Jackson is no American idol

Published 9:48 am Monday, August 3, 2009

Has enough time elapsed since Michael Jackson’s funeral that I am allowed to comment on him in less than worshipful terms? My actual concern is much broader than this individual and about hero worship generally. Be critically careful about making heroes so that you emulate their admirable qualities but refuse their corrupting evil.

Even I know of many things to admire about Jackson. He worked terribly hard at his craft and, if you can accept his mode and style, he did it outstandingly well. I think the most insightful evaluation came from a particular arts critic. He judges that every single thing Jackson did has been done better by someone else. What was unique about Michael Jackson is he did them all well and was probably the only entertainer who did all them well. We have already had enough of this praise in the news without laboring it here.

The fact of the matter is that Michael Jackson was not a very nice person. This statement is, of course, the figure of speech called a euphemism: putting not nice things in nice language. His serious failings and fatal offenses were also reported and not worth repeating here. Moreover, the worse seems imminent.

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Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson made almost a god of him and thousands were eager to accept their representations as gospel truth just because they said it.

Perhaps the most tragic statement I heard came as I was listening to a talk program on a Chicago radio station as I drove through Jackson’s hometown of Gary. A woman said she knows that God gave Jackson his talent and that he used it “for the glory of God.” She has read of all the crimes and immorality reported about him, but none disturbs her because “nothing has been proved.” Well, a lot has, but private individuals still are not required to wait until every matter has been fully and finally adjudicated in courts of law to recognize what common sense exhibits. She would like all her grandchildren to grow up and be exactly like Michael Jackson. Oh, my goodness.

This is scary. I worry about her grandchildren even more than she disappoints and disgusts me. This is utter lunacy.

The woman summed it up: “He is an entertainer, not an ordinary person.”

Although the news has adequately reported his serious offenses, people like Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have held him up as if all this is without significance. All this is crucially significant.

It is possible, of course, to copy, or least approximate, his entertainment skills (and they were considerable) without adopting any of his personal immorality — possible, but not probable. Jackson exploited his popularity and celebrity status to excuse his personal behavior. Indeed, they facilitated his behavior and intimidated those who would otherwise have taken action about it. This is precisely what is likely to happen to anyone who stands in awe of Michael Jackson.

Profound respect for quality is both honest and wholesome. It comes by critical evaluation that discriminates between what is exemplary and what is unacceptable. But allowing oneself to become awestruck is to surrender self-control and to become blinded to reality.

Michael Jackson’s entertainment skill can be admired, but his personal behavior must be repudiated. But not just he. Hero worship itself is an exceedingly dangerous behavior. We must be critically careful about what we accept and what we do with it.