Friday, June 26, 2009

Live Together, Die Alone

New Test Leper - REM (mp3)
Please Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want - The Scattered Pages (mp3)

Live together, die alone.

For the non-LOST geeks out there, this is one of the show's recurring quotes and one that encapsulates at least a part of the governing philosophy on this mystical island. For those of us in Real America who find ourselves on the less than a day away from knowing that Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson are both dead, this quote should mean something as well.

When I look at these two deaths, I don't feel sadness for the loss to our popular culture. I don't feel sadness for myself or their fans. I feel a sadness for celebrity. What's been on my mind when thinking about these two people is this: for every rung we climb on the ladder to success and fame, how much more isolated and lonely must we be?

Michael Jackson sold out concert after concert across the globe. He made teenagers and adults cry from something like fetishistic ecstasy when he walked by or when he moon walked or when he grabbed whatever was left of his crotch. He was surrounded by guards, advisors, lawyers, and anyone else who qualified for his "entorage." Yet I'm sure I'm not alone in believing that no one on this entire planet knew Michael Jackson.

When I look at George W. Bush, I might mock him, and I might loathe many of the things he has done to this country, but I can't deny him this: many people know him, and some very deeply. Laura knows Dubya. I think Barbara and Jenna know Dubya. I bet a few other dozen people know Dubya pretty damn well, too.

How many people knew Michael Jackson?

And when I say "know," I don't mean "know he targets little kids, scurries them to his private quarters, feeds them Jesus juice and takes advantage of them." I don't mean secrets or personal peccadillos. I mean, I don't think anyone knew the guy. I think he died alone. Utterly, completely, and in all ways alone.

He will be mourned by millions. Hundreds of millions. Yet never known.

Farrah Fawcett is also a total mystery and stranger, although a little more understandably so. Here's a woman on whom our culture thrust about a million fantasies and hang-ups solely because of a single poster and a single season on Charlie's Angels. Sure, I also loved her in Saturn 3 and Logan's Run. Hell, I knew Farrah was hot well before I understood why my pee-pee was getting all stiff inside my Underoos.

Maybe because I didn't understand the sex part, I never found Farrah as attractive as Jacklyn Smith or Cheryl Ladd, or Olivia Newton-John for that matter. I don't know if I understood it at the time, but I think she seemed both slutty and clueless, and that's a combination of qualities I've never found appealing. (Slutty and wise? Hell yeah. Clueless yet cuddly adorable? Hell yeah. Slutty and clueless? You've got to have a predatory glee in you to find that appealing, no?)

Unlike the King of Pop, I imagine Farrah had at least a small set of people who knew her. If there was anything there to know. Between her own drug issues and those of the people around her, you wonder how much she actually knew of herself, how much of her there was to know. Even as she's fighting for her life, she's trying to figure out how to use a camera to share her struggle with viewers via two-dimensional TV screens. She's playing the role of Farrah Fawcett Dying, the role of a lifetime.

What I'm begging someone to explain to me is why we as a culture envy this shit. Why do so many of us want what they have (or had) so desperately? Fame and success isolates you. It throws you into a huge ant farm with creatures who idolize you but don't really want to or can't know you. Your identity is so overtaken by handlers and/or the hunger of the masses that most of these people eventually lose themselves. And as they lose themselves, they increasingly isolate from the world around them.

Sure, there's minor exceptions. The oft-cited Bruce Springsteen seems to have held onto most of his humanity. Jon Bon Jovi (God help me for using him as an example) has convinced me in interviews that he's almost a normal person. Paul Newman somehow convinced everyone that he never got swept quite as deeply into the Fame Whirlpool as everyone else (but if you look at his history, a lot of it ain't pretty).

Fame at that level is like playing Russian Roulette with five bullets. And it's somehow a game far too many of us are dying to play.

That's what leaves me sad. I'm sad that our culture devours the very souls of the people we idolize. I'm sad we want to be devoured like that. And I'm said that we'll never really know -- or really, really care about -- either of these two dead stars on the walk of fame.

Live together, die alone


karos said...

Hm. Well... I think everybody wants to be found remarkable in some respect. Hell, this blog alone proves that. You want to showcase your thoughts and mad writing skillz. For others, the skill is crotch grabbing and physically defying dance skills and pop-song craftability. I think very few are prepared for fame. I mean, how can you be? And the level of fame MJ reached, stemming being beaten like a circus pony as a child up to his weirdly reclusive "adult" lifestyle... the dude had no skills. And apparently nobody really together and trustworthy to do it for him.

Farrah struck me as quite intelligent in the old interviews with Baba Wawa I saw last night. I never gave her life much thought.

As a culture, though, we've definitely stepped it up a notch in terms of our exaltation of celebrity and our invasiveness into the most ridiculous nuances of their lives. Maybe we don't envy it so much as want to analyze it, pick it apart, ridicule it, be glad we don't have it, but covet the trappings of it — the food, the labels, the fabulous parties, the cashola.

At the risk of sounding like Star magazine, in a way, celebrities are just like us. They range from fucked up and loaded with insecurities and weird predilections to very together, secure, down-to-earth people. It's just that they do it where everybody sees it.

As celebs differ, so do fans. I think you're wrong about people never really, really caring. There are many that do. Fans get a raw deal, too, in how they are viewed. Research for a recent article shows that they are more normal than not in both their curiosities and behavior.

In all this, you say that nobody really knew MJ. I wonder if his kids did. His weirdly-gotten kids. I feel the worst for them.

I rambled in your box.

Chuck Barris said...

I think many people would trade the few people who "know" them for thousands of people who "idolize" them. Find that depressing if you like, but most of my friends at one point or another complain that no one understands them. Might as well be rich and worshipped, too, right?

The Warden said...

i watched the specials last night also. The weirdest part of the whole MJ spectacle was when those fans gathered in front of the courthouse awaiting the verdict on child molestation charges. They were so convinced of his innocence -- or had convinced themselves that he was innocent, with no regard for the possibility that this man-child might have irrevocably scarred or damaged the kids he allegedly fondled. His is only the most disturbing example of mindless celebrity worship, but far from the only case. I guess it's a cover for the millions who lead lives of quiet desperation.

jed said...

i'll give you Smith but Ladd and Newton-John? no way.

BeckEye said...

Yo, Jed. Don't be dissing ONJ.

I've never wanted to be famous. At least not Britney Spears famous. Maybe, like, Maria McKee famous.