His Last Moonwalk – Why Bother?

I’m afraid I devoted zero time yesterday to witnessing any portion of those ceremonies in Los Angeles in tribute to the late Michael Jackson, despite the eagerness of eighteen US TV channels and at least four German broadcasters, etc. to bring it to me. (Are you kiddin’?! Of course I didn’t watch . . . ). But I confess that I did at least read Christian Kortmann’s review of the same in Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung (Michael Jackson: His last moonwalk). And I’m glad that I did, for I can easily identify with the stance towards that inevitably lugubrious orgy of hagiography that Kortmann adopts, namely that of someone who also would have greatly preferred to devote zero time to the proceedings, but whose editor cut off any such option.

(But do let me mention here some aspects of his piece that will appeal even to non-German-reading MJ-lovers, like the videos of the ceremony that he embeds within his text and the fantastic panorama-photo at the very top – even I liked this! – of Janet and the remaining elements of the Jackson 5 plus Randy, all sitting in a row and in a sort of uniform that includes shades, black suit, canary-yellow tie, and one white glove – this “uniform” business excluding Janet, at least for the most part.)

Some interesting observations out of Kortmann’s review:

  • First, the unoriginal one, not only because it’s so obvious but also because I’m sure I’ve seen it before, as much as I have tried to avoid anything about Michael Jackson since he died: “It is amazing that the image of a man who wanted to look like an Afro-American as little as possible, and who since the 1990s portrayed himself in a victim’s role, is [now] so big within the Afro-American community.” But Kortmann follows this up later with a remark that is a bit more pertinent, namely that that big cohort of musicians who gathered to eulogize him – Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie – pointedly did not include any who could have made the case for Michael Jackson as a truly universal – i.e. as opposed to black – musicial star, such as Paul McCartney, Madonna, or Bruce Springsteen.
  • I guess with all those different TV stations broadcast the proceedings, preferring not to interview the same people at the same time, it was inevitable that there was a flood of interview-subjects appearing on the small screen, all claiming to have been very close to him, and all further asserting that they knew “a completely different Michael Jackson” – different, presumably, from the public’s conventional image of him. Still, as Kortmann points out, “[i]f they all knew him as well as they now claim, then Michael Jackson would have have hardly sat alone in Neverland, but rather would have had no free moment, away from all the hand-shaking and shoulder-clapping, to go ride his merry-go-round.” Reality is probably closer to the quote he cites from John Lennon: “Everybody loves you when you’re six foot in the ground.”
  • All the tributes, all these friends who knew him well: “It was,” Kortmann remarks, “like a Grammy awards ceremony in minor key, and with only one winner.” All the praise for Jackson – from Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, etc. – about the barriers he supposedly broke down for black people, how he helped to advance the black race: Obama should take note, Kortmann suggests, get ahold of the video, substitute his name for “Michael Jackson,” and so assure himself of some great campaign material for his 2012 re-election run.
  • Actually, Kortmann is inspired by the extended video footage showing the 20-km journey of Jackson’s golden coffin from Forest Lawn Cemetery to the Staples Center – shown “from out of the perspective of a helicopter-camera, which one otherwise only knows from documentaries about criminals on the run” – to grasp what this over-the-top extraveganza is really about: it was “a 150-minute advertising clip for a comeback . . . . Like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson could earn much more money dead than he ever did alive.”
  • Kortmann notes the huge image of Michael Jackson erected there in the Staples Center during the ceremony, the picture of the man that his legion of fans will henceforth insist upon: “the harmony-drunk, secret class-warrior, ‘Heal-The-World’ whisperer – a sort of Black Power Lady Di.” But of course there are rightly other elements in the Jackson image as well, he reminds us, including “surrogate mother” and “out-of-control dermatologist.”

Must Michael Jackson go down in history forever as such a “kitsch icon” rather than the talented entertainer that he was? Perhaps it would just have been better, Kortmann suggests, if he had made it clear that he rejected the idea of any such televised tribute upon his death – as his close friend Elizabeth Taylor supposedly has done. But remember that Jackson died relatively young; it’s certainly possible that he had not yet gotten around to making clear his preferences regarding his funeral and related events (although it’s also true, of course, that he already had a will prepared).

In any case, and for what it is worth, here is Christian Kortmann’s ultimate recommendation: “One can best take leave of one’s own Michael Jackson by going to YouTube to watch the ‘Smooth Criminal’ video, or playing ‘Billie Jean’ at home. Just be sure to wear white socks.”

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