As in life, so in death. I am watching the live broadcast of Michael Jackson’s gaudy memorial service at The Staples Center in Los Angeles, complete with golden coffin. Forgotten – for a moment at least – are the excesses and eccentricities of a very troubled individual. Today, the world mourns one of the greatest entertainers of all time.
Why is he so mourned?
The answer is simple. In a world gone mad – and global – Michael Jackson became an icon of a new generation. Born after “drugs, sex and rock n roll” had shaped the Boomer generation, the 1980s needed something new. “Generation X” came of age in a world filled with change when it was clear the old way of doing things was not sufficient for the path ahead.
Into that melting pot came a strangely asexual, non-cultural (black or white?), global icon, who created a new art form – the music video – and danced like no-one had ever danced before. “Thriller” was ground breaking in every possible way, but mainly because it created the fusion of music and visual overload that has become the staple of the MTV generation. It gave a generation not just a voice, but a moving image too. This was the first generation that needed more than a voice to express itself. Michael Jackson showed us how.
His grisly life has been a sobre reminder to my generation of what could become of us – destroyed by the things we pursue, haunted by our dreams, empty even though we own everything we want, never quite achieving what we set out for… yet, somehow, in that melancholy, able to raise a thin, clear voice to say, “Heal the world / Make it a better place / For you and for me / And the entire human race”.
He had a way of saying – and showing – what a generation was thinking.
He may have been flawed. But he was a genius. And he is mourned by a generation that is now growing older, and take this shared moment to reflect on our own legacy – and mortality.