Last night, as tributes to the late performer Michael Jackson covered mainstream media, I observed that the "man" was not the point of any talking heads' discussions. Michael Jackson the "brand" was. As a phenomenon, there are very few that can parallel Michael Jackson. He was arguably the most successful artist of his generation. In terms of record sales, Pepsi and other product endorsements, and ownership of song rights, he truly was the "King of Pop."
He was an industry unto himself. Rag media, legal eagles, and paparazzi were fueled by the insatiable thirst that the public has for celebrity and the cashing in thereof. And Jackson himself was quite savvy about his brand recognition, including planting stories such as sleeping in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and purchasing the Elephant Man's bones, and performing at the half-time show of the Super Bowl for 137 million captivated people at the game and at home. His artistic temperament and business acumen combined with his necessarily reclusive lifestyle created demand for all things Michael Jackson. For him, it also must have created a dissonance between Michael Jackson the personality and the person.
Whoever Michael Jackson was is gone now. Philanthropist or pedophile-- angel or devil--saint or sinner? We will never really know the rest of the story. We can be assured that his life will be picked apart by those buzzards who stand to profit from telling his tale.
Michael Jackson, Inc. is open for business and family members, former employees, and biographers will cash in on his likeness. The media will rewrite and reinvent his legacy for a public whose fickle nature embraces both scorn and redemption in equal parts. Like all icons before him, he will be reborn-- "new and improved."
As for me, I will genuinely miss the ambassador of goodwill that Michael Jackson represented to those living in poverty, hunger, and with HIV/AIDS. I will miss his showmanship and creativity. He was a person who lived like his famous moonwalk dance, giving the impression he was ahead of us and, at the same time, letting us know his time was cemented in the past.