The Staples Center hosted the Michael Jackson Memorial on Tuesday July 5 in Los Angeles, California. The singer’s death has turned into one of the major television events of the decade, rivaling Barack Obama’s inauguration. The memorial was shown without commercial interruption on CNN, and although it was a classier event than expected it also revealed some of the inherent problems with the tragic story of Michael Jackson.
The event started with a gospel choir singing “We Are Going to See the King”, which acknowledged Jackson’s own claim to be the “King of Pop”. But it also clearly linked Jackson to Jesus Christ himself. Later on Lionel Richie also sang a rousing version of Jesus is Love, and the montages of Michael all ended with him in standing in a cross-like position.
The Christ imagery was odd since the service was supposed to be non-denominational and Michael himself embraced all religions throughout his life. Lets face it, as talented as he was he was also a flawed man and perhaps should not be given such God-like status. More appropriate was the version of Heal the World at the end of the show with the symbols of all religions prominently displayed on a giant screen.
Mariah Carey gave the celebrity portion of the event a wobbly start with a surprisingly rough version of I’ll Be There. Suddenly I wasn’t as upset about screwing up Rock With You at Karaoke the night before
To me the highlights of the memorial were obvious. Stevie Wonder brought the first tears to my eyes with “I Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” using only a grand piano. The extraordinarily talented Jennifer Hudson performed “Will You Be There” with choreographed back-up dancers and singers. This performance was even more poignant since Jennifer Hudson has found a way to soldier on despite her own terrible family tragedies.
Personally I could have done without John Mayer (did he even know Michael Jackson?), Kobe Bryant (are we celebrating accused sex offenders?) and Usher (I’m going to use the casket as a prop). Usher even said that everyone is hurting “especially me”. Why especially you? How about Michael Jackson’s Mom and kids? Too much ego everyone!
If there is a lesson to be learned in Jackson’s story it is that children suffer when they are turned into stars before they have a childhood. So it was unsettling that one of the highlights of the event was supposedly the performance by 12 year old Shaheen Jafargholi, who belted out “Who’s Lovin’ You”, a song Jackson sang himself in the late 60s. Afterwards Twitter was a-buzz with the young singer’s name as one of its top trending topics. Berry Gordy was on CNN moments later saying how someone should sign that boy.
This is how history repeats itself. When will American pop culture realize that child stardom is a no-win situation? This exploitation of child talent was one of the more uncomfortable moments of the broadcast.
Perhaps the most moving moments were the ones that involved the actual family. Jermaine Jackson’s version of “Smile” left me unable to smile since I was misting up. Paris Jackson’s impromptu moment will also surely be considered one of the saddest moments in television history.
Will she be the next famous Jackson? The wheels of child stardom continue…