Gallery Index

Michael Jackson

We bring actual people back into our analysis now, having let them over the course of our last three stories to almost completely disappear from view, but one whose life and sudden death was to most nothing more than the glossiest of images. 
Pop and child star Michael Jackson is eulogized by the Reverend Gregory Seal Livingston here. It is the first of five biographies included in our collection, which explicitly commemorate the dead -- a common state of being for most biographical subjects of study explored outside the field of sociology, (such as in documentary studies, feature films, commercial publishing and the news media), as well as by people in their everyday lives, (when they compile family photo collections and geneological histories or make home movies).
The moment: Pop culture. Popular culture shoves Obamaism, uprisings, wars, health care and gainful employment out of the public’s consciousness and off the airwaves. And pop music, the poetic, the lyrical, the melodious, all of it, is the spirit of pop culture. Too often and too readily critiqued as superficial and shallow, pop music carries with it the sentiments of the majority. And one man, Michael Jackson, embodied it the best. 
I wanted to avoid writing anything about the King of Pop. I didn’t want the reader to think that I was taking the easy way out and thereby trivializing this opportunity to communicate. However the extended nowness of this pop icon’s death moment is powerful, pervasive and saturated with meaning. 
How does the King of Pop define this moment in time? What does his intercourse with mass culture mean? His fellow icon, Prince, offers this meaning through the experience of his song Pop Life. Here's the hook: Pop life/ Everybody needs a thrill/ Pop life/ We all got a space 2 fill/ Pop life/ Everybody can't be on top/ But life it ain’t real funky/ Unless its got that pop/ Dig it.  Prince draws us into the exciting, egalitarian, meritocratic and soulful promise of popular culture. 
The King of Pop fulfils this promise of popular culture. Born into a black family of eleven in the steel town of Gary, Indiana. He never learned to read music nor play an instrument but still becomes one of the greatest forces in music industry history. Motown taught the brothers how to step in sync while they performed but God taught the King how to dance. The high brow music and dance lessons of the higher classes – music and dance lessons that his parents could not possibly afford because of America’s tragic history of discrimination and the classism created by racism – lacked soul and were much too carnal for one who was learning to walk on the moon. Popular culture didn’t guarantee him fame but it did guarantee him fun. 
Popular culture offers accessibility to the masses. Education, wealth and pedigree are not required to experience the promise of pop culture. The King of Pop is a child of the Civil Rights Era. Civil Rights is about access, opportunity and the leveling of inequality in society. Popular culture is the tidal wave that washes away the lines and sand castles of exclusive and elite cultural norms that only a few can enjoy. Popular music is about evolution. He evolved from child prodigy; to teenage heartthrob; to grown man; into a living, breathing colorless icon. 
America is still a pigmentocracy however our most popular icon was not post-racial but trans-racial. He evolved into a being that transcended color. His look began to confuse and frighten. His behavior became suspect. The pauses between albums became longer. He sold out 50 tour dates in minutes. He died the death of a pop icon – mysterious and shocking. His global fandom is reignited. Rumor has it that seven persons have committed suicide because of his death. He is more popular dead than alive. Surreal isn’t it. So is this moment. So was he.
Reverend Gregory Seal Livingston speaks regularly to and for universities, religious organizations and non-profits all over the United States and world incorporating the stories of people he meets everyday community-by-community and family-by-family as a working Minister and social activist. His writing often appears in the Huffington Post.