Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson: Sinner or Saint?

by Javier E. David

The exact cause of death has yet to be determined; but even still, Michael Jackson is quickly proving as controversial in death as he was in life.

The iconic singer’s tragic and untimely demise on June 25th triggered spontaneous outpourings of commemoration and grief across the world. In the process, Jackson’s death managed to eclipse news of the death of another entertainment powerhouse, “Charlie’s Angels” alumna Farrah Fawcett.

Even Michael Jackson’s sharpest critics will acknowledge his enormous talent, even as they decry his controversial and increasingly unsettling personal choices. An article in today New York Times succinctly captured the singer this way:

Mr. Jackson was a global pop icon whose behavior and appearance turned more bizarre as his career went into decline and he appeared more frail in recent years. He was haunted by lawsuits, failed plastic surgery and, according to several reports, had debts of hundreds of millions of dollars. As reports about the pop star’s shaky health and finances began to emerge, legions of grief-stricken fans around the world were swept up in spontaneous flower-laden memorials and emotional tributes.

The circumstances of his death – and the relentless media circus that often surrounded him when he was alive – has provoked a debate about whether Michael Jackson’s artistic accomplishments can (or should) ever be separated from the tortured and dysfunctional existence he led.

Over at the National Review, contributor Jonah Goldberg sounded off earlier today in a thoughtful piece on the saturation coverage and hagiographic treatment Jackson has received from major media outlets. In their rush to honor Jackson, many of these same reporters managed to largely whitewash the singer’s numerous personal imbroglios over the years.

For certain, Goldberg make very legitimate arguments. The mainstream media often demonstrate a frustrating tendency to vilify and sensationalize public figures in life, only to deify them once they depart this mortal coil. Despite his sensational success on stage, Jackson became more associated with his poor judgment and delusional behavior when he was out of the spotlight, which in the latter part of his life managed to dwarf his professional accomplishments.

In their portrayals of Michael Jackson the artist and Michael Jackson the man, both critics and his apologists are correct: he was a gifted singer and dancer worthy of accolades, yet his personal demons will always make him a tragic figure in the eyes of many. Clearly Jackson was a controversial, complex and melancholy figure, but his legions of fans worldwide tend to separate the talent from the physicality which housed it.

Though according to some, therein lay Jackson’s problem:

In many ways his tragedy was to mistake attention for love. I will never forget what he said when we sat down to record 40 hours of conversations where he would finally reveal himself for a book I authored. He turned to me and said these haunting words: "I am going to say something I have never said before and this is the truth. I have no reason to lie to you and God knows I am telling the truth. I think all my success and fame, and I have wanted it, I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That's all. That's the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved. I said I know I have an ability. Maybe if I sharpened my craft, maybe people will love me more. I just wanted to be loved because I think it is very important to be loved and to tell people that you love them and to look in their eyes and say it."

In short, the coverage of his death is largely representative of the chiaroscuro effect his fame cast on his everyday life. King of pop, or pederast? Music icon, or washed-up pop singer? While history will be the ultimate arbiter, it will probably rule in favor of all of the above.

Javier E. David is a native New Yorker and a contributor to He writes about various subjects including popular culture, entertainment, business, finance and public policy for sites such as and He is a U.S. Army veteran who has worked on Wall Street and as a reporter for the international news agency Reuters. Fluent in Spanish, Javier is an avid sports fan and enjoys literature, music (especially independent hip-hop and soul), movies, good food and wine, and is also a self-confessed comic-book geek.


Amadeo said...

Here’s what I think. No one knows for sure whether he was truly guilty of what he was accused of. Nobody knows that with 100% certainty, except for Michael Jackson himself, his accusers, and God. I am not God and I am not going to try to play God in judging him. He has to answer to God for this.

What we do know for sure is that Michael Jackson is globally recognized as a talented singer and performer. There is no doubt about that if you look around at the news and at people’s reaction.

I can’t judge Michael Jackson’s alleged sins and crimes, but I can judge his music. I was never a huge fan, even amidst his astronomical popularity in the 1980’s. I am not into idolizing musicians or celebrities. However, I do like some of his songs.

limo said...

Stylish MJ. he was the star of the music industries.

Anonymous said...

Well said Amadeo