Has Death Wiped Clean Michael Jackson's Sins? Many Say Yes
A few years ago, young children listening to Michael Jackson tunes might have been something their parents would warn them about. Given the accusations that arose about his relationships with children in the 90s, some parents might not want the iconic pop star to be one of their kid's favorites.
But as Jackson's death has shown us this year, the final farewell is a transformational step in the image of a major icon. The scandals that may have plagued his life -- inappropriate behavior with children, addiction, isolation -- cast clouds of judgment that, in death, are mere footnotes to the greater legacy of their cultural contributions.
Gaylord Fields, senior editor at Spinner.com, said the sudden death of a major entertainer allows their faults to be set aside. The scandal of their death may create headlines, but afterward there is a wave of forgiveness that lasts longer than any misgivings.
"It's almost as if they've sort of been wiped clean of all earthly sin," Fields explained. "It's a very religious sort of conversion that happens when really big stars die before their time. And that's definitely been the case with Michael Jackson."
Fields draws comparisons to Elvis, John Lennon, and other performers who die before their story is complete. Whatever their status may be in the public eye at the time, their death is a time to focus on other aspects of their life and career.
"You need to kind of scrub them up if you want to put them on a pedestal," he said. "You're not gonna put a dirty statue on a pedestal."
King of Pop fans from different generations have different memories of how they see him. Those who remember him from The Jackson Five stage, 'Thriller' stage, or only from South Park parodies, will have different opinions on his life and times. However laced his legacy may be with scandal and mystery, those who wish to remember him as an icon will have no trouble doing so -- in part due to his untimely death.
"People really needed to reclaim him and reinvent him and this became the perfect excuse of someone who deserves iconic status without the tabloid scandal," he said.
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Music and pop culture play an important role in any individual's life. They are a way to mark time, a way to connect the years and a way to commemorate life-changing milestones. Jackson's chart-topping music would've played a role in many people's lives. For parents to hold onto those memories and play certain songs for their kids is their way of remembering. But with that comes the cleansing of his legacy – they won't re-read the headlines of his scandals, but they will jam out to 'Beat It.'
"The threat of a real Michael Jackson and the scandal he had with the children is not interfering," Fields said. "It can't hurt the kids anymore."
Dr.Joe Schiavo, director of the music program at Rutgers-Camden, says the way people hang onto music of former times is an "interesting phenomenon." To listen to certain music, and share it with one's children, is a way for people to hang onto a piece of their youth.
"When you're young, a teenager or in your early 20s, there's many different events that take place in your life, it's just part of growing up," Schiavo said. "And I think we all have a tendency, at least I do, of associating certain events with songs that happen to be popular at the time or songs I'd like to listen to."
Listening to those songs after a sudden death of an icon like Jackson instantly rehabs his image. Schiavo notes that our culture has such short attention spans, that the talent is what stands out. A new generation of Jackson fans, absorbing his catalog after death, will only know the talent and the loss of a fantastic performer.
Just before Jackson's death this summer, he was preparing for his stateside comeback. Memorialized in the 'This is It' film, Jackson was dedicated to his craft up until the end. He seemed driven to reclaim a status in the U.S. public eye as not a scandal maker, but as the vessel of star power that got him where he was in the first place. While the tour may have changed up his image, his death served to do the same -- a somewhat morbid thought, but true nonetheless.
"This was going to be his big comeback, yet his popularity in the U.S. was waning since he'd been away for so long," Schiavo said. "We can only imagine now what his life would be like had he been able to go through with this tour."
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