The leftist bloggentsia contemplates the life and death of Michael Jackson:
The death of this King – “my brother, the Legendary King Of Pop”, as Jermaine Jackson described him in his press conference, as if giving Michael his formal title – recalls not the Diana carcrash, but the sad slump of Elvis from catatonic narcosis into the long good night. Perhaps it was only Elvis who managed to insinuate himself into practically every living human being’s body and dreams to the same degree that Jackson did, at the microphysical level of enjoyment as well as at the macro-level of spectacular memeplex. Michael Jackson: a figure so subsumed and consumed by the videodrome that it’s scarely possible to think of him as an individual human being at all… because he wasn’t of course… becoming videoflesh was the price of immortality, and that meant being dead while still alive, and no-one knew that more than Michael…
The moment of Thriller was an emotionally charged and extremely condensed one. Ronald Reagan was President; it was the dawn of the neoliberal (counter)revolution. We knew that something had ended, or had been lost; but we still had very little sense of what was going to replace it. I could not have imagined — nobody could have imagined — the hypercommodification and hyperfinancialization of the years since then; the reign of universal cynicism and marketing plans. The deep recession of the early 1980s followed the mixed expansions and losses of the 1970s; I forget who it was who (accurately) pointed out that the 1970s represented the democratization, or generalization (in wealthy countries like the United States at least) of what had been “counter-cultural” about the 1960s; what used to be “us vs them” had become common to everyone. Later decades’ sarcastic dismissals of the excesses and bad fashions of the 70s really testify only to our current utter lack of imagination. In 1982, in any case, we were only at the beginning of understanding how incomplete the projects of the previous decades were fated to remain. Punk had come and gone, an inspiring flash in the pan; and the disco wars had revealed how deeply racially troubled things continued to be — even if the Reagan Presidency was the beginning of one of those periodic efforts to deny the existence of these troubles altogether. The period was, as we now realize, one of great innovation on the fringes of popular music; but it was also one of a consolidation in which white-centric rock ‘n’ roll (including the music of all those interestingly innovative post-punks) lost its cultural relevance; it is no accident that the triumvirate of 1980s superstars, Micheal Jackson, Prince, and Madonna, all focused on dance-oriented musical forms that remained closer to its African American sources than rock had ever done.
Long, long after he knew he would never have to enter the steel mills and production lines, the mutation of that world into Stalinism formed a sort of posthumous point of identification for his most haunting post-Thriller song, perhaps the only one that is actually affecting rather than a simulation of affect, ‘Stranger in Moscow’. The lyrics here are the usual elliptical mess of tics, paranoia and self-pity you would expect, meaning that the premise is tricky to untangle. Nonetheless, what seems to be happening here is a dream of an outside to the Konsumterror Jackson epitomised – the world of ‘actually existing socialism’, a cold and severe world without Pop which is also the only imaginable society where nobody would know who he is, where he could actually be a stranger rather than the creature that was, for us born in the ’80s, as real a person as Jesus, ET or Santa Claus. Jackson dreams of the world that no longer existed by 1995, the world that he himself had helped to close off – we are the world, there is only one possible world. Yet he can’t sustain the fantasy here, either, and it collapses back into the late capitalist media circus, and we know who he is clumsily referring to when he sings ‘the KGB are doggin’ me’. Yet, in a line which you should remember is sung by someone having statues cast of himself, he trills ‘Stalin’s tomb won’t let me be’. Fittingly at the end, just like Stalin, there seems to have been a Doctor’s Plot. In terms of lifelong fame, limitless but profoundly unsatisfying power and presumably endless guilt, the only man who probably knows how Michael Jackson felt near the end is Kim Jong-Il.