The deformations of fame

I agree with Elizabeth that it is impossible to separate the artist from the art created, though I think it's easier to distill in some media than others. (Seeing Sean Connery swagger across the screen, and hearing his voice, I have a much harder time shaking his cavalier pronouncements about hitting women than I do Picasso's treatment of the women in his life when I look at "Girl Before a Mirror.") This ambivalence about Michael Jackson is an unalterable part of his legacy. While John McWhorter's essay about him mentions his early-season "Simpsons" appearance, which is full of sweetness and affection, in a later season Bart jokingly likens Jackson to the Boogeyman as "something grown-ups made up to scare children." Nowhere in American popular culture has an artist so transformed from icon to pariah more than in his case.

Which brings me back to our earlier exchange about fame, particularly as it pertains to children. By all accounts (except, perhaps, his father's), Jackson's childhood at the pinnacle of fame was hellish. As he grew into (arguably) the most famous performer in the world, he became more and more removed from reality. The gruesome result was literally as plain as the nose on his face.

I attribute this in no small part to what Elizabeth has called the "Caligula complex." (I beg her leave in holding forth on it.) As fame becomes more and more the highest and shiniest prize in America, surpassing power and wealth and long since having obliterated dignity, the people who have access to it, even by proxy, become less and less willing to jeopardize their access. If one is lucky enough to be one of Michael Jackson's lackeys, hangers-on, acolytes, etc., how willing would one be to politely clear one's throat and say that sleeping in the same bed with small children not his own is a really bad idea? That he doesn't need more facial surgery? That he shouldn't dangle his kid off a balcony? Presumably, anyone foolish enough to direct any rational, level-headed criticism at the Gloved One would be immediately replaced with someone more accommodating. (One would have hoped that professional ethics would have kept whichever plastic surgeon from agreeing to do anything further to his face as it became more and more ghastly, but this apparently did not come to pass.)

Those of us who inhabit the un-famous, mundane world are expected to conform to social norms, and very few are willing to risk being ostracized by, say, wearing a sailor suit and carrying a big lollipop to a father/daughter dance. But we expect, even celebrate the outre in the famous. And, when they go too far and become unmoored from the stanchions of sanity, they lack the kinds of honest friends or coworkers who will raise an eyebrow and ask gently if they're sure they want to shave their head with the photographers around? (Family could theoretically serve this purpose, but Jackson seems to have been SOL in this regard.)

What could be better than being rich, famous and beloved by millions of fans? For my part, I'll settle for having a face that looks similar to the one I was born with, and friends that would talk me out of messing with it.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I would politely request that we refrain from unseemly jokes about the accusations leveled against Jackson. Please find an alternate manner of making your point.

  3. I'm having a hard time caring about Michael Jackson at all.

  4. HIs is a tragic story. He was talented, but I didn't admire him as a person.


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