a jim jividen blog

Here's the thing. I'm watching one of these shows on the Cooking Channel featuring food trucks. There's a Scottish expat making fish and chips; in a thick brogue he somewhat wearily explains his irritation with Americans who habitually order a side of tartar sauce: "tartar sauce is basically gherkins." That's this blog. I claim no particular insight, no revelation. If you enjoy the flavor, great, but this blog is basically gherkins.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Repost: The Michael Jackson Blogs



(Michael Jackson died.  I wrote about it at the other place.)

Here's what would have been great to hear from the Governor of South Carolina, somewhere in his litany of apologies to dudes named Cubby:

I've done a lot of moralizing in the past; I voted to impeach Bill Clinton, I said that lying within a marriage broke God's law; I explicitly campaigned as upholding Christian values - maybe I shouldn't have done any of that, not because I failed to live up to those beliefs, but because the connection between those beliefs and good government is tenuous. The truth is people can completely botch their personal lives and still be good at their jobs. In fact, most titans of public life have had disasterous patches that just went unexplored in earlier times. The combination of the media's neverblinking eye and our choice to hurl incredible invective has turned personal shortcomings into scarlet letters.


These are challenging times for the United States, and perhaps we need a paradigm shift. It could start today. I had sex with a woman who wasn't my wife. I don't think it's any of your business. Who I have sex with doesn't in any way impact how I do my job. I shouldn't have gone missing the past couple of days, but I needed a vacation anyway. You take days off. So do I.


And just like who I sleep with isn't any of your business - who you sleep with isn't any of mine. I've opposed gay marriage, and people of my political sensibility have long opposed attempts to end discrimination against homosexuals in the same way that, under the color of states rights, we used to stand in the way of attempts to end discrimination based on race.


Life is short. And often ugly. One day you stand triumphantly, the biggest celebrity in the world, the next you're on TMZ, being carried out of your house on a gurney, dead at 50 years old. We all triumph. We all fail. We all love. We all hurt. We should stop condemning each other and instead just support each other when we can and leave each other alone otherwise.


In debates about the morality of homosexuality, mainstream media permits as viable biblical passages that condemn those acts as an abomination. It is to my advantage that pundits will not be allowed on Fox News or CNN tonight to serious argue that I should be stoned for having committed adultery, as is commanded by Leviticus. It is time that we stop acting like a theocracy. We are not Iran; we are not to be governed by anyone's superstition. Not yours. Not mine.


I am committing myself to the following principle - my personal life belongs to me and yours belongs to you. When we come together as a society, in public life, we will do so in a way that is mutually supportive and minimally intrusive.


I have been wrong and I apologize. Not to my wife; I will apologize to her in private, because our relationship has nothing whatsoever to do with you. I have been wrong in much of my legislative history and political rhetoric. I will support measures to end discriminations based on who one chooses to love. I will immediately stop the drumbeat that my personal religious views should be yours and should guide the way our country is governed. I would not want to be treated in the fashion that my governance has treated others.


Something like that.

Dying is the best thing that could have happened to Michael Jackson, at least from a legacy perspective, and it would have been better had he died in 1992.

But it's not too late, the folksinger Dan Bern in "Too Late to Die Young" sings:

the day that Elvis died it was like a mercy killing


America breathed a sigh of relief

Elvis wasn't Elvis anymore in 1977; he was a joke and only a joke, a Hollywood Squares punch line; he was sideburns and percocet and flexible waistband jumpsuits. His career arc wasn't going to improve; age would have just given him more time to devalue his brand.

Like Brett Favre.

But fast forward 20 years - and Elvis gets to be all things to all people. He can be young, hip swiveling Elvis, he can be on postage stamps, he can have pilgrimages to Graceland. He's transcended his immediate circumstance of 1977 and the full flavor of his life can be viewed in broader context.

(and commodified, of course, Elvis is less person than product, he's Santa Claus or Mickey Mouse, more myth than man, but he only gets to be that guy 'cause he'd dead.)

Michael Jackson's gonna get to be that guy, I think. Not today, 'cause he didn't die in 1992, he died yesterday, and for the past 15 years he's been more freak than star, his brand eroded largely at his own hand. Anyone younger than 30 sees Jackson far more as sideshow than superstar.

But that's gonna change. And it'll happen quicker than you think. Something struck me few months ago while watching American Idol; they did a Michael Jackson theme week; the most watched tv show in the US spent 2 hours doing nothing but singing Michael Jackson songs. Apparently, Fox is going to repeat this Monday.

What struck me was how it wasn't about pedophilia; Fox made a corporate decision that, in 2009, Michael Jackson's personal sins didn't overtake his professional merit. Absent a litany of highly disseminated and widely believed new information that comes out now - the summer of 2009 will be the worst it gets, the low ebb going forward, for Jackson's persona.

Consider this - ESPN didn't do a 2 hour tribute to OJ Simpson last year. His football accomplishments have been subsumed by the homicides. But Jackson still got to be Jackson to enough of an extent for the American Idol tribute.

And like Elvis, as we get further away from today, Jackson gets to be young again. He can be Jackson 5 Michael and the Wiz Michael and Off the Wall Michael and moonwalking Michael. The full flourish of his accomplishments gets to be viewed, and when there's money to be made, he can be mythologized, the sins receding in our public memory.

Michael Jackson was done. Broke. Headed toward a diasterous and probably truncated comeback tour. All that was left for him were drugs and the Vegas shows, and when he died, there wouldn't be anything that looked like grief.

But not anymore. Now he gets to be Michael Jackson again.

I mean, he doesn't care. He's dead.

But we get him back.  There's shit to buy, after all.  And when there's buying to be done, we'll be there. 

William Appleman Williams's The Tragedy of American Diplomacy is the most influential work to come out of the "Wisconsin school" of American historical interpretation; his narrative of United States as empire is the pivotal work done in New Left historiography. His work has been re-released in honor of its 50th anniversary. Williams's view that essentially, while imperalist, the American establishment has largely been motivated by a genuine belief that American global economic and military domination was good for the world - that the US was building the globe's first beneficent empire was considered radical, dangerous, and sympathetic to communism when it was first published (and that was by the liberals like Arthur Schlesinger), but now seems overly generous in light of the past two and a half decades. It's worth noting that the thesis of US as empire was considered incendiary when published in 1959, but barely more than a year later the outgoing Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, coined the term "military industrial complex" in his farewell address; Ike warning that the amount of potential profit to be made by the defense industry would make war economically desirable to corporate America in future generations. Read that speech sometime; if Obama gave that speech he would be burned in effigy on Fox News.
Michael Jackson was the King of Pop.

Here are the Top 10 Michael Jackson songs or passages from The Tragedy of American Diplomacy
10. "I'll Be There"
-An upset in its relatively low ranking, partially owing to my disinclination to like kid singers, partially because there's a law of diminishing returns with this song and I just have heard it as many times as I need to.

9. "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough"
-Disco Michael is historically underrated - and Don't Stop had cowbell, the most magnificent of all the bovine instruments.

8. History is a mirror in which, if we are honest enough, we can see ourselves as we are as well as the way we would like to be.

7. It is only by abandoning the cliches that we can even define the tragedy. When we have done that, we will no longer be acquiescing in the deadly inertia of the past...realism goes nowhere unless it starts at home.

6. "Rock With You"
-When you consider Don't Stop... and not on this list but still dancetastic Workin' Day and Night, my vote goes to Off the Wall as best Jackson album.

5. "Smooth Criminal"
-Is this song on my Blackberry? Yes. Was it there before last Thursday? Yes? I want to know if Annie is going to be okay and I'm unashamed to admit it. Bad's underappreciated; I underappreciated it - at the time it was just snowed under by all of the hype; Michael was the biggest star in the world in 1983, to a level that's hard to communicate in a world where everyone's entertainment options are so personalized; Thriller was just so ridiculously massive that the expectations for the follow couldn't possibly be met. They weren't met, but Smooth Criminal and Dirty Diana and The Way You Make Me Feel would all be on my list of 20 best MJ tracks. So, by the way, speaking of underappreciated Jackson tracks, would be "State of Shock."

4. Here is a primary source of America's troubles in its economic relations with the rest of the world. For in expanding its own economic system throughout much of the world, America has made it very difficult for other nations to retain any economic independence...American corporations exercise very extensive authority, and even commanding power in the political economy of {developing} nations. Unfortunately, there is an even more troublesome factor in the economic aspect of American foreign policy. That is the firm conviction, even dogmatic belief, that America's domestic well-being depends upon sustained, ever-increasing overseas economic expansion. Here is a convergence of economic practice with intellectual analysis and emotional involvement that creates a dangerous propensity to define the essentials of American welfare in terms of activities outside the United States. Chamone.  (that one turned into sort of a blend).

3. "Who's Lovin' You"
-This contradicts my previous claim to dislike songs by children, as the Jackson 5 version of this Smoky Robinson song was released 40 years ago when Michael was 11 - but my predispostion toward disliking this kind of thing should be testament to how ridiculously great it is. Michael Jackson was a prodigy. Like Jodie Foster and Alexander the Great.

2. {The belief in required overseas expansion} is dangerous for two reasons. First, it leads to an indifference toward, or a neglect of, internal developments...And second, this strong tendency to externalize the sources or causes of good things leads naturally enough to an even greater inclination to explain the lack of good life by blaming it on foreign individuals, groups, and nations. This kind of externalizing evil serves not only to antagonize the outsiders, but further intensify the American determination to make them over in the proper manner or simply push them out of the way.

1. Billie Jean