Friday, November 6, 2009

Michael Jackson's This Is It

Normally J and I wouldn't blog about a movie. It just doesn't seem blog-worthy. Even if movies are something that the two of us do together (less often than we'd like), movies aren't unique to DC like a restaurant, a tourist attraction, a hike, or a play. But Michael Jackson's "This Is It" was different. I'm not talking about plastic surgery or naming your kid Blanket different. I'm saying that the movie experience was different.

Michael Jackson occupies such an odd place in our culture. I can think of no other person who causes people to react similarly. Let me explain. Like many other public figures who reached iconic status, Michael Jackson is a hero to many people around the world. On the other hand, he has also been implicated on several occasions with an indefensible wrong. In Michael's case, he's the extreme of both ends... the King of Pop accused of child molestation. However, unlike any comparable situation that I can think of, fans seem to be able to separate the two sides of this tragic person and personality.

Think of others who have made a dramatic fall from grace. OJ Simpson - star NFL running back who most people believe is guilty of double homicide. Bill Clinton - President and adulterer/liar. Manny Ramirez - gifted baseball slugger and steroid user. In each case you can easily find people who will adamantly defend these heroes. Fans of OJ are convinced he didn't do it and was framed, while supporters of Clinton or Manny will debate the seriousness of their indiscretions. These two paths appear to be the norm. Either denial or rationalization is required to justify our adulation.

However, as I said, Michael Jackson is different. While some people would argue that he is innocent (at least according to the law), even these fans would agree that what he did was inappropriate, at best. Still more of us would believe that he was guilty of far more than poor judgment. Regardless, I am amazed that no matter where you land on this spectrum, no denial or rationalization is required to enjoy him as an entertainer. It is this separation of emotion that I find so interesting.

But enough philosophy... J and I grew up with Michael's music. I lived through the huge events that coincided with his music video debuts and specifically can remember where I was when I first saw Thriller. My mother also, at least musically, grew up with Michael through the Jackson 5, and consequently, Motown was the soundtrack of my childhood. Contrasted against all those warm and fuzzy feelings is the absolute horror of child abuse in any form. I don't understand how I can continue to sing along to his music or buy tickets to his movie without feeling the pangs of guilt that I'm supporting his highly-questionable lifestyle... but clearly, I'm not alone.

Seeing "This Is It" puts you behind the scenes of Michael's final days as he prepares for his most recent concert. It is not sappy or preachy, but it does show Michael and his creative team at its best. This allows you to focus solely on his genius as an artist, which was clearly still strong at age 50. For 2 hours, you are brought behind the scenes while accompanied by a greatest hits soundtrack that will be recognizable to anyone. Besides a great sing-along, you'll see stunning new visuals that were being prepared for the show, as well as dance moves that remind you of MJ's influence. As far as this experience that I spoke about? Don't expect to sit in a quiet theatre. In our case, some came to be entertained (and sing), some came to celebrate his life (and cry), and some came to show their appreciation (and miscellaneous Michael Jackson paraphernalia, including a sparkling glove). As we left the theatre, the energy and conversation was identical to what I would imagine would come following the concert itself. Pure amazement and idolatry. Count me among those in awe of this man. Is it hypocritical to condemn his actions yet support him by seeing his movie? Perhaps. Or perhaps Michael is just different.

J Says

I'm in the same camp with B when it comes to feeling conflicted about MJ. I adore his music and dance moves but, after working with abused children while in law school, have a really hard time supporting anyone who is an alleged abuser. Despite my mixed feelings, I really enjoyed "This Is It."

I was swaying along with the beat for the entire two hours. Every time I thought I heard my "favorite" MJ song, he would bust out another classic that made me smile. The movie brought me back to the times when my sister and I would break dance on the living room floor to the Thriller album.

As B noted, even at age 50, the man knew how to move. He is incredible to watch and a pleasure to listen to. Go with a good sense of humor as there might be a lot of chatting and singing along by the other theater-goers. I can't count the number of times that the lady in front of us screamed, "I love you Michael!"