Friday, June 26, 2009


I've been having trouble sleeping lately. Waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning and going back to bed when the light comes up; waking up again, late, near noon, feeling like crap, or feeling too sleepy to stay awake by 8:00pm, staying up anyway, and then noticing at 2 or 3 a.m. that I'm still awake, going to sleep, sleeping (again) until 11 or so. . .or just sleeping a few hours. . .sudden bursts of intense energy. . .it's all jumbled, as if my body has forgotten what a sleep cycle is exactly. My body is confused.

This confusion has seemed to loosen my brain up some. That's called sleep deprivation, or being in a half-dream state, I suppose.

Anyway, in this state, I seem to be nearly obsessed with the death of Michael Jackson. I'm not mourning; I'm thinking. I'm thinking about nearly everything about him, whoever he was. I just read an article where he's called the "man who was not there".

Everything about the enigma who was Michael Jackson points back at us as a society, almost scathingly. He has been worshiped and he has been made the object of ridicule. Last night I found a webpage where we can see his facial transformations through life. There's no love there in the snarky comments, but why the fascination?

America simultaneously hates and loves it's freaks. It always has. The circus sideshow freaks, the sad clowns, Howard Hughes, every town's eccentric, the weird kid in school who's remembered fondly, the fact that biographies of injured souls are the most popular form of reading, the tabloids at the supermarket, and now all the sites that proliferate the web. . .We love our celebrities, but we seem to love even more watching them turn into monsters, or become just like us, with jiggling cellulite at the beach, bad marriages, lousy choices, their inevitable fall, and if they don't fall, we lose interest.

We both love and hate success. We're jealous. We need proof it isn't what it's cracked up to be. Haven't we had enough proof?

We love the confessions of the powerful, the politicians who've cheated on their wives or are secretly gay, or whatever their transgressions are. Why on earth are public confessions of "sin" more important than the news of the war in Iraq? It's insane.

Yes, I know I'm all over the map. It's fascinating to me how Jackson's death has got my mind spinning.

His surgery, symbolic of so much, and yet we know little truth about the whys of it all. What drove this man to obsessively change his appearance? But, it is that different than the ordinary, almost mandatory, plastic surgery that female public personalities eventually must have? Growing old gracefully for a woman in public is impossible. The illusion of perpetual youth is required. Yet, we practically spit on this man Michael Jackson, who mirrors our society's obsession with youth, albeit in a distorted fun house mirror way.

We are bombarded by messages that scream at us to regain our lost youth, coddle our inner childs, stay perpertually young. It's a given that we all want to stay 21 forever. Pick up any popular magazine and count the ads for facial creams that promise firmer, tighter, softer, dewy, touchable, blemish-free, spot-free, ageless skin. Feeling okay in one's old skin is not allowed.

I suddenly am thinking of someone I once knew well, whom upon seeing Janet Reno on television, would always say "They shouldn't allow woman who look like that on television. It hurts my eyes." Or Rush Limbaugh, who expressed gladness that Hillary Clinton didn't win the nomination, for who wanted to see a woman age in public, as presidents always do?

Michael Jackson was more female than male, at least from my point of view, and though he was a star, his vulnerability to all this seemed huge. But what do I know? I did not know the man, of course. Did anyone?

And if he had a painkiller addiction, so has Rush Limbaugh and who-knows-how-many Americans. The drug companies don't really want us to know how many. With all our drug laws, the drugs most abused in America are those prescribed by physicians. Vicodan, "hillbilly heroin", is so bad for the body that it is illegal in Europe. Yet, here in America, it's nearly as handy as aspirin. The doctors prescribe and prescribe and once you are hooked, you are shamed, or if you're famous, you just get another doctor (or your maid's husband) to get you more, and when that stops, you get some publicity, a stay at a upscale clinic, and possibly a book deal.

Yes, I'm all over the map.

This package, this commodity, that was Michael Jackson points directly back to us, a nation of confused souls, who pay more attention to "American Idol" than the war that is still killing people daily. Last night, there were memorials aplenty for Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, while somewhere in the world, another "nobody" was blown up, shot, stabbed, starved to death, died in their sleep, unmourned, uncelebrated.

What a mess.

Photo note: Wali Sultani, a man who suffers from mental illness, in his cell in Afghanistan (read here).
I could have picked from a million images of suffering. Somehow, the image of this man, shackled because of mental health issues, resonated. Would a makeover make him feel better? In America, it seems we seem to think so.


BitterGrace said...

I've read all your Michael Jackson posts. I think of him as a sort of Rorschach test. People see their own hopes and fears in him. He has no human value for most of us, he's a celebrity symbol. I don't think the people who trash him quite realize he was a genuine human being. Personally, I have felt nothing but pity for him for a long time, even though I realize lots of people would think my sympathy is misplaced.

Racial identity has a lot to do with the intense reactions people have to Jackson. It's a complicated issue that I wouldn't try to discuss in a blog comment, but I have always noticed that, though people of all stripes love his music, his public persona has been disturbing mostly to white people.

Do you think the long days are messing with your sleep?

Julie H. Rose said...

Maria: Yes, yes, and yes.