Michael Jackson was an all-time great legendary performer. The rest of the story of his life, you could say, is less about him and more about the crazy celebrity-obsessed media of the era in which he lived, our era. And the too-clever exploitative opening of Time Magazine’s obituary underlines the problem, and in that way at least, is sadly appropriate.
Colorado Independent Friday readers, permit this digression, please.
The lead appears under a 5-minute photo montage of Jackson performing, his major hits providing the soundtrack. The voice-over is basically a personal reminiscence by the author of the obit, music critic Josh Tyrangiel, who explores how he felt about Jackson’s music and Jackson’s evolving persona as his own life, Tyrangiel’s, unfolded. At one point, he notes that he personally witnessed the MTV awards kiss between Jackson and Lisa-Marie Presley and it “made him sick.” Tyrangiel lists the well-known bizarre episodes, etc, and in the end adds a… but, you know, “all of the wacko-jacko stuff falls away when you just listen to the man sing.”
Too late. Josh buried the lead in the video and he buried it in his story, because as a “critic” he was reveling in writing about the “wacko-jacko stuff,” just like the tabloid writers do, except at least they’re more honest about their subject matter.
Here below is the lead. All around it, Time inserted teaser-links asking readers to click in to “Appreciate Michael Jackson the performer” or view the “Top 10 Michael Jackson moments” or “See people around the world mourning Michael Jackson.” In other words, Wacko-Jacko the celebrity, again, will pay all their bills. And Michael Jackson the talent will be relegated to the second paragraph. It makes you long for an old-school old-media obit — a straight, unpersonalized, summation of a remarkable life printed in black and white. That would have been a genuine tribute.
The tragedy of Michael Jackson’s death at age 50, reportedly from cardiac arrest, pales in comparison to the tragedy of his life. To understand all that Jackson had and lost requires wiping away three decades of plastic surgeries that deformed him, erratic behavior that made his name synonymous with the warping powers of fame, and a 2005 trial for sexually abusing a child that, even though he was spared of any finding of wrongdoing, made him a pariah to all but the most brainwashed of fans. (Watch TIME’s video “Appreciating Michael Jackson, the Musician.”)
But if you can forgive or forget all that, underneath was one of the most talented entertainers of the 20th century.