The End of Icons (Maybe)

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apollo_jackson.jpgIs it too late to write about the death of Michael Jackson?

A lot has been said and written about the death of the King of Pop in the last week.  People have talked about how much they loved him and how his music has informed their lives, they can remember the first time they saw him on television, the first time they listened to "Billie Jean," how "Thriller" shaped the evolution of music videos.  Most of these people called in to E! News or showed up on NY1 over the weekend during Roger-Clark-man-on-the-street interviews.  Others have written about how much he meant to the world, how big a star he truly was and how it's really too bad he couldn't have seen all this outpouring of emotion while he was alive.  And it wasn't just his dad who felt that way.  On the contrary, in fact.  Thousands of people tuned into the BET Awards to get a look at Janet Jackson mid-mourning and just about as many lined up outside the Apollo Theater earlier this week to gain entrance to an evening-long tribute.

On the other hand, very few people have written about the horrible things that Jackson had been accused of and the general aura of psychotic weirdness that had followed him in the last fifteen years.  Now, it isn't anything all that new to suggest that we might, as a culture, choose to recognize only a star's positive contributions to our lives and neglect to remember all things that made that person, hypothetically speaking of course, a totally fucked up pedophilic nutbag.  But, this isn't about all of us collectively deciding that it's nicer and easier and way more nostalgic to remember everything that was good about the recently deceased and redact anything unsavory.  It's about this being maybe the last time all of us might, collectively, give a shit about one particular person at one particular time.

It seems to me that the era of the pop star might be coming to a close.  In no way am I taking the coincidence of the deaths of so many icons in the same week to be too meaningful, but it is a little odd, or at the very least, it's a good angle.  Ed McMahon was obviously an icon, I don't think there's too much in his resume that can be argued against, whether it was as late night sidekick, pitchman, or talent show host.  Farrah Fawcett obviously meant a lot to men about ten years older than I am, and made such an impact in such a short time that she too can't be denied.  (As a side note, growing up and learning about who she was and what she meant, it was really difficult for me to reconcile that she was on Charlie's Angels for only one year.)  Billy Mays might have represented the Aughts as much as anyone else, he was someone thousands of people believed, regardless of the fact that he screamed at them while hocking laundry detergent.  And, last but most certainly not least, the great Karl Malden passed away two days ago.  I wonder if anyone will have the time or energy to remember all that he meant to cinema; On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire are surely not nearly as powerful without him and I think the same can be said for the performances of Marlon Brando in both those films, for a performance can rarely be exemplary in a vacuum.

All five of these people meant a lot, but it seems like they actively mean a lot more now that they're gone.  By which I mean, I find myself hard pressed to ever come up with a reason by which I might ascribe any importance to a "not sold in stores" pitchman while he's still alive, but again, that's just us re-writting the importance of a life after it's over.  What I'm a little more interested in is the way in which these people have ended as icons.

It seems like every time some one of that stature reaches the end, we all lament the death of not just that person but of the probability that no one will ever mean as much to all of us at once as they did.  It happened when Johnny Carson passed away, it happened when John Lennon did too, and in a much more genuine way if you ask me.  These guys formed things, as Jackson certainly did too, and while our world is constantly changing, it's difficult to believe that someone at the forefront of more recent developments might inspire the same sort of outpouring.  Maybe Steve Jobs' death would be more than a blip, as was the news of his recent health issues, though I doubt Lauren and all the other laptop hunters would care.  I happen to believe that Mark Cuban has done more to shape our world than most people, considering that he invented the idea of streaming media, the cornerstone on which a large portion of the internet is based and has redefined the way people own sports franchises, but I think most people consider him a loud-mouthed asshole and would be only too happy to see him go away, that is if they even know who he (or Jobs) is to begin with.

And then there's the fact that movies don't need stars anymore.  I guess one could argue that Optimus Prime is the star of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but no one is gonna suggest that it's Shia LeBeouf or Megan Fox who causes a movie to open with over a hundred million in sales.  The same is true of the Summer's most surprising hit, The Hangover.

It just seems that media has gotten too disparate these days for one person to transcend all the other options that are out there.  I don't mean to imply that this is a bad thing, more options should mean that more people find something interesting to them, but it does feel a little unfortunate that all of us taking part in the adoration or appreciation of one person at one time probably won't continue.  Or maybe not.  I guess we'll have to wait to see what happens when Susan Boyle dies to find out.

1 Comment

  • 1

    Well said, Toder

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