As most of the world goes into internet-choking spasms of grief, there's a counternarrative from the Gothic side of culture. Or, at least, from people who just didn't like the music.
Maybe he's not dead. No, not undead - he did that already - but has faked death with a doppelganger:
Many devoted fans watching world tour announcement and other recent appearances commented that his hands, face, stature and general demeanour and mannerisms were unfamiliar (beyond any consequences of physical surgery), leading to rumours of a body double. (hat tip to Jesse Walker)
Or perhaps Jackson' death makes his life look even more necrotic in retrospect?
He existed strictly on image, an anorectic figure nourished by moonbeams of attention, famous for saying that he loved his worshippers when the truth was he merely sucked the life out of them. In his last years, he even looked a bit like Nosferatu, the personification of the un-dead, and his fascination with ghouls was the basis for his biggest hit way back in the last century. A zombie nation deserves a zombie mascot. ...America was a fat man jerking off on the sofa watching a vampire of no particular sex vogue deliriously on the boob tube. (James Kunstler, continuing the economic crisis as Gothic theme)
And there's yet another perspective, from some of the religious. Satan whacked Jacko, or, as the best headline of the week puts it:
The Ark of the Covenant and the Death of Michael Jackson – A Couple of Interesting Coincidences (thanks to Jesse for this one, too)
Dow Jones Chief Executive Les Hinton raised the rhetoric a notch, calling the Internet search giant a vampire “sucking the blood” out of the newspaper business, and promised that new developments would level the playing field.
Hinton seems to be thinking of vampire bats, perhaps:
“There is a charitable view of the history of Google,” said Mr. Hinton, who is also publisher of The Wall Street Journal. “[It] didn’t actually begin life in a cave as a digital vampire per se. The charitable view of Google is that the news business itself fed Google’s taste for this kind of blood.”
Of course, it's all about the plummeting business model of newspapers:
By offering its content free on the Web, the newspaper industry “gave Google’s fangs a great place to bite,” he continued.
Does this make publishers wholesome victims, preyed on in their innocence? Or fearless vampire hunters, fighting the great parasitical evil?
Strike another blow for the fearsome Google meme. We've been observing it for quite a while.
Forget pop - Michael Jackson's death reminds us of his great contributions to the Gothic. As the obituaries swing into motion, death is burnishing the man's reputation in its customary ways. Media outlets are delighted to change the subject from Iran and the economy, to have something to cover with ease and authority. We shouldn't be squeamish about poking at the freshly dead corpse. Now is the time instead for us to recall Jackson's Gothic roles, most notably his life's.
First, some of his songs are classics in horror music. The best of them is "Thriller" (1983), which brought werewolves (or werecats) and zombies back to pop. It also returned to us the sweet tones of Vincent Price. It's also a date movie, where the decent girl's guy turns out to be a monster - an ancient trope, and one fine antecedent to Twilight.
There's also the historic link to that classic 1980s American fear of the occult - remember this opening title card from the singer, then a Jehovah's Witness?
Ah, for the glory days of back-masking and Satanic panic.
Second, Jackson turned himself into a figure of Gothic horror, with his own life as a monster-in-progress. Perhaps having his head set on fire for a Pepsi commercial was the start. Repeated surgeries kept reshaping that very public body: rhinoplasty, facelifts, artificial clefts, skin color changes, what else was used to alter his appearance? Such a shape-shifting, mutating, fluid creature.
Splendid rumors kept bursting to the media's surface, like noisome gas in a swamp: this Gothic artist buying up the Elephant Man's bones, hanging out intimately with a chimpanzee, or sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber. Not to mention the repeated accusations of pedophilia. Charges of antisemitism. Stories of drug addiction, weight loss, hiding from the public, the deepening cult of childhood. And now the weirdness of a death at 50, depite access to the best medical care. Forget whatever biographic truth might lurk, somewhere down there, buried under strata of media, promotion, fear, and cult workship: the story has been one of monstrosity.
But getting at this is impossible without wading through tabloid culture, vast swamps of pop adoration, machines of publicity and sleaze. When was there before such a context for a Gothic character? An artist widely lusted after and also loathed for perversion. Is Lord Byron really the best comparison?
[D]oesn’t his life embody not just the Hero-Villain, but the Gothic itself?
Maybe not. If the Gothic is marginal, Michael Jackson was always ever canonical. If the Gothic is about the powerful ruins of history, Jackson fashioned himself out of one group and family alone. If the Gothic is politically subversive, then the fellow wasn't (note pic) (nor can he serve as a one-man argument for horror being reactionary).
PS: I don't like his music much. It's got to be said, some of us never did, no matter the eulogies and the onrushing pitchforks.
"I was led into the cellar," recalled Mr. Amburn, "I saw a folding bed and a WC reserved for me. They immediately went on about their money. I told them what I had told them before, that due to market conditions, unfortunately it was gone. "I was struck. Again and again they threatened to kill me. The fear of death was indescribable. I never thought I would make it out alive."
The furious investors got medieval on Amburn's hide. The details are right out of Gothic, pulp, or suspense fiction. A sample:
Two of his kidnappers are said to have hit [James Amburn] with a Zimmer frame outside his home in Speyer, western Germany, before he was bound up with duct tape, bundled into the boot of a car and driven 300 miles to the home of two of the abductors on the shores of Lake Chiemsee in Bavaria. "I was bleeding from my eyes, nose and my mouth," he said. "But the nightmare had only just started." During his alleged confinement in an unheated cellar, Mr Amburn, 56, claims he was burned with cigarettes, beaten, had two of his ribs broken was hit with a chair leg and chained up "like an animal."
Unless the global economy magically turns around, expect more stories like this. And anticipations: higher security measures, more concerns about peasants with torches retirees.
Sometimes popular fears about digital technologies end up as government policy. Today's case in point comes from Germany, where that country's legislature approved a law allowing one police agency to block Web sites proffering child pornography.
The Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) is to administer the lists of sites to be blocked and the internet providers obliged to erect the secret censorship architecture for the government.
Hopefully German courts will chew this one up and spit it out.
Once again, the constellation of fears around children, sexuality, and digital technologies drives public panic.
(We start off by mixing the salacious with the cybercultural) The Austrian Times goes on:
A teenage girl was electrocuted after dropping her laptop into the bath as she twittered in the tub.
Police said they believed Maria Barbu, 17, had tried to plug in her laptop with wet hands after the battery died during a long session on social networking site Twitter as she took a soak at her home in Brasov, central Romania.
Several fearsome media details to note here. First, the association of youth with new technology. The unsettling powers teens and younger have is a classic anxiety form.
Second, the emphasis on one technology (Twitter) over others equally important for the event (laptop, indoor plumbing). Part of this involves freeing up the event from history - i.e., no mention of the standard death by combining electrical appliances with bathroom water. (thanks to Ton Zylstra!)