Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Smooth Criminal

Heard any good Michael Jackson jokes lately?

Seems like an insensitive question, right? Especially in light of the L.A. County coroner ruling the King of Pop's death a homicide. What an ironic end for an iconic man, one who spent the last two decades of his life known more as a go-to punchline than a musical genius.

As I flipped through a recent Rolling Stone magazine earlier this week (cover story: what really broke up The Beatles, and no, the question isn't answered by a Yoko Ono centerfold), another legendary act diverted my attention. I read the charts section and discovered that nine of the week's top ten pop catalogue albums were Michael Jackson or Jackson 5 works. As I'm sure everyone is now aware, Jackson's sales are through the roof, leading many to conclude he's worth more in death than he was alive.

Undoubtedly that much is true to the people directly tied to his fortune. A Jacksons reality series is much more compelling and has received much more press and intrigue as a result of the passing of the family's prodigal son and breadwinner. News specials remind us that Jackson's unpublished song catalogue will ensure (or insure) a financial foundation for Paris, Prince and apparently Macaulay's progeny Blanket for years to come. Even the tandem releases of the Beatles Rock Band and the Fab Four's remastered discography comes with mentions of Jackson's stake in the band's publishing rights. I guess even post-mortem it's still all about the Benjamins.

After a seemingly endless odyssey involving permits, publicity and parental wishes, we finally buried the King of Pop last week. But the media's trumpets only blared louder, with questions about Neverland's fate (will they turn it into Graceland?) and Conrad Murray's legal future (do they give Elvis doctors the chair?). Janet Jackson and a host of lauded choreographer/dancers are scheduled to perform a tribute to MJ at MTV's Video Music Awards this Sunday, and Janet is also scheduled to be Harper's Bazaar's next cover girl. In an age of Obama-fatigue, Michael Jackson's death is the story that won't die. No one snorts at Orly Taitz and her second fake Obama birth certificate, and in the wake of Oligarhy-gate, Glenn Beck's brand of crazy elicits yawns. But damned if we aren't all drooling at Jackson news like caged hungry dogs within whiffing distance of a meat packing plant.

People actually turned off President Obama's school speech this week. The biggest celebrity in the world was silenced this week by the world's biggest pop star, and all he had to do was stay dead. Michael Jackson couldn't buy this kind of media dominance. Don't forget, he tried: Eight years ago, Sony spent tens of millions to promote Jackson's last original album, Invincible, efforts that didn't translate into earth-shattering sales or coverage. But now, Jackson isn't lifting a finger and yet is surrounded by a bigger media tsunami than ever before. He is the ultimate omniscient narrator.

So earlier, I rudely asked if you'd heard any good Michael Jackson jokes lately. And my answer is: only the one he's playing on all of us now.

--Meryn, who almost can't believe it herself.

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