Monday, June 29, 2009

on the subject of michael jackson and cognitive dissonance

On the subject of the under reported, hardly talked about coverage of Michael Jackson's death, I will add one sentiment I haven't heard expressed: Relief.

Not for his children, of course. For them I am sad.

I'm sad that Michael Jackson named each of his three children Michael Jackson, including his daughter.

I'm sad that he dangled one of them, dubbed "Blanket," from a 4th story hotel balcony for the shock and pleasure of the paparazzi below.

I'm sad that his children will grow up never truly knowing their father, but rather trying to piece together and comprehend this supremely talented superstar turned bizarre victim of a fame obsessed culture.

No, the relief I feel relates to the laying to rest of the cognitive dissonance, the ambivalence that I, and millions of others, have felt over the years watching this premiere performer morph from a cute and irresistable little boy into a disaster of a middle-aged adult.

Cognitive dissonance because his singing was perfectly nuanced, his dancing was dazzling, and his looks (skin color, even) were ever changing but his psychosocial development was stunted.

Cognitive dissonance because his worldwide fame grew at the same rapid rate as his disturbing behavior.

Because the more mesmerized we were by his complex and stylized entertainment, the more embarrassed we were for him and his off camera persona.

Because we felt the sizzling allure of his onscreen sexuality while reading about his seemingly asexual lifestyle.

Because he told us in his child-like voice that it was perfectly innocent and reasonable for an unattached adult man to hold sleepovers for pre-pubescent boys. He couldn't have been that naive. Could he?

Because the more we admired him, the more we were repelled by him. And if you're like me, perplexed and maybe even disgusted by your own admiration given his potential danger to children. Maybe even his own.

Because you couldn't help love him and you couldn't help loathe him. And you simply had to watch him.

Who could turn the channel, afterall, when the news showed yet another clip of Michael doing his signature moon dance? Or the one where his fancy footwork mixed with fancy fingerwork aimed at keeping what remained of his surgically mutillated nose in place? (How do these surgeons keep their licenses?) How about Bubbles, his pet chimp? His secret marriage and divorce to Lisa Marie Presley? (He reportedly harbored an Elvis obsession). To his dermatologist's nurse? His court testimony? His hair on fire?

A fellow psychologist at Couch Trip (wish I had thought of that blog name) put his ambivalent feelings into words this way:

"I was fascinated....And there was also a sense that his troubles are over, which allows the genius and the music and the dancing to come to the surface again."

So yes, I'm relieved that as time goes by and as the media obsession dies down, so will the discomfort of our collective cognitive dissonance.

In it's place will be left the memories and music videos of a man who, though tragically flawed, was amazingly fun to watch.

We will no longer have to worry about his sex life, his substance abuse, his nose falling off his face.

We'll just be able to listen to his music, smile, and try to remember where we were when we first danced along to Billie Jean.


TALON said...

So true about the way death seems to even out all the bumps and wrinkles and warts...

I was never a fan of MJ so I've found the excessive coverage and the overblown accolades sort of disgusting.

Oh, and my mother is a true original and it would take an encyclopedia to tell you about her - lol!

Jennifer S said...

I'm sad for his kids, but haven't felt any sadness over his death. Just couldn't summon any.

It's just weird - I can hold his talent and vision separate from the person he was, and that may be why I can't connect any emotion to his passing.

flutter said...

This was a pretty fascinating way to break this all down

hooray said...

I also appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

Nulaanne said...

I was never a fan of his music or dancing. I also don't get the whole "OMG it a STAR" mentality.

I can't wait for the next desaster to come along so the news can focus on something else.

Margo said...

He was always just such a tragic figure. It's like his his whole world conspired around him to keep him from growing up. Something about it all reminds me of that movie, The Truman Show with Jim Carrey.

Mental P Mama said...

I always felt sorry for him. And wondered why no one could get him help. My heart aches for those innocent children.

Ash said...

If the media would have just read your post when he passed, and then moved on to the really important things going on in the world, I would have paid attention.

Instead, I haven't watched the news in four days.

I'm guessing I haven't missed too much.

Excellent, excellent post.

Mary said...

I'm with the others on the perspective thing.

In fact you've helped me put it all in perspective.

blognut said...

I've been getting a little beat up about this over on my blog, and I definitely appreciate hearing your perspective on it.

Thank you.

Reluctant Blogger said...

I think I am in a minority but I think there is enough going on in life without having to think about celebrities. So I never do. I don't watch much TV, never read magazines. it is such a waste of time to read about celebrities because you have no idea if there is any basis in truth in anything that you read.

But I do love music. I was never a massive fan of his music but I owned Thriller like most people my age and I would like to have seen him perform live. But he had stopped making music so in a sense his death kind of seemed a non-event musicwise for me. But yes, a sad event for his children.

bernthis said...

How come I can never be that eloquent. Very very well put

Magpie said...

nicely said. i'm kind of a pop culture outsider, though i did have a vinyl copy of Thriller - but this whole celebrity death is strangely fascinating to witness.

smalltownme said...

Excellent post.

I live in a small town near Neverland Ranch. We've had our share of media scrutiny. Truly, I feel sorry for him.

He was so talented, yet so conflicted. Oh my, the debates that will rage over the use of Neverland and whether it will become the new Graceland.

Reinvent Dad said...

Very well put. Cognitive dissonance certainly describes where we currently find ourselves with reference to his death. As much as I was amused by his music 20-25 years ago, he did morph into a very bizarre creature. Was he misunderstood? Perhaps. Was he a pedophile? Maybe. Was he lonely? Probably.

Was he talented? Yes. I was pulling for him to rivatalize his career. I do look forwarding to putting his death and bizarre antics behind me, but I don't believe that it will happen anytime soon. The media will keep the cognitive dissonance alive until the next big news story.

Brigit said...

Well put! What I find most difficult to come to terms with is the lack of addressing his obvious psychological problems and his publicised drug addiction by anyone. It has been the same with many public figures. The doctors are allowed to keep prescibing, as their pyschological and physical conditions keep deteriorating and the famous figure gradually becomes a public disgrace.

Laura said...

Maybe, too, we're conflicted with being simultaneously jealous and relieved that that wasn't our life.

JCK said...

So true. Disturbingly so. This was such a well writen post!

Tracy said...

I read this post on the Women's Colony today, and I think you summed up well what many are feeling.

Vodka Mom said...

relief. the perfect word.

imom said...

Great post! I feel exactly the same way, thanks for putting it into words for me. He was really somehting else in the day, it's a shame where he ended up.

Real Live Lesbian said...

Great post! So very true.

Yarni Gras! said...

I've never been able to get past the feeling that he secretly loathed himself.
He was a supreme talent but under all THAT, was a person that despised what he saw in the mirror.