The Man In The Mirror: Michael Jackson, and what our memories about the dead say about us

***In light of Conrad Murray being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter yesterday, The Champ has decided to revamp and repost an entry he wrote a week after Michael Jackson’s death***

Admittedly, I wasn’t as affected by Michael Jackson’s sudden death as many others seemed to be. Despite this relative detachment, I was completely mesmerized and amazed by the consensus public reaction to that news, which, if I recall, was characterized by a public competition to be the best at accurately memorializing him while completely glossing over how f*cked up the last 25 years of his life were.

Mind you, i’m not attempting to throw more salt on Michael Jackson’s ridiculously star-crossed life. Still, when a person has been…

A) Largely defined by their abject weirdness for 90% of their adult life,

B) A lazy punchline for 50% of their adult life,

and

C) A suspected pedophile

…I dont see how you can’t at least acknowledge this when putting their legacy in context.

MJ aside, his situation sheds a bit more light on the fact that while we don’t have definitive control over how we’ll be remembered, we can control what we remember about everyone else. You can even argue that making the conscious choice to only recognize the positive aspects of a person’s life is just a desperate hope that this same luxury is extended to us.

Thing is, whether you view this type of projection as practical or pathetic, you can’t argue the fact that there’s no bigger affront to what makes us fully human and no more disingenuous way to recall a person’s life, especially when you consider that our deeds usually come from the exact same place as our demons.

This is supremely true in regards to celebrities. The same visceral fervor that made Tupac iconic killed him before his 26th birthday, and the hyper creative eccentricity that made Mike moonwalk also contributed to his multiple self-mutilations, arrested development, and early death.

Omitting these facts downplay and dishonor their accomplishments. There’s no such thing as an adversity-less icon. How can you fully appreciate Malcolm X without being completely aware of Malcolm Little, street hustler and addict, and what future relevance would “Black or White” hold without knowing that the song’s architect was actively attempting to be both black and white?

I realize that this isn’t the most popular line of thinking, that some will see this as (at best) tactless and (at worst) malicious, and that its (extremely) presumptuous to tell someone how they should remember a person. Still, this isn’t about Michael Jackson as much as my fascination with our peculiar reliance on technicolor memories. I just happen to prefer HD.

The more I think about it, the more I’ve begun to realize that there’s probably a connection between my sports fandom and my infatuation with people being remembered the right way. Die-hard sports fans are obsessed with legacies — the feeling that what a particular athlete accomplishes doesn’t matter unless we know exactly what he had to deal with to get there. This is part of the reason why so many veteran players, fans, and sports scribes still harbor a distaste for Lebron James. They felt(feel) like he was cheating history, taking a competitive shortcut to ensure a legacy he didn’t particularly earn. Although I don’t share that sentiment, I understand the thought process behind it. Everything — the airballs you shot as a rookie, the fumble in Super Bowl 10 years ago, striking out each time up to bat in your first playoff game — matters, and your championship rings, retired jerseys, and Hall of Fame busts don’t mean shit without acknowledgement of your struggles and your attempts to overcome them.

You know, with all this being said, I still hope that the half-page obit in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette honoring my (eventual) passing chooses not to include a half paragraph burb on my (future) infidelities and (present) p*rn addiction. I guess i’m not so special after all.

On second thought, including that stuff might not be the worst thing in the world. At least it’d show I was human, and I think Mike would have wanted the same thing.

—The Champ