Much like his reaction to Iran in revolution or the Honduras in coup, Barack Obama’s reaction to Michael Jackson’s death hasn’t exactly shone. He’s let Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Larry King fill the emotional void. It’s been his Katrina moment, his Diana moment, his Marie Antoinette moment. We really don’t know what he’s feeling, if he’s even able to feel anything, about this latest disaster to befall the world of high culture. Perhaps our president is simply a philistine. Look, some might counter, he actually a snob. Oh, well.
A few days before Jackson’s final injections Mr. Obama reassured us that his ears– and thus by inference the rest of him — aren’t related to someone named Spock. We should have believed him. As reaction to Jackson’s passing has confirmed, we know full well who the alien among us was, dancing in reverse into and out of our lives, having thoroughly colonized and mentally warped an entire country and indeed an entire globe. “Never can say goodbye,” he warned in an earlier life, and we can now see what he meant: The world will never finish saying goodbye to him either. And as owner of the Beatles’ songbook, Jackson is doubly protected — he’ll say goodbye, and we’ll say hello, back and forth. We’ll never get back to the moon, but we’ve gone back to the moonwalk. The thrill is back in Thriller.
Fan reactions speak for themselves. Larry King’s correspondents channeled a “few of the sentiments from outside the UCLA Medical Center.” One unidentified male was asked about what connected him to Jackson. He replied: “Michael, him as a person, not too many people is like Michael. But I don’t know nobody who has so much funds who will go out to a regular kid and just try to touch him and help them out. Help him, physically. Like, if I have a problem and Michael came to me, that would be an honor.” Reactions in the New York Times were, as you might expect, a bit more pretentious, as for example in the case of Veenchel Ednilao, who is “a performer who goes by the name Vice and sings at weddings.” “If it weren’t for MJ and my parents making me moonwalk across the living room floor,” he told the Times, “I wouldn’t be the entertainer I am now.” Verlyn Klinkenborg, who may or may not sing at weddings, was very pleased that at one point Jackson “re-sexualized” his voice “in a way that you could never really mistake — then — as androgynous.” (That “then” must have pierced the heart of Frank Rich, who spent his Sunday lamenting the plight of those who, “40 years later,” remain “second-class citizens” — but one thing at time.)
Sexual confusion remains a dominant theme in the Jackson reactions, as for instance in the poetic dabblings of MJ specialist Margo Jefferson, doing standup at the Washington Post: “His skin was growing paler…his aura more feminine.…Some fussed about his gender fluidity. I saw him as a post-modern shape-shifter.…the macho and the girlishness. He was a male and a female impersonator.” Aren’t you glad you only have Mark Sanford to worry about? With Jackson, Jefferson semi-concluded, it all came down to his talent and artistry, which weren’t “a well-matched pair.” Unlike presumably what Sanford focused on, according to our voyeur of the week, Ms. Maureen Dowd, as she quotes from pilfered Sanford pilfered e-mails regarding “two magnificent parts of yourself.” We’ll leave it, and what remains of Mark Sanford, at that.
The Jackson sendoff is bound to produce new surprises. Already we’ve had this scary moment at the NYT. Turns out when Jermaine Jackson sounded his sendoff to his brother, he didn’t say “May our love be with you always,” as the Times reported. He said, according to the correction the paper ran, “May Allah be with you always.” Mr. Obama isn’t home free after all. Who of the Jackson Five helped write his Cairo speech?