One of our newest Culture writers is Fr. Terrance W. Klein, an associate professor of theology at Fordham University and author of the book Vanity Faith: Searching for Spirituality Among the Stars. He also wrote last week's review on "Mad Men," likening the hit AMC series to the morality tales of Flannery O'Connor. In this new web-only piece for the Culture section, Klein looks at the strange and sad life of Michael Jackson and poses a provocative question: Is he our future? That is, does his ability to change his looks at will, and in effect, create a new family separate from his own physical body, the way of the future? Is Michael Jackson's life our Brave New World. Here's Klein's intro:
He was one of the most commercially successful entertainers of all time. “Thriller” remains the world’s best-selling album. In four decades he earned 13 Grammy Awards and had 17 number-one songs. Fred Astaire, who ought to know, declared, “That boy moves in a very exceptional way. That’s the greatest dancer of the century.” And Frank Sinatra? “The only male singer who I’ve seen besides myself and who’s better than me—that is Michael Jackson.”
But there was another Michael Jackson: the boy who played with rats and the young man who slept in a hyperbaric chamber. Then came the plastic surgeries. The bizarre diet. The short marriage to Lisa Marie Presley. The ambiguous sexuality. Couldn’t one ascribe those oddities to the life of a celebrity?
But what about the skin bleaching? Or sleeping with young boys and the charges of pedophilia? Or the family formed of children whose mothers he never married and probably didn’t sleep with? Or hiding his face behind surgical masks and swaddling his three children in veils? Should one conclude that Michael Jackson wasn’t so much extraordinary as bizarre?
Or is there a third possibility? Was Michael Jackson our once and future king? In other words, did his life chart the course of our own? It takes talent and drive to become a superstar, but also an ability to reflect back to the public something of its own spirit, its fears and hopes. Perhaps Jackon’s decisions are harbingers, like the symbolic actions of the ancient prophets, of what is to come.