OFF THE GRID

Michael Jackson Is the New America

Jul 8, 09 | 9:36 AM   byMichael Wolff
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On cue, the white guys, Peter King, a famously moronic congressman from New York, and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, possibly after a few martinis, rushed to express head-smacking incredulity about how anyone could believe Michael Jackson was a figure worth commemorating.

Similarly, the grand hussars of the black community were claiming, with no small amount of eloquence, that Michael Jackson was one of the epochal figures of our age.

Michael Jackson is hereby transmuted—to the choir strains of a rather extraordinary send-off—into not just a holy figure but a living icon of the racial and political wars (two issues in which he never had any evident interest).

It isn’t just the racist and moronic white guys either who are scratching their heads. The young downwardly mobile trying-to-be professional white people over at Gawker seemed hopelessly confused by the vulgarity and sentimentality and, well, mass media-ness of the Jackson funeral. My friend Peter Rutten points out that, in Europe, when Elvis died, “kids wore buttons that read ‘I'm so glad, Elvis is dead’ as a statement of disgust with America's celebrity culture."

As a dead Elvis came to represent some inexplicable symbol of a new, sun-belt, white, fat, less-than-middle-class, apolitical (but fundamentally conservative) demographic, a dead Michael is going represent some seemingly inexplicable symbol of a new, multi-ethnic, undoubtedly also fat, less-than-middle-class, apolitical (but fundamentally liberal), demographic.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Elvisization of lower-middle-class culture was the backdrop to the rise of conservatism. The advent of Michaelmania as a demographic phenomenon goes hand-in-hand with the changing color and changing politics of the nation.

For many years, people who may or may not have known what they were talking about would say that, in the black community, the Jackson family was something like the Kennedys in the Eastern liberal community. That always seemed far-fetched to me, something evidently getting lost in the translation.

But it seems not. The Jacksons obviously stand for some operatic American experience, with Michael as, somehow, an everyman figure of talent and doom, beauty and grotesqueness, fortune and calamity. We like our myths in comic-book form.

If you love Michael, you’re part of the rising culture and new American power base.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.
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