Have You Heard About Whacko Jacko?

That was the text I received yesterday from a friend. “Have you heard about Whacko Jacko?” it read. I thought he was talking about the last guy I dated for any length of time. I wondered how he found out about  that guy. Or maybe he was referring to something done in private when a suitable partner of the opposite sex is not available.

I texted back, “Whacko Jacko?”

His response told me about the nickname given to Michael Jackson. I am, once again, found to be completely naive and “unedgy”. Sigh.

 Now, there’s been a load of stuff written about the King of Pop or Whacko, however, you choose to remember him. What I find interesting however, is that all the time he was alive (and I grew up with him so to speak so I know this) he was always considered weird and then later as a freak, but now that he’s passed, he’s suddenly taken on godlike qualities. Why is this?

His music was amazing, no doubt. The data on the sales of his music and the awards he won throughout his lifetime is proof of that. But while he was alive, the tone and timbre of discussions surrounding Michael Jackson were filled with mockery, ridicule, and scandal. In personal circles it wasn’t cool to admit you liked Michael Jackson music unless you were ready to be mocked and laughed at. It was tantamount to saying you liked Disco. I, personally, loved his music, but I would never have admitted it because the bloody laughingstock I would have become prevented me from being so bold. I also liked Disco at the time.

The thing I find strange now, is that now that Michael Jackson is dead the world is singing his praises in a way they never did while he was alive. The very same world that gave him public grief on so many occasions is now applauding him. I’m not here to judge his talent as a musician. I’ve never even seen the Thriller video all the way through. I’m not here to judge his personal life or whether he earned the right to be mocked, criticized or eulogized. He made some decisions in his life that I don’t understand. He contributed some music to this world that connects me to some very happy times and still has the ability to lighten my mood. I’m not a musician or an entertainer, but clearly he made an indelible mark on our world with his music. I’m not here to attempt to echo the sentiments of many others who’ve already said these things better and more eloquently than I could.

What I am here to do is pose two simple questions: How might Michael Jackson’s experience on this earth have been better or certainly different, if the wonderful things that are now being said about him publicly were the things he heard when he was alive?  Why do we so often wait till someone is dead to let them know the wonderful things we think about them or how important they are to us?

4 thoughts on “Have You Heard About Whacko Jacko?

  1. My dear, with all due respect:

    MJ was not “always considered weird” – “all the time he was alive.”

    If you’d grown up with him, then you’d know that as a child he was seen as an extraodinarily gifted singer, not to mention cute and adorable — yes, certainly a prodigy, but not viewed as what I would describe as “weird.”

    He was an extremely bankable and well-respected star at least through the release of the Thriller album, which sold over 50 million copies. The previous album, Off the Wall, sold over nineteen million.

    It was only after the release of Thriller that MJ began exhibiting the bizarre behavior that, sadly, many people came to know him for. Some say the incident of his hair catching on fire while filming the Pepsi commercial in ’84 had a big effect on him. Who knows? But it was pretty much from that point on that he began the appearance-altering, Lisa Marie-marrying, baby-dangling, Neverland life that the media made sure we all knew about.

    It’s worth pointing out that it was around this same time that the media began invading the private lives of celebrities like never before. Suddenly everyone cared where Madonna got her groceries and where Lady Di went to dance or sunbathe … and we know where the hunger for that kind of information led. In fact, the TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous premiered in ’84 –same time frame–a perfect reflection of an interest in the private lives of celebrities that would soon become insatiable, and lethal. If not for this, the majority of us may never have known or cared what MJ was doing in his private life.

    News flash: The wonderful things being said about MJ now were the kinds of things he had heard his entire life. In fact, what may have been most oppressive about his celebrity–and that of many others–was not knowing whom he could or could not trust, who was being sincere and who was merely just apple-polishing. The average person cannot begin to imagine the extent of praise and flattery MJ lived with. If the media were less kind at certain times, they were merely reporting on (and sensationalizing) things for which MJ himself had provided fodder. I doubt he was affected much by anything negative he may have been called in the media; he knew the truth of who he was, and besides, he always had more than enough positivity from the people surrounding him and his worshiping fans to counterbalance those negatives.

    Sad to say, but I believe MJ’s life would have been much happier, healthier, and certainly longer, if he had not received such positive reinforcement perpetually and from a young age—if he had not been a celebrity at all, and not had the earning power that brought with it the ability to buy and do and be pretty much whatever he wanted. To those who crave fortune and fame: be careful what you wish for.

    Why do we wait until it’s too late to praise those we care about? Not all of us do. And I suspect that those who do are not receiving the kind of positive reinforcement they themselves need–and are therefore unable to give it to others. It’s a vicious cycle. If only we’d all do as Stephen Stills counseled us to in song: Love the One You’re With. And love is not invisible–not something hidden in your breast–it consists of the words & gestures that give the word its name. Without them, love is a meaningless word.

    And that’s my two cents.


    1. And that’s a valid two cents, Kip~
      Yes, I was a child watching him as a child in the Jackson 5. He is after all only 3 years older than me. Those are not the times I am necessarily talking about.
      While everyone liked Disco (at the time and also had the big fluffy afros, not everyone necessarily admitted to liking it either at the time or later) but who didn’t dance to it at some point, c’mon? We as a public often speak and behave fickly (is that a word?) out of two sides of our mouths. With respect to Michael Jackson, I suggest a similar sort of phenomenon occurred. Again, I won’t go to the bank on it but I merely suggest it: while we loved his music and bought his records many would never admit it just like we’d never cop to loving disco. It is quite possibly not reality, but perception, and as such, not just mine alone.
      I never bought even one of his albums/cds/or whatever-we-call-them-these-days, not that that has anything to do with anything. There were a lot of folks I enjoyed that I didn’t purchase music of.
      I agree with you completely about the ideas of trust vs. apple-polishing and the down side to celebrity status.
      I especially think your ideas about how the media and our culture’s fanatical interest in celebrities has changed is very insightful.
      Yes, I know that not all of us do refrain from sharing the good things we feel about others. Still, one of the greatest regrets one can have is to have a loved one die and then to have to live with the thought ever after “If I’d only….”. And, you have to admit this, that in the name of free speech and “the people have a right to know” there is just a lot of snarky bitchiness going on that is neither news nor relevant. It is merely sensational, and we, the stupid (yes, I said that) American public either eat it up or do nothing to counteract it.
      And while all the other cents you threw in were great, the very best was your two about love.
      Thanks for sharing!


  2. Sharing with you is a pleasure. And yes, you did call the American public stupid. Because, as we both know, it’s true.

    I was the sneering punk who wore t-shirts that proclaimed “Death to Disco.” So, admitting liking it was never an issue for me. But I’ve certainly danced to it, at Studio 54 no less. I have no problem sleeping with the enemy. It can be fun, and I’m all for that.

    I guess a case can be made that “fickly” is a word, but I for one have no interest in making it. It belongs in that slum for words that couldn’t possibly sound less elegant. I’d have opted for “capriciously,” or no adverb at all. (“The fickle public often speaks out of both sides of the mouth.”) And even that is redundant, since fickle = speaking out of both sides of the mouth. Like saying the barking dog often barks. Incidentally, your own sentence, technically, suggests that the public can “behave” out of two sides of its mouth: the two verbs you chose to conjoin are, I’m afraid, not equally compatible with the referent you’ve supplied (the mouth). Did you really want Professor Grammar to parse your sentence? No, I suspect not.

    I was under the impression that everyone who had a pulse in ’82-’83 bought the Thriller album. Were you, like, a real cheapskate, or just really out of it?

    (I know that last sentence will get a rise out of you, but I’m just teasing for godsake, so don’t take the bait.)

    I’m glad you felt my comments amounted to some good cents. Especially about that 4-letter-word that too often substitutes for the gestures that would better reflect the spirit it attempts to convey.

    Have a sparkly day, Sunshine



What Did You Think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s