Cultural Sentimentality

Filed under:Cool,Sad — posted by Anwyn on September 9, 2009 @ 10:27 am

Cutting to the chase: Nine hundred-plus Dragon*Con participants doing the “Thriller” dance in hopes of breaking the Guinness record. They start out well, some sputter a little in the middle, but they don’t seem to run out of gas.

It surprises me occasionally what sinks deep into the cultural part of my brain and psyche without me being totally aware of it. I’ve never been a Michael Jackson fan; I acknowledged his talent but disliked watching him grab his crotch and for the most part despised his vocal style. When he died, I thought Sippican had summed it up best, well before his death: Did you know Michael Jackson could sing?

But Quincy’s magnum opus was fixing it so you didn’t notice that the greatest child soul singer, ever, couldn’t sing a lick anymore. Every bit of Quincy’s talents were needed to foist this future circus freak on the public, when the freak had nothing left in the tank but a visually disorienting dance step. And Quincy kept moving the musical cups around so you couldn’t find the little ball under the one marked “He can’t sing.” Because poor old Michael couldn’t sing a lick after his Adams Apple showed up.

… it was over for Michael when his voice changed, and he knew it. And it’s probably what drove him crazy. And if Michael Jackson is anything, it’s crazy.

Perhaps you’d go crazy too, if you were given that gift, and then it was taken away from you like that. And it is a gift. Michael’s father Joe couldn’t beat that sound out of Tito or Jermaine, after all, no matter how hard he tried. Michael had it, and out it came.

So I had a lot of sympathy for Michael Jackson (notably after his death, however), and a certain amount of grief and disgust over an American talent and celebrity descending into a not-quite-psychotic mental twlight, but wasn’t what I would call a fan. So I can’t really explain why I actually got tears in my eyes over this: Nine hundred-plus Dragon*Con participants doing the “Thriller” dance in hopes of breaking the Guinness record. They start out well, some sputter a little in the middle, but they don’t seem to run out of gas.

Is it worth what he went through and what he became to have such a deep and lasting impact on people? I don’t know. What does that impact consist of? Individual resonance, certainly, but also shared cultural watermarks and experience. Sharing that experience over millions of people is no small feat, notwithstanding the fact that of course he never did it alone. How frustrating that the bigger the celebrity, the bigger potential for a harder fall into a nastier trough–harder because even if he/she gets away with whatever he/she pulls, the public knows and never forgets, and nastier because for whatever they do to whomever, it’s played out on national television. RIP, Michael Jackson.

I wondered, as I watched the video, how they taught all those people all those moves in the proper order; it’s not a short song, after all. Check it out:

H/t: Calisuri.


  1. Well said. Overseas the fan base is even bigger. Here at home(United States of McDonalds)these large groups vote for their favorite images in suits.

    Comment by quitegoogleable — September 9, 2009 @ 10:54 am

  2. For me, Jackson’s appeal was not in his singing (at least not since his Jackson 5 days) but rather in the entire “package” (no pun intended — I’m not reaching for it). He was, like many other “pop” stars before him and since, the most visible part of a larger production. My fond memories of Thriller are less about his vocal talent than they are about the dance moves, the backing tracks/loops/beats, and where I was when I first heard the song. That’s what I miss, if I miss anything at all.

    Sadly, that “product” was dead long before Jackson died. Fortunately I can still listen to the songs.

    Comment by Allen — September 9, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace