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Quote:
"Each man bears the complete stamp of the human condition." ~~ Montaigne


I've long thought about this statement, and I heard it again on NPR--National Public Radio. I don't remember the context, exactly, but I'm always struck when I hear the phrase repeated. None more so than in the same week as the passing of the (widely acknowledged) King of Pop. There was and always will be a level of humanity--a perspective on what it means to be human--as embodied in the persona of Michael Jackson (and a few others) that will never be fathomed by any but a small fraction of sentient beings who have ever walked the earth.

So the French writer got it wrong ... falling into the same elitist trap that has plagued mankind from the very beginning. Because the human condition is anything but monolithic.. The fact is that there are a wide variety of human conditions. Profound autism ... dwarfism ... any number of syndromes, like Down’s, Tourette’s, Turner’s ... just to name a few. And please. Let us not be so elitist as to continue to deny homosexuals their rightful place as humans.

The aphorism has surface appeal because for most of us the human condition exists solely for the things that are borne of robust personal experience ... things that are common among all races and between both sexes, like lechery and lust ... like pride and petulance ... and of course like love. And yet there are all levels of experience--even love ... like mad love and jealous love ... like precious love and puppy love ... not to mention the heartbreak of unrequited love.

And yet for all the controversy that surrounded him, humanity owes Michael Jackson a long overdue debt of gratitude. Yes, that's right. Gratitude.

How many of those who are certain that they qualify as robustly human can look at a Michael Jackson or a RuPaul (not equating the two on any particular level) and claim to know all there is to know about the human condition? Not columnist E. J. Dionne, I'm sure, who commented upon the passing of Jackson--not in a mean spirited way--but in a manner that misses the point rather spectacularly, I think-- as [para.] "... an example of what it might be like to live ones entire life in the absence of adult supervision."

While this may be true, does great fame and talent always cover for societal extra-normalcy? And on a scale of 1 to 10, what was M.J.’s level of musicianship, really, when you discount the moon-walking and crotch- grabbing? How much of the actual talent was Jackson's--musically speaking--and how much should be attributed to those around him, including the likes of Martin Scorsese, a stream of Hollywood production moguls, and of course, money in the form of the most expensive music videos ever made? Was M.J. ever seen playing a musical instrument the way many, if not most, singing instrumentalists are seen--Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Elton John, etc., etc? You tell me.

But then too, we live in an increasingly less talented world ... a world that is losing its appetite for great music as produced by an Elton John or an Andrew Lloyd Webber--musical talents that it should be safe to say far, far exceed Jackson's. We should also be safe in saying that M.J.'s great legacy will not be about his music either. It will be about whether the King of Pop experienced fully the human condition ... not through disadvantaged fame and notoriety, but on the levels that Jackson himself seemed to cherish and admire most ... deep loving and kinship "writ large" in the intensely personal stage play we know as life, which carries over in the sense of having been cast as someone who truly understands Who he is, Why he is here and Where he is going.

And now having mentioned Sir Elton, it’s impossible not to come back to the comparison. Elton's talent is not only writ large, but here is a man who appears to know exactly who he is ... a man who seems to be totally comfortable (excuse the unfortunate appositive) "in his own skin."

And then there’s the musicianship of Elton. A musician’s musician, John collaborates easily alongside musical giants-Bernie Taupin, Tim Rice, Burt Bacharach and other inductees of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He appears in duos with the likes of Billy Joel, Celine Dion and a bevy of stars that includes anyone who is anyone in the world of music … strutting with the A-listers like they were family.

So in stark contrast one wonders, "Why the mask" in Jackson’s case? Masks are so that people can't see who or what is behind them. Does it have anything to do with the fact that throughout human history masks have also represented a well recognized form of art, though less well through the practice of living disfigurement in the manner of, let's say, tattooing, foot binding or lip stretching ... suggesting that Jackson's legacy as the King of Pop music may not go far enough. He may have earned a Triple Crown title as the King of Pop art and culture all rolled into one through a form of impressionism acted out on his own body. Indeed I think it quite probable that Jackson saw himself as sculptor, like it or not, in a bizarre series of surgical makeovers that will forever seem at least as characteristic of him as was his music.

And artistic or not, what about disfigurement as ones stock-in-trade when the rest of society regards self mutilation as a sign of severe psychological disturbance?

The deeper question, however, is in how Jackson affected us all ... the rest of society. Did he shatter certain past levels of taboo ... like sleeping with children ["is a beautiful thing"] (Jackson's own words) when an adult male is not the parent of that child? Did his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley not seem contrived ... more out of convenience than, once again, out of the deep love he espoused so fervently? ... and might it never have happened if the King of Rock 'N Roll had still been alive?

True ... mixed marriages are more common than they were in the past, but does the prudential "sanctity of marriage" in America extend to arranged and perhaps even loveless unions the way they once were among the aristocrats of Europe and in Asia yet today? The marriage was clearly affectionate, but to call it unseemly wouldn't be out of the question given who her father was--the greatest pop idol of all time--and especially the way they parted, then going on to remarry in a relatively short period.

I think this conversation still has a long way to go. M.J. has his fans ... millions of them. No one denies their grief just as no one denies the sadness of any human passing, but all M.J. seemed to crave was peace, love and understanding for the person he perceived himself to be. Maybe now he's finally found it all.

Fritzwilliam

------
Fritzwilliam


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