Register Tuesday | December 11 | 2018

RIP Wacko Jacko

The world reacts with disbelief at the death of the King of Pop -- but who are we kidding?

It’s been impossible to avoid: the disturbing—yes, even ghoulish—outpouring of grief  following Michael Jackson’s death. My first reaction to this reaction, the latter being the only interesting part of the story, is one of disgust: how could people be so moved, to the point of tears and wails, by a past-due-date entertainer? Surely it must be mere distraction, as Michael Jackson’s life has been a distraction for decades, his death no different. The people moved to tears must be indulging in the easy grief, the collective one, and ignoring the pain clutching them tightly on their backs.

I might have granted the reaction a pass, if Jackson had lately been in possession of a talent, if he weren’t merely a shell, but his behaviour over the past two decades was that of a deviant; and perhaps the tragedy of his life is that his music granted him so much, so many excuses, that there was no one to pull on his black and white robe. But I think there is something to say about the medicine behind this story.

This part is indeed odd: Jackson had a cardiologist at his side when he died. In his rented home. Who has a cardiac arrest next to a cardiologist outside of the CCU setting? I fear that once the revelations start we will be in Graceland, learning about physicians too willing to feed Jackson’s drug habit and unaware that once you get caught up in the circus of strange celebrity, you will get bitten by it. In Graceland the doctor becomes an excuse-granter: he sanctions use through his prescription pad. It is a fraud, but so was Jackson.

But there is one cause of death I’m just not abiding. It has been said that we killed Jackson, that we tortured him and that we are somehow to blame. This is the meta-excuse for Jackson’s oddity, one that is his ultimate convenience. Jackson was a very rich man, enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, and his major problem not fame, but his own reaction to it. The fame problem is a very old story and it usually ends in addiction and, if not addressed, in death. Surely no one is surprised that Jackson is dead? Even the wailers and the disconsolately tearful, who merely had to survey Jackson’s torrid tabloid showings at the checkout counter and realize that something was very wrong, and had been for some time? That it wouldn’t be long?

I admit that Jackson was once an impressive entertainer, that he had the eye of millions and in this spasm of grief he does again, but the true genius of Jackson has to be recognized for what it is: self-destruction, the squandering of prodigious gifts, and the ability to have falls protected by the pillows of celebrity and money. It is my sincere hope that this cardiologist, whom I fear may have merely abetted Jackson’s behaviour, sat him down, as I have sat my own patients down, and confronted him about his inevitable annihilation. And I hope this talk came before the shot of Demerol.

But back to the original reaction: perhaps it is the ultimate folie-a-deux of fame, to think that we, the audience, are somehow complicit in a star’s demise. All madnesses have their share of excuses. When I see all the mourners on television imitating Jackson’s signature moonwalk, I note that they are all moving backward.


Shane Neilson is the author of one collection of poetry,
Exterminate My Heart (Frog Hollow Press, 2008) and a memoir, Call Me Doctor (Pottersfield Press, 2006). Neilson practices family medicine in Erin, Ontario