Sunday, June 28, 2009

Off Topic - The Face of Fame

Now that a few days have passed, and like everyone I have been assaulted with all-Michael-all-the-time, I've had some opportunity to reflect.

The birth of celebrity-worship culture can be traced, roughly to the first issue of "People" magazine, which would have been some time in the late Seventies. Before that, images of the famous were controlled, with the notable exception of Jacqueline Onassis. (As in the film "People vs. Larry Flynt," the appearance of blurred long-lens photos of a tanned figure supposed to be Jackie Naked birthed "Hustler," one of our culture's finest moments.) But, as long as you weren't Jackie, you were allowed a bit of dignity.

A decade or so ago, I had a job writing copy for home video releases of movies from the Golden Age of MGM. My research involved looking at news clippings about the stars and the up-and-comers of the era, snippets designed to make these people seem like the rest of us, which was that studio's approach to celebrity. I was astonished to see that, often, the star's home address would be printed somewhere in the article! As in, "Robert Taylor, of 1916 Beverly Glen Boulevard..." A certain level of propriety was assumed.

How quaint.

Modern fame is monstrous. I can't put it any more simply than that. It focuses the worst aspects of humanity. There is a rictus grin in the presence of a celebrity that I have seen on many a face, a frozen, ear-to-ear lockjaw smile that resembles a baboon's grimace. Fame makes baboons of us. Imagine seeing that rictus on everyone's face. Seeing it everywhere you go.

When I consider the life of Michael Jackson, it is a life without moorings. The little boy whose image is covering screens all over the world this weekend looks wrung out, with deep lines of exhaustion under his eleven-year-old eyes. The man...what is left to say about him?

If fame had a face, it would be the face in this photo, almost unrecognizable as human. It is a face that was never anchored, never told "no," the face of an alien being. From the molestation trial documents, it's clear that children were delivered to Neverland like sacrifices, usually by their own parents. Human sacrifices; to what have we reverted, since the MGM days?

All of this current Michaelmania is revisionism. It's as if humanity wants to forgive this man for all the horrors, the nose, the oxygen chamber, Neverland, the chimp, the fetishism and, oh yeah, the pedophilia, of the last twenty years. We want to remember that talented, exhausted little boy who, ultimately, became Fame, defined only by the mirror into which we gaze. When he finally died, broke and desperate, he gave humanity the ending it expected, and needed, from him.

I hope we never see Fame on his scale again.

The photo, from a fan website, was taken during Jackson's 2005 trial.


Perfumeshrine said...

You said it all. May indeed! The desire to consume human flesh is amazing, consumed through the voyerism of the media and fueled by a sick industry that relies on carnage. What a plight!

Rappleyea said...

Extremely thoughtful commentary. I would also add that the spectre of 24/7 news has also contributed greatly to this obscene problem.

Aparatchick said...


Olfacta said...

P - Thank you! I remember, vaguely, the idea of human sacrifice from the Greeks -- the cult of Dionysus? Except that I'm not sure the gods of mythology mutilated themselves.

Olfacta said...

Hi R -- You're right, absolutely. When the news was half an hour they didn't have time -- however, I was shocked at how the entire media seemed to move their focus from something really important -- Iran -- to this, for days and days. It's all about the ratings, of course. More fuel for the feeding frenzy.

Olfacta said...

Hi A -- yeah. They're still at it, too. Reminds me of the Princess Diana debacle now.

Rappleyea said...

O - not only did they drop Iran for MJ, but 152 people died in a plane crash in the Indian Ocean and I never heard a word about it on the news - found it on Yahoo!

brian said...


ScentScelf said...

I first read this days ago, and was struck by how thoughtful your post...with a judicious touch of personal connection.

Modern fame is monstrous. I have been struck at how I have been angered by grandiosity AND by seeming haughty reclusiveness. It seems I get sucked into the vortex, even though I like to think of myself as aware.

What a potent case MJ is. Worthy of pity, and likely, of distaste, too.

I think the revisionism comes from a desire to, as I think you hint at, pardon ourselves. As so many observed during the initial 24-48 hours, how swift the turnabout...from reviling the man as a sideshow freak to revering him as a musical magician.

As you well know, during the era about which you wrote copy...the era of star's home addresses being published...studios also carefully contrived public personas of those very same stars.

In this era, we have unlisted phone numbers, but Google satellite maps to locate our lawn chairs. Everything public on our Facebook wall...but a certain managed-ness to it, no?

Perhaps this tension helps keep our identities intact. But it does seem as if the more extreme, the more intense, the more public...the greater the potential sacrifice...

...or do we all risk losing something, unless we pay attention?

Yes, I too hope "fame" never reaches such a bloodlust height. I wish for us all, each and every one, to keep it real. ("Real"?) Just a little, at least...