The Michael Jackson memorial set at Staples Center yesterday gave way to the Ringling Bros. Circus, which was scheduled to go on just a few hours later. Jackson would have loved the irony, because a circus atmosphere has followed him throughout his life in the public eye. Toward the end of his life, however, the media has portrayed him as something of a freak show.
Since Jackson's death on Thursday, June 25, acquaintances, family members and celebrities have been interviewed by the media, most telling heartwarming stories of their friend. They have tried to paint a picture of Jackson as just a regular guy, underneath the pancake makeup that was used to obscure the decades of plastic surgery which had destroyed the beauty of his natural face.
Michael Jackson broke the color barrier of music, selling to white audiences around the world and becoming the first black musician to be featured on MTV videos. His album "Thriller" became the biggest album of all time. It's now back on the top of the charts, along with his other solo albums, fueled by the media frenzy surrounding his death.
By the time he died, Jackson was neither black nor white. He reportedly suffered from vitiligo, a skin disorder characterized by white patches due to the loss of natural pigment. But that doesn't explain the fact that he ended up with a dimple in his chin and no nose to speak of.
Jackson's legal problems in his later years, when he had to deal with allegations of child molestation, caused his career to take a nosedive. The fact that he had the business sense to buy up the Beatles' song catalogue let him keep up his lavish lifestyle. The song catalogue barely kept him afloat as he was sinking into debt, not just because of his legal bills, but because of his compulsion to spend money.
The media wasn't kind to Michael Jackson when he was alive. But his fans were everywhere. He was even bigger in Europe and other countries than in the United States. His fans looked beyond the odd behavior and legal accusations and stood by him. It should be said, none of the allegations of sexual misconduct were ever proven. The fact that Jackson settled his civil case for $20 million led people to believe he was guilty. In his more recent criminal trial, Jackson was found not guilty. Unfortunately, in our society, especially in high profile celebrity cases, you're guilty until proven innocent.
There is no doubt that Michael Jackson was a public relations disaster when he was alive. His strange behavior got most of the media attention. He was planning a comeback tour when he died, and he chose England, where he was the most popular. Still, he had a lot to overcome, as far as his image was concerned. When he died, however, there was an outpouring of support and love from all corners of the world.
The eccentric pop star who never seemed to grow up was portrayed by the media mostly as an eccentric oddball who had no business taking care of children. He famously dangled his youngest child, Prince Michael II, nicknamed "Blanket", over a hotel balcony in 2002, when the child was just an infant. His three kids were rarely seen publicly, and when they were, their faces were covered by veils or masks.
After his death, something changed in the media. The sexual allegations and reports of weird behavior were pushed to the background while Jackson's contributions to the world of music were celebrated. The groundbreaking musical career that Jackson gave us was on a level with Elvis and the Beatles. In this era of news-at-the-speed-of-the-Internet, Jackson as an icon seems to have no peer. The news of his death has been relentless, and sales of his music is going through the roof.
Jackson's comeback is even bigger in death than it would have been in life. Sales of his final rehearsals at the Staples Center are expected to bring in at least $500 million. The fact that he's not alive to spend his money will make his heirs very wealthy. His children stand to inherit the bulk of his estate.
The memorial was over the top. The gold coffin, the endless parade of celebrity guests, the gospel choir and endless videos of the pop star himself, all transmitted globally through the Internet and television to millions of people worldwide was surreal enough. Inside the Staples Center, people were taking videos on their cell phones and posting them on the Internet while journalists sent out Twitter reports.
The defining moment in the image transformation of Michael Jackson was not complete, however, until the end of the glitzy affair at the Staples Center. After all the musical numbers, prepared speeches and video tributes, it appeared that Janet Jackson was going to address the crowd. Instead, Janet pushed little Paris Katherine, the 11-year-old daughter of Michael, in front of the microphone. In addition to Paris and Prince Michael II, now age 7, 12-year-old Prince Michael I was in attendance. Could these normal-looking children be related to the man who once owned the Elephant Man's bones, slept in an oxygen chamber, and dangled his baby over a hotel balcony?
As the circus elephants waited in the wings, Paris gave her now famous speech, lasting only a few sentences, and ending with: "I love him so much." As she broke down in tears, there weren't many dry eyes in the house, or around the world, for that matter. The memorial service for Jackson was now over, but the image of his loving daughter will live on.
As much as he would have loved the spectacle at the Staples Center, which portrayed him as a larger-than-life icon, a new Michael Jackson has emerged: family man.