Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kinsleydamus on Michael

Before I trot out a bunch of MJ posts, I wanted to point at what I found to be the most striking article I've read in the past week. That being Michael Kinsley's "The Prisoner of Commerce" on The New Republic.

The commerce/capitalist angle tells so much about MJ:

This points up a second way Michael Jackson's sacrifice for art is different from, say, van Gogh's. Jackson's art is also big-time commerce. Corporations supervised his development, and even bigger corporations are making millions off of him: CBS (which features Jackson on the cover of its 1983 Annual Report), Pepsico (which has $50 million riding on a Jackson ad campaign). Time Inc. (which sells magazines by putting him repeatedly on its covers), and others. It's happened in front of millions of paying customers.

So many people, so many corporate entities with a huge investment in one human being. So clearly not a way to live.

Kinsley also adds good points on the freakish elements of Jackson's personality being lapped up and/or exploited as part-and-parcel with his art. He takes a Time magazine cover to task for glorifying quotes like Steven Spielberg (after E.T.) saying, "He's like a fawn in a burning forest ... I wish we could all spend some time in his world." Yes, a fawn in a burning forest does sound like a rather pleasant afternoon now that you mention it, Steven.

Many of these "we're all complicit" takeaways are embedded in the tributes and articles being trotted out now, but the trump card here is Kinsley wrote this in 1984, when Jackson was 25. It's positioned as one of these counterintuitive articles that now represent the instinctive path for journalists. In hindsight the Spielberg quote, or Jane Fonda's "His intelligence is instinctual and emotional, like a child's." are ludicrous. Obvious warning signs. Back then they were part of the MJ publicity-puffery machine. Part of his aloof cool.

Kinsley is a big-time alpha-journalist with plenty of credentials on his resume. But as someone who leans apolitical, this is the sort of piece that gets me on his bandwagon. I want to call it incredibly prescient, but at 25 MJ had already been a "prisoner of commerce" for 15-20 years. So I guess it just underscores our collective lack of reflection, our willingness to be swept away.

But take MJ's capitalist incarceration, and throw in the child abuse and racism and you have the three pillars of his dysfunction. The imperfect storm that resulted in something that was more natural phenomenon than relatable human.

The Prisoner of Commerce [TNR]


  1. Anonymous6/30/2009

    anxiously awaiting your posts on mj.
    that's a hell of a piece mr. kinsley. at the time (of the publication of the piece) i was all of 6 years old and REALLY into Michael. I wish someone would've prevented me from being complicit in his demise.
    even though he seemed pretty complicit himself.

  2. Bloos Singer6/30/2009

    i just peeped the kinsley piece as well and i'm a bit skeptical. michael says " i feel i'm peter pan as well as methuselah, and a child."
    what innocent is aware of his innocence?
    i have to chew this one over some more.

  3. T.A.N., are you going to write more about the racism pillar of Jackson's dysfunction? I haven't read much on that and am curious about your take.

  4. Orange: yeah.

    I've been surprised at the lack of attention to that angle. Here's the most popular black entertainer ever, and most of his adult life he spent trying to tailor his physical features to be more anglo. it's such an understatement to his tortured reality to lob it off as "he was the first obama" or first post-racial artist.

    plus you got mtv not playing black artists, and then him sort of making mtv....

    but yeah, i'll be addressing. i'm taking it in stages though, and that won't be until the Thriller years.

  5. Anonymous6/30/2009

    wow, really looking forward to that.

    I thought this was interesting: http://www.racialicious.com/2009/06/30/michael-jackson-on-race-%E2%80%93-and-who-he-saw-in-the-mirror/

    (however, probably as much about Carmen as it is about Michael).

    also waiting for more incisive analysis by T.A.N.

  6. Anonymous4/15/2012

    Just wanted to add, that Speilberg quote is actually a mish-mash of two separate quotes.

    The first: "I think Michael can be hurt very easily. He's sort of like a fawn in a burning forest."

    And the second: "If E.T. hadn't come to Elliot, he would have come to Michael's house. It's a nice place where Michael comes from. I wish we could all spend some time in his world."

    Don't know why some people had spliced the two together. *shrug*


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