Some thoughts on Michael Jackson
I'm not really any sadder about Michael Jackson's death than I already was about his life.
It was clear that this was a guy whose Maslovian pyramid took a sharp turn somewhere above "safety needs" and ended up with its tip pointing in a direction nobody else has ever been interested in going. It's always uncomfortable to see someone who's been ruined by fame; what was distressing about Jackson was that even though he was ruined by fame before his 20th birthday, he kept pressing the lever, and getting rewarded with still more fame, and still more ruination. Fame ruined him as an artist and it ruined him as a person, and then it kept on ruining him.
In one sense, Neverland is just a point on the same curve that connects Iranistan, San Simeon, and Graceland. But unlike its predecessors, the overarching sense that I got from everything I ever heard or saw about Neverland is not "this is what happens when you marry too much money to too little taste" but rather "this is an inarticulate expression of uncontained misery." Also, Barnum and Hearst and Presley held their citadels of damaged self-expression till the day they died: Jackson lost his. And he didn't seem too unhappy about losing it, either.
The saddest thing about Jackson was not just that his fame ruined him, it's that it continued ruining him even after he was essentially finished as an artist. In the last decade of his life he was no longer a great singer or a talented composer or a brilliant choreographer; he was someone who had once been all those things and was now Michael Jackson. Here was a guy whose entire existence from early childhood had been wrapped up with what happened when he did things that made other people happy and excited. And that was unavailable to him. He still could make people happy and excited by showing up and having his picture taken, but that's all he had left.
Someone on the WELL used a word about Jackson's probable history as a child molester that made me stop and think: "unforgiveable." It strikes me that it never even occurred to me whether or not to forgive Michael Jackson. In my mind, he was so far away from normative that the question of forgiveness seems totally irrelevant. Not that his no longer really being human in any meaningful sense justified his actions, or mitigated the harm he did, but that it makes no more sense to judge the morality of his actions than it would to judge Henry Darger's. Their creepiness, sure. But this was a man (it's a mark of how profoundly damaged Michael Jackson was that it feels strange to call him "a man", just as it feels strange to recognize that when he died he was older than the President of the United States) who spent every day of his life embedded in a matrix of perverse incentives. The terrain of his personal landscape was unrecognizable. I can understand the choices that my cat makes more deeply than I could understand the ones Jackson made.
His death has made me stop and think, but it hasn't made me mourn a loss. We lost Michael Jackson fifteen years ago.