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, which could spark a world war. No, as far as the mass media of the planet, and especially corporate media in the United States are concerned, the death of the pop music icon, Michael Jackson, was an unheralded business opportunity. Though  the dead freak-show that was Michael Jackson is being proclaimed as the “King of Pop” by sycophants and marketers, this spectacle has nothing to do with high art and  musical culture.

The late Mr. Jackson was no doubt a talented musical artist. But no more so than many others  who are active in the music industry. His good fortune was to have had the marketing machine that created the Michael Jackson “brand,” in effect the commoditization of this tormented and unbalanced soul. However, even setting aside the peculiarities and accusations involving Michael Jackson, he was no Beethoven or Mozart. Neither would I rank him in the realm of Tchaikovsky or Dvorak. He in no way can even be remotely compared to the giants of music of the classical period. Even within the realm of 20th century music, Michael Jackson pales before the sheer genius of  Duke Ellington, Count Basie or the torrential musical perfection embodied by a Frank Sinatra. Yet, based on the  media frenzy, one would think he rivalled Ludwig van Beethoven as a seminal figure in musical historiography.

What we are witnessing is the fabrication of a celebrity legend, which will in effect become the new, post-death Michael Jackson brand. Necrophilia is an inseparable element of this rebranding process, witnessed by the ghoulish non-stop worldwide television coverage of the shrouded corpse of Michael Jackson being airlifted to the Los Angeles county morgue. However, this was merely the prelude to the global media circus that infused the public memorial for the deceased entertainer. His remains secured in a golden casket, celebrity upon celebrity heaped praise upon Jackson as though he was the most pivotal human being of the age.

There was a discordant Stalinist character to this contrived hero-worshipping of a man once indicted on a charge of child molestation. Here was the new cult of personality, whereby a flawed human being becomes the most perfect and consequential of mortals. We have seen and criticized this behaviour in North Korea, where the dictator, Kim Jong-Il, is proclaimed by state propaganda as an infallible genius worthy of mass adulation. How then is this media-manufactured hero worship of Michael Jackson any different?

At best, the media frenzy over the mortification of Michael Jackson is a severe distraction from the real and critical problems confronting the human race in the first decade of the twenty-first century. At worst, the obsequious tributes to this bizarre life now ended are a dark manifestation of a civilization anticipating its own implosive ending.


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