Interesting blog post by Charles Thomson. I would go further and say at some point in the mid-90s the narrative around Michael Jackson changed, and he could do no right. People who had never listened to his later albums denounced them as flops. People who never read beyond the headlines called him a paedophile, and called me a crazy fan for thinking otherwise. It was this backdrop that fuelled the crazy fandom of those days, which in many ways was more zealous and committed than in his heyday.
Who was responsible? I hesitate to call it “the media”, as who are they really, and whose demand are they responding to but our own? Besides, it gets uncomfortably close to a conspiracy theory.
I think collectively we decided it was over, and initiated a bizarre ritual that required a few crazies (hello) to witness him until the very end. The kind of thing Charles describes happened on a daily basis when I was a fan, and eventually it wore me down and I gave up. I avoided any news about him, because despite knowing it would be 90% untrue, I also knew it would be compelling, grotesque and difficult to disbelieve. Belief is funny like that. It doesn’t replace knowledge, just sits alongside it, and works on your greatest fear.
When it was all over and the pesky real person at the centre of it all was finally dead and buried, everyone could call themselves fans and play zombie dress-up. As Lady Gaga recently said, the world killed him.
So why did we do it? It would be simple to say it was the first allegations of child abuse, which surfaced in August 1993, but I suspect they were a symptom rather than the cause. Stories citing him as the “self-proclaimed” King of Pop had been circulating for a while, his over-the-top plastic surgeries were the focus of cruel and subsequently-proved to be fabricated photo close-ups. There was the odd behaviour, once so beloved, and the changing colour of his skin, which, frustratingly, he found difficult to address (possibly, as his autopsy confirmed, because it was due to a skin disease that is often debilitating to its sufferers). There was his supposed lack of musical success: 1991’s Dangerous “only” sold 20 million. A radical departure from the Quincy Jones produced pop of his heyday, it is, in my opinion, his most interesting album artistically. Imagine what he might have produced if we’d let him.
But something more important was at work, and I believe it was the tragic trajectory that is at the heart of every narrative. Fly too close to the sun, and your wings will get burnt. Anyone with a success must suffer the backlash. The good die young, blah blah blah.
It’s easy to blame his eccentricities, but they are what made him the most famous person on the planet. Eventually they set in motion a narrative that inspired fanaticism and ignominy in equal part, and eventually required an early death.
Okay, end nutcase missive. Back to the book. Can you tell I’m having trouble with chapter three?