In death, Michael Jackson is suddenly some kind of a saint. A humanitarian. A philanthropist. A civil rights leader.
“Like our father Martin,” said Martin Luther King III before a live television audience of millions around the world at the memorial. “He was indeed a shining light.”
What a difference two weeks and sudden death can make.
While still alive, Michael Jackson was widely considered a weirdo. A presumed child molester. A pills-and-plastic surgery addict. For more than a decade, he’d been relentlessly mocked by the tabloids. He was Wacko Jacko.
He certainly seemed like something other than normal.
Now that he’s gone, he’s become someone who was “persecuted,” as Bernice King said. “An American legend,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, giving a snappy salute toward his coffin.
“Maybe now,” said his brother Marlon mournfully, “they will leave you alone.”
We all know that it is unseemly to speak ill of the dead. But today’s metamorphosis of Michael Jackson was nothing short of astonishing.
The ceremony at Staples Center was an historic moment in our contemporary social and cultural history. It may have come the closest to a worldwide communal event as we have ever seen.
An unprecedented cross between a Hollywood production and a somber memorial, it was watched by fans in every language, all over the world, giving it an ineffably global quality.
Pop stars sang. A preacher spoke. The gospel choir harmonized. The Jackson brothers, who we have known since their childhood, were dressed in dark suits, yellow ties and sequined gloves on their right hands.
Jackson’s three children, finally unveiled and seen to be quite handsome if (seemingly) entirely Caucasian, sat between Jackson’s parents Katherine and Joe.
Watching the ceremony was a two-hour tour through much of American pop culture of the past 20 years, since Jackson’s life was lived on stage — through his days as a precocious 10-year-old crooner, to his teenaged years alluded to by Brooke Shields, to his elevation to “king of pop” status.
At the same time, the event had a heartbreaking quality to it, occurring just a day before Jackson was meant to start his 50-date concert tour in London’s 02 stadium.
At the very spot where he was rehearsing 13 days ago, Jackson’s backup singers, a gospel choir and the orchestra that had rehearsed for weeks to perform with the singer instead played at his funeral.
Even the media elite seemed to be feeling regretful of having treated him so shabbily.
The oh-so-respectful tones of Katie Couric and Brian Williams, as they anchored their primetime, commercial-free coverage on Tuesday, were in sharp contrast to the mocking tones that usually accompany the words “Michael Jackson” when spoken from the anchor’s seat.
Admit it: for the past decade, we all wallowed in the weirdness of Michael Jackson when he was alive.
Now in death, he seems frail and pitiable, rather than sordid and corrupt.
Rest in peace, Michael Jackson.