Michael Jackson’s death has evoked diverse reactions from the world community. I cannot pretend to empathize with the more emotional elements such as those who eulogized him as an iconic music superstar or racial hero, nor those who decried him as a social deviant or vicious sexual predator. The true Michael Jackson was apparently an amalgamated construct of the aforementioned characteristics.
What I have noticed is the striking contrast between Generation X and Generation Y in their opinion of Jackson. Gen X witnessed Jackson
transformation of pop culture while Gen Y was disproportionately inundated with Jackson’s infamous public failings. Situated directly
between Generation X and Y (also known as the Millennials) is thiswriter without a generational home. I am, however, uniquely positioned to provide cross-generational observations. At the ripe old age of 27, I am viewed as a dinosaur by my professional colleagues. As a budding 20-something, my six older brothers and sisters consider me a cultural neophyte. Those in their early 20s are horrified to observe individuals from across the country shedding tears and even taking time off from workto mourn an all-but-convicted child molester. Meanwhile, those a decade older have been discouraged to see a revolutionary figure
subjected to media and public ridicule (where Jackson’s skin color, facial disfiguration, and voice are routinely mocked – full
disclaimer: I nearly titled this entry: “The many faces of Michael Jackson”).
The coming weeks will ultimately enhance both generations’ narratives of Jackson: the genius and the freak. Biographies and videographies
will detail his evolution from a child prodigy to the quintessential musical master (vocal distinctiveness, song composition, video
production) of a generation. Those same biographies, in conjunction with media investigations into the latter segment of his life (think autopsy reports on crack), will also depict Jackson as abnormally abnormal.
As time passes, we will be left with an impression of a disturbed individual who transformed the entertainment industry. But I believe his legacy will be slightly more positive than many would guess. Here is why:
As a solitary icon, Michael Jackson achieved a status attained only by Elvis and Sinatra. His name, face, voice, even his dance, was instantly recognizable around the globe. As a pop sensation, he propelled that genre to a height not reached since 1960s Beatles. The rock, disco, and punk fads of the 70s greatly fragmented pop music as it dispersed musical interest to particular segments. Jackson exceeded the confines of pop music to become music’s sole superstar and developed into a cultural fixture. The release of “Thriller” left Hollywood and the music industry asking: How did he do that? Not only did he sustain MTV in its formative years, Jackson had prime time television fighting over airing his video premieres.
Like the fragmentation that afflicted much of 70s and 80s music, we are unlikely to witness an individual that can transcend genres of
music to become a household name. Ask yourself: does a country music fan know more than one song by Coldplay, do metal fans know anything about Keith Urban or Kanye West, does anyone – ANYONE – give two shits about indie music? The answer, of course, is no. Thus, when the smoke clears, objective observers from all generations should agree on his unprecedented contributions. The sooner we can all agree on that, the sooner we can move onto less important topics like Iran,health-care, or the environment.