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Friday, July 10, 2009
MICHAEL JACKSON, ICON OF MEDIOCRITY?
Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez brings up some interesting points in her post on America's obsession with celebrity, the culture of mediocrity, and Michael Jackson's legacy.
Here are some highlights of her post. The entire piece is here.
"I have watched the fawning nonstop media coverage of the death of Michael Jackson with skepticism this past week. Yes, premature death is tragic. Upon that we can (mostly) all agree. What I cannot agree with, however, are the repeated claims that Jackson: was a musical genius; broke down racial barriers; was a brilliant singer; was a great dancer; changed American culture."
"Jackson, whose vocal range was limited and who sang often insipid pop songs that rarely ventured outside of a basic pentatonic scale, was no musical genius. Cannonball Adderley was a musical genius. John Coltrane was a musical genius. Charles Ives was a musical genius. J.S. Bach was a musical genius. Hector Berlioz was a musical genius. These were human beings gifted with uncommon genius in musical understanding, interpretation and expression. To compare Michael Jackson's twitchy, strange pop singing to the accomplishments of people such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky or Charlie Parker is downright insulting; it is rather like saying the guy who designed the Tilt-a-Whirl is on par as an architect with I.M. Pei. That the American press have been so quick to jump on the Jackson-as-genius bandwagon speaks to the dismal state of excellence in our culture. As more and more artistic and journalistic decisions have been left to MBAs and accountants, quality has fallen by the wayside. True musical variety has died with the radio monopolies of Clear Channel and others, as we are force-fed the same Lady Ga-Ga tune until we Lady Ga-GAG. Our standards, in other words, have sunk to new lows, and not just in music. If Jackson is a musical genius, one realizes, it is not such a great leap to imagine Sarah Palin as presidential material, Lauren Weisberger as a great author, or Lou Dobbs as a substitute for real reporting and news. The Simpsons lampooned the growing cult of idiocy and mediocrity in our nation in the character of Homer; sadly, hardly anyone noticed because they were too busy relating to him. As a culture, it appears that we have accepted the lowest common denominator as the highest we ought to aim. We are told Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, when in reality he is the Clown Monarch of Mediocrity."
What Valdes-Rodriguez tells us in this post is that we, as a culture, accept the successful marketing of a personality in politics and entertainment as validation of his or her achievements, and we accept this without doing the hard work of discovering on our own whether or not that personality really merits our admiration or has done the hard work of earning the attention and adulation we so easily and uncritically confer on these people.
In Michael Jackson's case, there's no doubt, as Valdes-Rodriguez points out, that he was able to fill arenas for his concerts as well as sell millions upon millions of copies of his CDs worldwide. This makes him an international phenom, to be sure, but a genius? A musical genius?
I reserve that very special and rare designation for people like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
That we accepted the nonstop, 24/7 coverage of a pop entertainer over the last two weeks says something about our lack of maturity and ability to put in proper perspective what is important for us to pay attention to.
Just because covering Jackson's death and memorial service made tons of money for teevee news and cable stations, that should never have been an excuse for us to accept the overindulgent nonsense that it was.