Friday, June 26, 2009

Barack Obama Killed Michael Jackson

Some of my earliest memories are of trying to moonwalk while lip syncing to Michael Jackson's Thriller album. The Indian community of Mobile, Alabama, where I grew up, was as obsessed with Jackson as Indians all over the globe were, which I think was demonstrably more obsessed than any other culture. (The countless, and I mean countless, variations on Jackson's choreagraphy seen in Bollywood movies is the irrefutable evidence.)

When Jackson's hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial, it was a major event that had to be discussed, parsed out, mocked, and imitated for years. Then there was his conversion from being a black man to something akin to a white person in terms of physiognomy -- the look of face, the tint of his skin. And that video -- I'm black, I'm white -- with all those racially diverse people morphing into each other. And that other video where Jackson is some kind of Pharaoh, and Eddie Murphy shows up.

What I'm trying to say is that Michael Jackson's life -- and his body -- was a vessel for the contradictions within the collective, capital-driven racial psychology of the US. Our society's struggles with inequality and racism were enacted on his body. His whole childhood was turned into a national childhood -- this innocent high-pitched, non-threatening version of James Brown that everyone could consume. And he didn't get to have his own childhood and he was always in search of it in the weirdest and, at times, disturbing of ways. He suffered for us.

The election of Barack Obama, and the nearly magical way his life story resolves national contradictions while acknowledging the histories behind them, is the flip-side to Michael Jackson's being the king of pop. It's as if Obama released all the tension that made Jackson the national and international figure that we needed him to be. As if Jackson didn't have organs -- no heart or kidney or liver -- just this national-trauma-turned-pop music-genius-energy inside of him. And Obama has taken that magic, converted it from art-producing-pathos to open, straight-forward expression.

We mourn Jackson's death, and the beauty he created and the suffering he endured, because we were all along casting our votes for it, creating it, feeding off it, surviving because of him.