The Michael Jackson memorial has been ongoing since Jackson died unexpectedly before his London concert tours. His death turned over a heavy rock to reveal an endless array of crawling creatures – all sorts of oddness has emerged. But before the media and others could pick over the bones of Jackson’s life and career, it was time to give him a proper funeral. After death, it seems, all bets are off. A death should be honored well.
On Tuesday, the world mourned Jackson via a live memorial at the Staples center. Thousands of fans were given free tickets to the event and they gathered silently as Michael’s brothers carried the casket containing the lifeless, ever-so-light body of Jackson. His mother sat in the front row, along with his sisters and children. Isn’t it always the faces of the children that are the saddest things about these public funerals? They try to cope as best they can, all dressed up, with cameras pointed at them and people staring at them. Here they were, unmasked at last.
The memorial featured great musical tributes to Jackson’s legacy; an incomparable and uncompromised history of innovative and catchy music. It also featured speeches by Al Sharpton, Kobe Bryant, and Brooke Shields, who, as Michael’s friend and “date” seemed to speak about the person Jackson was, the person we never saw, the person who liked to laugh. Hers was agenda-free, without the pressing need to make Michael Jackson a civil rights pioneer (he who tried to obliterate his black genetics), a peacemaker, and even a Christ-like figure who died so that we would know our sins and his goodness. Much of it was tough to take. Much of it was glorious.
The memorial ended with his daughter Paris crying about how much she loved her father and how he was the “best father in the world.” And in that moment, and only that moment, one got a glimpse into the kind of relationship Jackson had with his kids, which appears to be good. That doesn’t make for such good press; Jacko the loony was the better seller.
With all of the pomp and circumstance, and all of the money it cost to put on the Memorial, in the end there was just a family burying one of their own. And we all were given a chance to see their grief, not unlike the way we all watched the British royals bury Diana. In that case, though, Diana died accidentally. Jackson may have died from ingesting too many drugs at once causing his system to collapse.
It’s odd that in our society we can forgive anything if we love someone enough. In the end, nothing much mattered except that Jackson was one of the biggest star gods our culture has known. We aren’t prepared to give that up. No one is prepared to wag a finger at Jackson for not loving his kids enough to stop taking such strong drugs. All we are prepared to do is worship another tragic figure gone too soon.