28
Jun
09

Michael Jackson, Media Convergence and The Decline of the Global Superstar

I’m hesitant to contribute to the disgusting, inane circus that has been in motion since Michael Jackson died, but perhaps it’s a way into larger issues. Of interest to me is the (multi)media coverage surrounding this event and the idea of global, musical superstardom. The last time I remember witnessing this kind of coverage and global attention over a death was for Princess Diana. While at least a few hours were devoted to Michael Jackson’s death as “breaking news” on CBC’s Newsworld channel on the day he died, the first fifteen minutes of the CTV evening news broadcast the following night (in addition to at least five minutes more specifically about his autopsy and a couple minutes celebrating his career at the very end of the broadcast) was still devoted solely to Michael Jackson. My reaction to all of this coverage is still frustration and disgust; the world does not stop when a celebrity dies, and it is completely self-indulgent and useless to cover it to this extent, not to mention the hypocrisy of praising a man that was mercilessly derided and/or ignored for the last third of his life.

However, this time, Facebook, Twitter, texting, YouTube, and even Google as a whole, were also jammed with messages to crashing point. And that lengthy breaking news broadcast on CBC Newsworld was greatly bolstered by reports from not only so-called experts in the field, but also from sources like Twitter and Facebook. The mass media’s dependence on new media, especially of this nature, is pointing to a new media convergence that is both liberating and alarming. Do we need this many perspectives to contend with, and how much is verified before stated on air? Immediacy in any breaking event is always a waste of time because details will settle and change, and these social networking platforms are probably the most immediate forms of media there ever were. The crash of these technology-based social networks ostensibly shows an active rather than passive collectivity, meaning rather than experiencing a historical moment together via the exact same channels (limited to a few mass media networks), people wanted to reach out and create their own moment, their own reportage and rapport; however, this crash of systems also points to some intense displays of cultural capital, something a lot of these social networks are built upon. The reasons for this unprecedented crash are likely manifold, but it then raises the issue of the subject matter that prompted it.

The Pitchfork obituary makes some interesting, valid points about Michael’s role as a superhero and then as a cartoon. There’s something about his level of success and fame that made him completely unreal, and most people’s reactions to his death confirm it. There seems to be a lack of belief that this could possibly happen. I first heard about it while at a bookstore; a worker was running around the store telling his colleagues that Michael Jackson was dead, and everyone he told initially brushed it off with a nonchalant “You’re kidding.” And most reactions caught by the media and personal new media are ones of shock, as though Michael Jackson was always there and would always be there like some immortal. Where did this sense of superhuman come from?

Despite his earlier success in the 70s as part of The Jackson 5, there was something very essentially 1980s about the creation of Michael Jackson; he was a fixture of the cultural zeitgeist by being a brand and an overblown music video aesthetic in a nascent globalization. It’s no coincidence that his career glory years were bracketed by that money-hungry, visually loud decade. He was the living embodiment of the “American Dream” and represented all of the nation’s ideals and hopeful potential: rags-to-riches, creative innovation, celebration of the individual and his/her achievements, erasure of racial barriers. It’s when he started erasing his own race that he began reflecting a different side of America: self-destructive excess, worship of the artificial, delusions of grandeur, mob mentality and tabloid fascination with the grotesque and “different.” I firmly believe there won’t be another global musical superstar like Michael Jackson; not because no one will ever be as talented or exceed his level of talent, but that the media climate will never be so conducive to producing one ever again. Nor a shockwave like this.

The world is imploding into fractured pieces as much as people want to believe that the web of the Internet is pulling us closer together in a global village. No artist can hope to have the same impact Michael Jackson and even other, less famous, 80s pop stars had worldwide. Our sources for information and entertainment are divided into niches and people are increasingly creating their own information channels and entertainment. We are now all living in pockets that are dominated by cult artists, or we get bombarded by too many mainstream artists to care too deeply. Marketing ploys have made most of us very cynical and suspicious, making it a massive challenge to maintain brand loyalty. So many things are free and immediate that we don’t place too much value on anything or anyone. We are so easily connected and space and time have been so effectively tamed, we stopped feeling awe at sharing cultural objects and moments. Live 8 was by no means as culturally significant and as historically memorable as Live Aid.

In addition to his representation of America and the multiple channels through which he was sold and promoted, Michael Jackson’s global superstardom was a product of the fact he was non-threatening, a characteristic that often defines the genre of music he was purported king of. In spite of some of the bizarre, hard-edged, or spooky performances he gave in his music videos, there was always something of a child playing at adult roles about him; he wasn’t really going to fight in the streets, he was playing dress-up to be “bad,” and when he attacks you as a zombie it’s all in the name of make-believe. His Peter Pan syndrome, which ultimately became an exercise in entrapment and self-harm, spoke to a deep-seated, sometimes unhealthy, need for the rest of us to remain youthful and responsibility-free just like the myriad advertisements told us to be. And like mean-spirited children, the media and large parts of the public took part in the incessant bullying and gleeful picking and poking at Michael Jackson. By disintegrating and rotting with excess and mental illness, he showed us our face in the mirror more than any trite song ever could. And we didn’t like it. We only like to see the positive side of the zeitgeist. It was all fun and games until we lost an idol.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised that the most blogged about artists on The Hype Machine for the last few days have been Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5; however, after having read through many posts about him, I am a bit surprised how overwhelmingly positive and sympathetic they are. It’s as though people are desperate to forget the fact he hasn’t been top-of-mind for so long and hasn’t been at the top of his game for so much longer. And considering I’ve rarely seen Michael Jackson tracks posted on the blogs that are part of The Hype Machine, it somehow feels a little bit like too little too late. He had become so beyond comprehension, and we were all so desensitized to outrageous behaviour, that the media couldn’t even be bothered with him anymore – for all intents and purposes he had disappeared off the radar, even after announcing the continuing excesses of the 50-date O2 engagement. He had figuratively died a slow death for the past twenty years.

True to Morrissey’s Paint a Vulgar Picture, the response of unprecedented spiking sales for Michael Jackson music, downloads and otherwise, just seems more cynical than celebratory to me. There’s something tawdry about this financial tribute, and as with the amount of people coming forward with texts, tweets, and posts, I begin to wonder how much is genuine and how much of it is just not wanting to be left out. It’s yet another part of why I was reluctant to write this post at all.

In the global reaction to his death, it seems people are most sad because of nostalgia and ties to their own youth. I was born in the same year of Thriller’s release, but I obviously still grew up being very aware of Michael Jackson. My awareness of his music was probably first through the Dangerous album, which some of my friends and/or family members had, and the song Black or White, which always seemed to be playing at the roller rink when I was a child. I also have vague memories of seeing the Thriller video at a young age (maybe at Halloween), and back when music television still showed music videos, I would watch 80s weekends, which were dominated by Madonna, Duran Duran, and of course, Michael Jackson. Videos like Billie Jean, Beat It and Thriller became iconic to me at a later date, but they did still form part of that cultural touchstone in a way that I can’t imagine any music video becoming now. There’s no doubt that I love the music videos that my favourite artists are producing, but the likelihood that I could mention them to anyone else in the world and have them understand and know what I’m talking about is remote. They will never become global reference points, nor will they create moments of waiting for a music video world premiere like the one above this post. I’m by no means some huge Michael Jackson fan, and I wouldn’t consider him among my musical heroes, but I definitely acknowledge that Thriller is and was an important album, and Billie Jean is still genuinely one of my favourite songs.

As a society, we project a lot onto celebrities, but you can’t be a global superstar if the globe ceases to have any meaningful weight as a concept. The very networks that heralded his death to crashing point are the very same technology that is heralding the death of global superstardom. After all, Michael Jackson didn’t change the world, he merely reflected it. He was the King of Pop, but when all the world is a popularity contest, it’s impossible to crown another one. The world’s stage is groaning under the surplus of “stars.” There will never be another Michael Jackson because the world is a different place.

Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson

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14 Responses to “Michael Jackson, Media Convergence and The Decline of the Global Superstar”


  1. 1 jc
    June 29, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    A brilliantly written critique. One of the best things I’ve read on any blog at any time, never mind all the things written and said about the death of the ‘King Of Pop.’

  2. 2 hanky
    June 29, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Thank You. This is a brilliant analysis of current mass media and I wish more writers and thinkers like you worked for the monoliths of journalism, although I guess if that were to happen then more people would start to wake up and that would be entirely contradictory to their master agenda of keeping us all docile and sleepy eyed like little lambs. Again, great piece, keep writing

  3. June 29, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    I’ve always been with Jarvis on this one, I too never got the whole Michael Jackson thing.
    From his extensive back catalogue I can only think of one track that doesn’t bore the arse off of me (Black & White).
    Everything else about him, for me, was bloated by excess. From multi million dollar videos to the over produced saccahrine pap he released.

    Excellent post and as JC says, one of the best articles I have read in a long time.

    Just one final question:

    If you had just lost a dear friend would you spend the next twelve hours whoring yourself to the world’s media offering up soundbites to anyone who stuck a camera in your face? Thought not.

  4. June 29, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    BRILLIANT!!! the best I have read or heard about this subject!

    THANKS a bunch!

    :)

  5. 5 Ed
    June 30, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Was tipped off by JC at the Vinyl Villain about this piece, very thought-provoking, and as others have said, one of the best articles I have read on a blog in a very long time.

    Thank you!

  6. 6 Chris
    June 30, 2009 at 8:40 am

    This was a brilliant, incisive piece of writing that honestly reflected the situation. Well done – this kind of thought provoking appriasal is was much appreciated.

  7. 7 atart
    June 30, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Indeed! Thank you for some *real* analysis of how/why this particular artist became the social force of consumerism for a generation. And like you, I feel that this entire ruckus: his rise, his fall, his redemption, his death, are all cloaked in the excesses of the US/UK 1980s. Much food for thought here… I’m still trying to calm my rage at the sycophants enough to write intelligently on the matter. Thanks for contributing to my mental health today!
    xoxo,
    Tart

  8. July 1, 2009 at 12:51 am

    A really great post. So articulately represents what has been so troubling about the reaction to his death.

  9. 9 aria
    July 2, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Very interesting. It was bugging me a bit too – I mean it’s sad when someone dies before their time, and obviously people are interested when it is a famous or talented person.

    But in the past few years MJ was mostly treated with great scorn and suspicion in the media, and by most other people except for die-hard fans. Suddenly he’s the King of Pop and whole programmes are devoted to him? We live in a strange world.

    And when you think of the number of famous singers, actors, celebrities around today, there could be whole TV shows devoted to obituaries in the not too distant future…

  10. 10 JoeNeighbor
    July 8, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Piece was nicely written grammatically but that’s about it. The writer seems bitter in a world were one man has affected so many lives for so many years in such a way no one else has. It is not Michael Jackson’s fault that evolution has spawned technological innovations that caused mass media to evolve to what it is today. It is what it is. I don’t agree with most of this post. It takes away from who the man was and what he did for the world, regardless if my response doesn’t support the point the author is making about media convergence. How can you listen to the man as a child sing most of his motown hits and not feel this article is a damn shame. To me this post, not michael jackson’s triumphs, contributes to the very point the author is trying to make about mas media and it’s destructive power of ruining reputation. If not another person becomes as popular as michael it’s not because of media, it is because the world is changing and people need new ideas and need not be afraid to share them. There are too many followers and not enough leaders out there like michael was. That’s what the world needs, leadership.

  11. 11 jc
    July 11, 2009 at 12:38 am

    I’d love someone to explain what MJ ‘did for the world’ other than make some great and not so great records…

    • 12 SamH
      August 16, 2009 at 12:40 pm

      His music for 4 or 5 minutes no matter how long it is makes you happy. It’s simple as that.
      Ask the billions who love it.

    • 13 Kayla
      September 12, 2010 at 4:32 pm

      Well, for one, he donated to over 40 charities.

      Two, his music meant a lot to many people, inspired them to pursue their dreams. He was more than just some pop star. He was a human being that a lot of people admired (even if there were ‘haters’ who tried to destroy his name). Having that much positive influence is a powerful thing in today’s world.

      Also, it’s your -opinion- that some of his records were “not so great”. Millions of people would disagree.


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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

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So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

Photobucket

Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

Photobucket

You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

Photobucket

I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

Photobucket

You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

Photobucket

No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

Photobucket

All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

Photobucket

Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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